Attend conformation shows frequently enough, read the glossy periodicals often enough, stay the course long enough, and sooner or later one is liable to begin investigating grass on the other side of the fence. Our chosen pastime, which we sometimes love to hate (yet are embarrassed to admit how much we love), can ensnare us to the point that we’re always on the search for something out of the ordinary. By the same token, the constantly advancing juggernaut that is globalization could leave a person wondering what could possibly be new and scintillating under the dog show sun.

Certainly magazines, television and the internet bring the world into our living rooms and offices, but for a dog show junkie nothing can substitute for the tactile sensations—the sounds, smells and touch—of being up close and personal with the greatest venues our discipline has to offer. And while armchair gladiators will continue to debate over which is the best among any number of marquee specialties, the fact remains that some shows define the “it” factor by name alone: Westminster, Montgomery County, Sydney Royal… and England’s crown jewel, Crufts.

Each year more than 20,000 dogs representing over 200 breeds and varieties gather at the National Exhibition Center in Birmingham, England, for the chance to be crowned Supreme Champion, one of the most sought after titles in the purebred dog universe. So how does one quantify the world’s largest dog show? The English kennel club system is unlike anything a North American show-goer will encounter at home, and the event itself falls somewhere between Westminster’s glitterati and FCI World Winner Carnivale.

Well over 200 breeds are divided between seven Groups—Working, Pastoral, Toy, Utility, Gundog, Terrier and Hound—with enough of the rare and unusual varieties to whet the appetite of the most jaded fancier. The conformation world’s behemoth juggles New World glitz and glamour with old school Continental shape and size, and the result is an offspring that resembles neither.

Devotees will gush over the depth, breadth and quality of the entry, and the relaxed manner of presentation, which encourages competition without artificial posturing and pressure-cooker one-upmanship. Detractors fault over-the-top sprawls of trade booths, the inestimable square yardage one must cover to see anything at all, the foot-stamping frustration of enormous breed entries split into rings so that you need eyes all ’round your head to watch. Some quash their own criticism by confusing “well-run” with “boring.” What one will find is that everything you’ve ever been told, and anything you could subsequently imagine, really won’t prepare you at all for the reality of Crufts.