NEW YORK (AP) – America’s top dog is a big, slobbering, barking dog named Josh.

The shiny, black Newfoundland lived up to his advance billing and won best in show at Westminster, cheered on by a crowd that yelped its approval when he was picked Tuesday night.

Usually at this show, little dogs win and jump into the champion’s silver bowl. This time, the prize went to a dog who could’ve taken a drink right out of it.

At 155 pounds, Josh tied for the biggest dog ever to win at Westminster. The other one was the only other Newfoundland to win, back in 1984.

Josh beat out several other popular show dogs, including a Norfolk terrier named Coco, a Pekingese called Les and a standard poodle named Miki, in winning his 46th career best in show title.

“He showed his heart out,” said handler Michelle Ostermiller, as petite as Josh was gigantic. “I’m stunned.”

And the 4-year-old champion, officially called Darbydale’s All Rise Pouchcove from Flemington, N.J., celebrated by barking his head off. His woofs echoed around Madison Square Garden, drawing laughs from the crowd of almost 15,000.

“That’s his signature,” co-owner Peggy Helming said.

Josh retired two months ago, but came back for this final show. There was one major factor in his favor: Best in show judge Burton Yamada was the same judge who picked him to win the working group last year.

“He showed extremely well tonight,” Yamada said.

Josh beat out the other 2,623 entries in America’s most prestigious dog show. The two-day competition featured 162 breeds and varieties, and drew dogs from every state except Alaska and Hawaii.

“He doesn’t know it, but he’s retired,” co-owner David Helming said.

Helming quit handling Josh himself a while back after the big dog’s head barreled into his knee and blew it out.

Terriers had won 43 of the previous 96 titles at this event. But Josh not only had the goods to win at Westminster, he had a winning personality, too.

He acted just like a family pet. He barked, he posed, he jumped on people and anyone who wanted to pet him got a slurpy lick, too. Josh won the working group Monday, then spent part of Tuesday napping in his crate, kept cool by a pair of huge circular fans.

In winning, Josh topped Coco the terrier, the nation’s No. 1 show dog coming into the competition. Then again, the dog ranked at the top only wins about half the time at Westminster.

Among the other seven contenders, there was Ibizan hound, a Pembroke Welsh corgi and a Sussex spaniel.

Keeping a dog – and its owner and handler – calm on the big day can be a doggone difficult task. Mikimoto on Fifth, the poodle, played pattycake with owner Karen LeFrak.

Along with more than a thousand dogs in the holding area, there is a crush of people strolling backstage to look at the pooches and buy a bevy of pet products.

“It’s not an ideal situation,” admitted handler Bill McFadden, who guided a Kerry blue terrier named Mick to the best in show title last year. “Sometimes, you have to take the dogs down the ramp to stretch their legs. It’s cooler down there, and the fresh air helps.”

Just in case of an emergency, Westminster keeps veterinarians on call in a Garden office right behind the ring. The vets work in two-person teams in three-hour shifts.

“Most of the problems are stress-related,” vet George Korin said. “We haven’t had anything too serious.”

Besides upset stomachs, Mark Salemi recalled a Bernese mountain dog that jumped out of its crate, caught a nail and bled profusely.

Often times, the vets wind up soothing the nerves of the owners and handlers.

“That can be a big part of it,” Salemi said.

The dog that had the easiest time Tuesday afternoon was an American water spaniel called Shane. That’s because in the best of breed judging, he was the only dog to compete.

“Yeah, it was a little strange being out there all by ourselves,” handler Karen Mammano said. “But hey, I’ll take an automatic win.”

Even so, they had to go through the paces. Shane trotted up and back the green carpet as fans lining the ring gently applauded, and then judge Michael Faulkner moved in for a closer look and a word with Mammano.

“He said, ‘We’re going to put on a little production here,”‘ she said.

When Faulkner pointed at Shane and signaled him as the breed winner for the fourth straight year, Mammano jumped up and shouted, “Yea!”

AP-ES-02-11-04 0006EST

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