Inside the show ring, Tom Gerard pulled a piece of steak from his suit pocket, held it at his side and locked eyes with his pup, Yoshi.

The 6-year-old black tricolor Australian shepherd stood still, watching Gerard's hands.

The treat helped Yoshi keep his focus. Soon, he and Gerard would jog around the ring, trying to stand out among the other Australian shepherds competing at the 2013 National Dog Show at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Montgomery County.

Gerard of Rockland Township spent hours before competition grooming Yoshi. In addition to other standard qualities set by the American Kennel Club, the judge would be looking for a flat top line and the smooth, fluid movements Australian shepherds are known for.

Along the sidelines, Gerard's wife, Kimberly, snapped photos. She's been the center of attention before with her Australian shepherd, Jack. But this year, she chose not to show him so that he wouldn't compete with Yoshi. She and Tom felt it wouldn't make sense to show both dogs, since Australian shepherds are one of the more popular breeds and the competition would be stiff.

This year, they decided it was Tom's turn.

The National Dog Show, hosted by the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, is one of the country's last benched dog shows. A benched show means the public is free to meet the dogs and their owners and learn about the dogs, according to show organizers.

During the show, the expo center was filled with dogs and dog enthusiasts.

About 1,500 dogs from more than 175 AKC-sanctioned breeds compete for Best of Breed, First in Group and Best in Show, and the chance to be seen on national TV. The dogs are assigned to one of seven groups: terrier, toy, working, sporting, hound, nonsporting and herding.

Highlights from this year's show will be televised on NBC at noon Thursday after the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Working the show

Linda Madeira of Ruscombmanor Township fell in love with a Belgian sheepdog in 1968. His name was Gentleman Jim. He seemed like an intelligent, gentle dog, she said. So she bought a puppy of her own.

Now, she owns 13 of them.

Madeira was at the show competing in the ring with three of them: K-Lin's Hidden in the Dark, CH K-Lin's Brighten the Dark and GCH K-Lin's The Edge of Dark. They are classified as herding dogs.

The Edge of Dark, also known as Lance, trotted beside Madeira, his eyes always locked on her.

Yoshi, whose show name is GCH Rosevalleys Top Priority and who is another herding dog, knows when it's showtime. He watches for the signs - Tom Gerard taking a collared shirt out of the closet or loading the RV - and starts prancing around.

"He gets excited to show," Gerard said. "He loves it."

Yoshi is a seasoned show dog, and Gerard doesn't worry about him sitting in the ring or having an "accident." While a potty break in the ring doesn't disqualify an animal, it is particularly embarrassing for handlers.

To prevent any unfortunate episodes at the show, Gerard takes Yoshi to the indoor pad provided for the dogs. But Yoshi, ever the pampered pup, doesn't appreciate the effort.

"Yoshi looked at me like, 'Dad, this is disgusting,' " Gerard said.

Tom and Kimberly joked that showing is simply an expensive hobby. Many show dog owners make significant investments in their animals. Some buy RVs to drive their dogs around the country to compete in shows.

They buy special crates and brushes. Some owners even hire professional handlers to show their dogs.

There's also a time commitment. Tom and Kimberly show about 35 weekends a year.

But they love their dogs.

"They're my kids," Gerard said.

Contact Jamie Klein: 610-371-5016 or jklein@readingeagle.com.