In 2009, Tommy Ho and his Standard Poodle show dog named Michael stepped into the ring at a dog show for the first time. 'I was very excited and nervous. It was my first experience and I didn't know how to walk with him,' Ho says. 'When the judge came to touch him, Michael started backing away. He was very nervous, too.'
As the owner of three other dogs - a Mini Poodle named Soda, a Schnauzer named Lucky and a Golden Retriever named Sky - Ho believes a dog show is a fun game of discipline, training and beauty.
'To me, dog shows are an exciting game where I can show that my dog is beautiful,' he says. 'It's also good training for myself where I can learn to be less nervous and stressed.'
As a one of the Hong Kong Kennel Club's (HKKC) Dog Show committee member and an All Breed judge, Franki Leung says dog shows are a performance of beauty and he likens training a dog for competition to breaking in a horse.
'Horses aren't used to someone riding them, and dogs are the same. You have to let them get used to the leash and being under control,' says Leung, who owns 16 dogs, including Poodles and Kerry Blue Terriers. 'If you want to train a show dog, you have to be patient.'
During a show, Leung explains the first assessment involves an inspection of the dog's body structure. A judge will look at the dog, depending on its size, on the ground or a table, and check its bite, coat and body construction.
Next is the dog's gait. 'The triangle walk is popular, which shows if the dog has a straight [walk] from the front, and the dog's side gait,' Leung says. 'When the dog moves, this reconfirms what the judge thinks about the dog [after the body assessment]. It's quite scientific.' With the HKKC Championship Dog Show taking place next Sunday, between 10am and 6pm at Kowloon Bay's International Trade and Exhibition Centre, dogs will be assessed in one of seven categories. The winner of each will be Best in Group, while the overall top dog is named Best in Show.
With eight HKKC shows this year, and 12 planned for next year, Leung says, 'we want to promote shows to the general public, to promote healthy dogs'.
Leung points out that many new handlers lose marks for not conducting a proper triangle in the ring. He says: 'They don't understand how to do it properly, so how can you expect a dog to walk the right way?'
So, can you spot the Best in Show winner straight away? 'If you are experienced you can tell. Sometimes one dog is really stunning and you can't miss it,' Leung explains. 'If the dog has gone through the group and won, it's already a quality animal. Then the judges will really look at the dog in detail.'
While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, some breeds fare better in competition than others. According to Leung, Bull Terriers aren't 'a flashy breed' but can attract judges with their attractive coat. Other winning breeds include Afghan Hounds, Bichon Frise and Kerry Blue Terriers.
With an average 250 dogs competing at an HKKC show, Leung says that 'you only have two to three minutes to present your dog's best form. If you miss it, you've got to come back next time'.