The 130th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show continues tonight on the USA Network. Even poodle fanciers and fans of Christopher Guest's mockumentary Best in Show may be bewildered by some of the sport's quirks, and over the years Slate has tried to prepare readers for the event. In 2003, Brendan I. Koerner explained where and why competing pups get names like Ch. Set'R Ridge Wyndswept In Gold. Koerner wrote: "The names are also often intensely personal, referring to a dog's hygienic habits, a deceased loved one, or a favorite fictional character. … The prefix 'Ch.' is an abbreviation for 'Champion.' "
And in 2004, Jill Hunter Pellettieri revealed the surprisingly pragmatic roots of poodles' high-maintenance coiffures. The haircuts date to 16th-century Europe, when poodles were used as water retrievers. "An unshorn poodle's thick coat could weigh it down in the water," Pellettieri wrote. "With the bottom half of its body shaved, the animal was more buoyant and could swim more freely. The long mane and hair around the chest were left intact to keep the poodle's vital organs warm in the cold water, and owners also kept the hair around the joints to protect them from cold and injury and to help prevent rheumatism."