The idea of handing out awards for the year’s leading show dogs started in the 1930s as a logical sequel to the Best in Show award, which had become increasingly popular at that time. Rewarding the human participants for their achievements took a little longer, but by 1962 Kennel Review magazine in California honored not only the top show dogs in the West but also presented the first in a long line of achievement awards to humans. The magazine named Mrs. Breed of the famous Barmere kennels (primarily Boxers) Outstanding Breeder at an annual awards event, which, to quote Managing Editor Jayne Langdon in 1969, was “simple, direct and occurred with little fanfare or notoriety.”
In the early years, both the winning dogs and breeders were selected by vote from the fancy, but starting in 1969, the same year that both Kennel Review and the contest went national, the top dogs were selected not by ballot but by their wins during the previous year, just as they are today.
Langdon wrote in the November 1969 issue of Kennel Review: “As one of his first official acts as managing editor, Dick Beauchamp assumed the responsibility of setting up a more meaningful awards system for Kennel Review. As fate would have it, he was then very actively involved in the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences annual awards. The world-recognized system used by this organization polled the professional members of its own trade and asked them to select those individuals, performances and technical achievements of the past year which they felt were outstanding. Their votes were by secret ballot and a list of nominees in a number of categories were then presented to the members and public. The Academy was then asked to select one winner in each of the categories and the final result was winning the coveted ‘Oscar.’ … The same system has carried over into the sport of dogs.”
By the late 1960s, the Kennel Review Awards had developed into a glamorous and prestigious ceremony attended by several hundred of the dog fancy’s best and brightest. It was held early in the spring each year in a different location around the country, usually in conjunction with a major all-breed show. There were highly coveted awards not only in the previously mentioned categories, but also for Show of the Year, Judge of the Year and the best handlers in different categories, which varied slightly from year to year: Best Professional and Owner-Handler, Best Male and Female Handler, Best New Handler and even Best Handler’s Assistant. There were early awards for dog publications and club newsletters for a few years and later one for Outstanding Journalists.
The entertainment industry has its Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and People’s Choice awards. The dog show world achievement awards are called Winkies®, so named because the original award was fashioned after a winking cartoon Great Dane. This was soon changed to a more Oscar-like statuette, identical to the current one, but the old name stuck.
For a few years in the 1970s, in addition to the regular show dog awards, there was also a “Hall of Fame” into which great show dogs of the past were inducted, as determined by votes from the fancy. By the mid-1970s, however, the awards evening had grown so big that Kennel Review was simply not able to continue it, and the awards were canceled for the next few years.
In 1986 the Winkies and the awards ceremony were resurrected, now in conjunction with the Kennel Review tournament for invited top dogs in different categories (champions, veterans, puppies, rare breeds, even breeders’ teams). These were judged by an eclectic mix of American and international judges, some of them officially AKC recognized, some of them not. The “new” awards evening was, if anything, even bigger, better and more glamorous than before, and remained a permanent fixture in dog people’s social calendars until Kennel Review closed its doors forever in 1992.
In 2005, Dogs in Review picked up the tradition and the Winkies are awarded during a glittering evening in New York before Westminster as part of the Purina® Pro Plan® Showdogs of the Year awards. The Winkies are now awarded to the Best Professional Handler, Best Owner-Handler, Outstanding Breeder, Show of the Year and Judge of the Year, with special industry awards to Trainer, Veterinarian, Shelter and Groomer of the Year. In addition to the seven top Group winners, there are awards to the top Obedience Dog of the Year and the top Best in Show Dog of the year — and of course the Hall of Fame award.
Learn more about past Showdogs and Winkies award winners>>