More than 1,000 dogs and their handlers are competing for best-in-show through Sunday at the Exhibition Hall at Freeman Coliseum.
The public is invited to the River City Cluster of Dog Shows and features some of the top dogs from across the nation, according to show sponsors.
Some of the dogs are past national champions for their breed or group, such as Tango, a giant schnauzer, owned by Robyn Elliot, a teacher from Dallas.
She said work starts early for many of the dog owners, but even earlier for professional handlers who show a dog for its owner.
“Some of the handlers are here at 6 a.m., exercising dogs, prodding them and then starting grooming to get ready,” she said. “It takes me about an hour and a half to get her ready for the ring and that’s about normal for a giant schnauzer,” she said.
Ken Lambert, of Oklahoma City, is one of those professional handlers preparing and showing off Yorkshire terriers and Chihuahuas for their owners.
“It’s fun to take their dogs, train them, put them together, make them champions and send them home,” he said. “Then we get a new batch and we get to do it again.”
Lambert said he is on the road to dog shows across the country, as much as 42 weeks a year.
Also traveling to dog shows are vendors related to the show industry, such as Jacob Robles of New Braunfels, who sells health insurance for dogs.
He said policies can cover issues related to dog misbehavior, special diets for obese dogs, emergency visits, and some medical checkups.
“It’s a reimbursement plan. It’s just pet insurance. We also have a preventative side too,” he said.
There is also dog clothing vendors in the exhibit hall, along with all-natural dog food and custom-leash vendors.
Tom and Sande Wiegand, of Pennsylvania, set up a tent for their company Winning Image to take photos of dogs and their owners.
Sande Wiegand said some breeds can be less camera-friendly than others.
“Hounds. We photographed a saluki one time that would not look at me, kept turning backwards, giving us her butt,” she said.
The main attractions are not the vendors, but the the competitive events, where dogs are judged on appearance and obedience.
The show is put on by the Bexar County Kennel Club and the Kennel Club of Greater Victoria.
Show chairman Jennifer Stastny says dogs need more than perfect breed characteristics and perfect behavior to win best-in-show. She says a dog’s ability to turn on the confidence before a crowd is key factor.
“It’s like someone plugged them in and flipped a switch. They are on for the judge. They are on for the show. Everybody look at me,” she said.
The dogs and their owners hope to win best in breed, best in group, and then best in show, Stastny said.
While winners do not receive prize money — just ribbons and trophies — many of the competitors said they do it for the love of competition and the sense of community they get from seeing each other at other shows across the country.
Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at tpr.org