Six new breeds to debut at Westminster Dog Show

NEW YORK Wed Jan 25, 2012 4:09pm EST

1 of 6. An Entlebucher Mountain Dog is pictured in this handout photo obtained by Reuters January 25, 2012. The dog is one of six new breeds being introduced to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show this February.

Credit: Reuters/Westminster Kennel Club/Handout

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Six new breeds of dogs, including Mexico's hairless Xoloitzcuintli, the Finnish Lapphund and the Norwegian Lundehund, will be competing in the 2012 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show next month.

They will join other newcomers, the Cesky Terrier, the American English Coonhound and the Entlebucher Mountain Dog, along with 179 other breeds and varieties vying to be named Best in Show on Feb 14 at the annual New York event that started in 1877 with 1,201 dogs.

This year's entries for the 136th show will be limited to 2,000 dogs.

"We will have at least two dogs in every breed, including the new ones," said David Frei, the Westminster Kennel Club's director of communications and USA Network host.

"New breed is a little bit of a misnomer because a lot of these breeds have been around for hundreds, or even thousands of years in some of the cases," he told Reuters.

Before being included in the show, the breed must meet American Kennel Club (AKC) rules including having sufficient numbers in the United States, a certain geographical distribution and a parent club that makes sure they are following responsible breeding practices and meet certain characteristics.

"It is really an AKC decision, not ours," Frei said, adding that in the past 23 years, more than 40 breeds have been added to the show.

Among the more striking newcomers is the Xololitzcuintli, the national dog of Mexico, which was previously known as the Mexican Hairless and comes in three sizes.

"These dogs are descended from hairless dogs prized by the Aztecs and revered as guardians of the dead. Over 400 years later, these dogs were still to be found in the Mexican jungles," according to the Westminster Kennel Club.

Xoloitzcuintli expert Amy Fernandez said the decision to include the breed is long overdue. She has been working to get them included for 28 years.

"It is an ancient dog and probably the oldest breed in North America and its history dates back about 3,000 years," she said. "It has been recognized in almost every country in the world for many years and the U.S. has been the only holdout."

Fernandez, who admitted that the hairless breed is not to everyone's taste, described the dogs as very watchful, sensitive and great with children.

But with such stiff competition Frei said the odds of a rookie taking the top prize are "pretty long."

"The shortest time between a breed competing at Westminster and winning best of show is 27 years," said Frei. "That was the Bichon Frise. It had its first year in 1974 and won best in show in 2001."

Last year's winner was a Scottish Deerhound named Hickory.

(Reporting by Patricia Reaney; editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

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