Families gather as the holidays approach. They come from near and far to share stories of their children's accomplishments and follies and reminisce about days gone by.

The owners and exhibitors at the National Dog Show are much like those families as they gather to compete each year the weekend before Thanksgiving. Some go all out decorating the areas where their dogs are benched to make it clear what they were bred to do, whether retrieving ducks or hunting otters. Others just keep it simple.

An imposing older dog, GCHP2 CR Wicca's Trade Secret, the top-winning male Akita of all time, was at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks, Upper Providence Township, Montgomery County, napping before his turn in the Best of Breed ring. Trader, as he is commonly known, will be 10 on March 14, and is semiretired. He has been shown more than 500 times, all across the United States and even in Puerto Rico.

"He's well-traveled," said co-owner Thomas Bavaria of Weisenberg Township, Lehigh County.

"I think he has a shot today," Bavaria said. "You never know what a judge likes. We've never shown to this woman (judge Patricia Healy) before."

He and his wife, Ann, co-own Trader with Joann Charnik and Carla Burke, but he lives with them, near the Berks County line. Although the Bavarias live in Lehigh County, they have a Kutztown address.

"I can see the county line from my house," Tom said.

They operate Red Sun Akitas kennel from their home and also have a Pembroke Welsh corgi.

The Bavarias are as proud of Trader as any parents would be of their offspring.

Winning bloodline

Trader has sired 10 champions, Tom said, and the Bavarias hope that number continues to grow.

Trader's son Jack, 3½, was competing in the Open Class handled by owner James "Bear" Pesce of Egg Harbor Township, N.J. Pesce's dogs were benched - crate set up - next to the Bavarias. Pesce's wife, Elizabeth Whitesell-Pesce, took photos of Jack, whose registered name is Red Sun's You Don't Know Jack, as he was led around the ring. He ended up being named Reserve Winner's Dog, but received no points.

Two of Trader's grandchildren were there to compete in the Puppy Class. The 10-month-olds are from the same litter.

Mickey, officially known as Red Sun's I'm A Believer, took home Winner's Dog (male) and Best of Winners honors to earn two points toward his championship. The Bavarias co-own him with Keith Venezia.

Lily, Red Sun's It's Hard Out Here, was named Winner's Bitch, earning her two points toward her championship. She is owned by Ann Bavaria. The puppy gave out friendly licks as she was being groomed for the ring.

"She's a pet 99 percent of the time," Ann said.

Lily and Trader were taken around the ring by another member of the extended dog show family, professional handler Heather Bremmer of Maidencreek Township. Bremmer works with Kevin Bednar, and they operate their business at www.wecanhandle.com.

Bremmer had 20 dogs to show Saturday and even had one make it to the Working Group. She led a Tibetan mastiff, Endless Mtns Diamond's And Gold, also known as Di, to a Best of Breed title, earning four points in the process. Di is owned by David and Candice Osborne of New Milford, Susquehanna County.

Getting sucked in

Sometimes friends pitch in and show dogs for their owners.

Sharliene Bowers of Ruscombmanor Township helped her neighbor, Linda Madeira, show her Belgian sheepdogs, the black, long-haired and lithe members of the AKC's Herding Group. The breed also is known as Groenendael.

Bowers also showed her own dog. She spent the last 13 years showing German shepherds. This year, her Backdrafts Chef De Feuerwehr, aka Jaeger, took a second in the Bred by Exhibitor class. He was the third generation of the line she has bred to be shown. His grandmother was her first German shepherd.

"Actually, I started with Rottweilers," Bowers said.

A friend had a Rottie puppy she needed to place, and after Bowers took in Shadow, the woman suggested she take a handling class. When she finished training, the woman told Bowers about a dog show in Kutztown she should try.

"I kind of got sucked in," she said.

Right now she has five German shepherds and one Rottweiler.

Thomas and Kimberly Gerard of Rockland Township have six Australian shepherds and have been showing dogs since 2000.

"I don't go to the bathroom or walk around the house with less than five following me," Kimberly said.

Thomas showed Chunk, TK Rock's Chip Off the Block, and took home Reserve Winner's Dog honors. Thomas said Chunk was nervous because he had not been to a show in a few months.

"He shows for his dad, but loves his mom," Kimberly said as she nuzzled the long-haired, 3½-year-old white and caramel-colored dog.

It takes many hands to get those paws into the show ring and keep them happy.

As you sit down to enjoy the National Dog Show tomorrow on NBC from noon to 2 p.m. with your family, here is a hint about which pooch takes the Best of Show honor: It is less than 200 pounds, but more than 3 pounds.

Contact Susan E. Miers Smith: ssmith@readingeagle.com or 610-371-5048.