By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A black affenpinscher defeated the crowd favorite Old English sheepdog and five other finalists on Tuesday to win best in show at the 137th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the premier canine competition in America.
The 5-year-old toy dog named Banana Joe claimed his 86th career best in show title. He will retire to the Netherlands where he was born, said his handler, Ernesto Lara.
Lara characterized the breed as having a "comic seriousness," unaware that they are funny little dogs. The breed's name in French means "mustached little devil," according to the Westminster Kennel Club.
"He's a very tough little guy. He's just a comedian," Lara told reporters after the show. "He doesn't know his size. He doesn't know he has a fluffy face. He thinks he's Mr. America."
Judge Michael Dougherty chose a 20-month-old Old English sheepdog named Swagger as the reserve best in show, or runner-up, after the 90-pound (40-kg) cloud of white and gray fur drew the loudest cheers from the crowd.
"It came down to a hair's breadth, an nth degree," Dougherty said of the difference between Banana Joe and Swagger. "This little fellow - I just wanted to touch him. He's got a fantastic face and an absolutely perfect body. I've not had my hands on a better affenpinscher ever."
Swagger had only three shows to his name before winning the herding group on Monday. At 20 months Swagger is so young he has not shed all his puppy fur, said handler and owner Colton Johnson of Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Swagger was a late entrant to the show after Westminster expanded its rules this year to allow so-called class dogs, which are dogs that have not won enough shows to be considered a champion under American Kennel Club rules, for the first time since 1991.
The other finalists were an athletic 3-year-old American foxhound called Jewel, which won the hound group; a fluffy white 4-year-old bichon frise called Honor, winner of the non-sporting group; a 6-year-old German wirehaired pointer named Oakley, the sporting group winner; a 20-month-old Portuguese water dog named Matisse, winner of the working group; and a 5-year-old smooth fox terrier named Adam, which won the terrier group.
Left behind once again was the Labrador retriever, which has been the most popular pure bred dog in the United States for the last 22 years but has yet to win the Westminster show.
More than 2,700 dogs competed over two days. This year's dogs came from all 50 states and a number of countries including Brazil, Croatia, France and Japan, organizers said.
The Westminster show bills itself as the second-oldest continuous sporting event in United States after the Kentucky Derby.
(Editing by Daniel Trotta and Stacey Joyce)