It took more than an hour of meticulous brushing, styling and blow-drying - and a little last-minute shaving - to get Marlene ready for her big moment. The intensive grooming paid off: The cocker spaniel from France was named the best female in her round during competition at the Maryland Kennel Club's 93rd All Breed Dog Show yesterday.
More than 1,800 dogs competed. The top honor - Best in Show - went to Garbh Aerie of Eagle, an Irish wolfhound.
The dogs competed in 12 rings against others of the same breed and age. More than 140 breeds were represented.
The best of each breed went on to compete in one of seven groups, and the Best in Show was chosen from among those seven winners. It takes more than just a pretty dog to do well, said Marcelo Chagas of Macungie, Pa., Marlene's handler.
Chagas, a professional handler, and his assistant showed nine dogs at yesterday's competition.
"I teach them how to walk properly, how to be examined by the judges," Chagas said. "I condition their coats and condition them physically, like athletes."
That conditioning can include walking them on treadmills to build the dogs' muscles, Chagas said. Some dogs come to Chagas ready to show, while others can take up to a month to train and condition.
Though winning at the dog show can help a breeder or dog owner make more money when it comes time to sell a champion dog's puppies, that's not the motivation for many who show their dogs, Chagas said.
"You can't do it for the money," he said. "You do it for the passion for the dogs."
Many owners have been showing dogs for years.
Beverly Pronovost of New Gretna, N.J., was at the event to show her Chinese crested hairless, Katie, a tiny pooch who fit neatly into a bag tucked under her owner's arm.
"I grew up in a show home," Pronovost said. "You either love it or you hate it. I enjoy showing. It's a hobby, a sport."
And for many, it's a spectator sport. Families, dog lovers and others crowded the 5th Regiment Armory in Baltimore yesterday.
Amid a cacophony of rumbling barks and constant high-pitched yips were dogs of all shapes and sizes. Spectators wandered freely, ogling and petting the dogs and sitting around the rings to watch the competitions.
"I've always enjoyed being at dog shows," said Michael Penn of Owings Mills, who attended with a friend. Penn was seated at Ring Seven, where the spaniels were being shown.
"I like seeing all the different breeds and the overall beauty of the different forms of dogs," he said. "It's a dog lover's community that comes out."
Dog owners and spectators alike also could shop for dog-related merchandise at the show. Booths around the armory featured dog sweaters, dog collars, beds, blankets, art and jewelry. One booth had pieces of fresh liver on sale for $1.
"You can shop for different dog foods," Penn said. "It's an exchange of dog ideas."