Last Updated Jan 30, 2017 6:04 PM EST
NEW YORK - A winsome but hardworking Hungarian herding dog, an ancient African hound and a playful, fur-free terrier are about to get their first shot at the most famous U.S. canine championship.
The pumi, the sloughi and the American hairless terrier will be newcomers at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show next month in New York. They can compete among as many as 202 breeds and varieties for the coveted Best in Show award.
The pumi has a “whimsical expression” built right into the standards, or official judging guidelines, for the bushy-coated, curly-tailed, big-eared breed. Owners hear “your dog’s so CUTE!” so often that they’ve turned it into an acronym.
The sloughi, or Arabian greyhound, is also an athletic dog, with a history of hunting game as big as gazelles. Sloughis retain a yen for chasing yard animals and often are shy with strangers, but they bond closely with their human families as pets, says owner Julie tenBensel of Bolingbrook, Illinois.
The inquisitive, spunky and allergy-friendly American hairless terrier was developed from rat terriers. While some people might do double-takes at hairless dogs, “I actually just like unusual things,” says Sue Medhurst of Stafford, Virginia, who is planning to show them at Westminster.
Dogs from the three newly eligible breeds were showcased at a preview news conference Monday. More than 2,800 dogs are expected at the show, set for Feb. 11, 13 and 14.
Besides the traditional breed judging, it includes agility and obedience competitions - and a non-competitive “meet the breeds” event that even includes cats this year.
This year’s “meet the breeds” even will include some really rare breeds for a dog show: pedigreed cats. Felines were featured when the event was held separately from Westminster a few years ago, but their return this year gives them a chance to share the spotlight of the 140-year-old dog show.
“The club has maintained its traditions while expanding to accommodate an ever-changing, dog-loving public,” Westminster spokeswoman Gail Miller Bisher said at a Madison Square Garden news conference Monday previewing the show.
Breeds qualify for the show once recognized by the American Kennel Club. Criteria include having several hundred dogs of the breed nationwide.
Some animal-rights advocates oppose dog breeding and stress that many mixed-breed dogs need adoption. The AKC says conscientious breeding helps people find pets with traits that suit their lifestyle, so they can make a lasting match.
A soft-spoken beagle raised a ruckus last year.
Wagging her tail a mile a minute, Miss P became America’s top dog in last year’s show by winning best in show in a big surprise at the Westminster Kennel Club. Miss P was a grand-niece of Uno - in 2008, the immensely popular hound barked and bayed his way to becoming the only previous beagle to win at the most prominent U.S. dog show.