The major attraction among the shows that close on July 3 is the Reliant Park World Series of Dog Shows, which begins in Houston, Texas, on Wednesday, July 17, and runs through Sunday, July 21. Summer is hot in Houston, but the Reliant Center on the south side of the city is a great venue for a dog show. There is more than ample room in the huge, brightly lit building for exhibitors, large rings, countless vendors and all the extra attractions, as well as rows of comfortable chairs so that spectators can watch and enjoy higher-than-average-quality entries in many breeds. A host of hotels are right in the neighborhood, and some of the city’s best restaurants are just a short drive from the Reliant Center.

The Reliant Park cluster kicks off on Wednesday with the Houston All Terrier and Texas Working Dog Association of Greater Houston shows. Both Group clubs hold their second shows Thursday, along with Houston Combined Specialties Association – which includes 13 breeds – and Bluebonnet Boxer Club. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are the all-breed shows hosted by the Houston, Beaumont and Galveston County Kennel Clubs. This cluster of dog shows began in 1977, and I honestly can’t think of a cluster that has maintained its level of quality longer than this one. It was a great cluster in the 1980s and still is.

Beaumont KC’s 2012 show was the 22nd largest U.S. all-breed event with 2,126 entries, and although it fell from 11th in 2011, 16th in 2010 and 10th in 2009, being among the country’s top 25 shows is an accomplishment. Many of the country’s top dogs fly into Houston in July to vie for big points, so the finals at each day’s event are typically star-studded.

“Lola,” a painting by 12th grader Jennifer Eaves from Foster High School, was Best in Show at the 2012 Dr. Mari Jon Filla Student Art Exhibit and Contest at the Reliant World Series of Dog Shows.

“Lola,” a painting by 12th grader Jennifer Eaves from Foster High School, was Best in Show at the 2012 Dr. Mari Jon Filla Student Art Exhibit and Contest at the Reliant World Series of Dog Shows.

Reliant Park (or Astrohall, as some of us still insist on calling it, as it was originally named the Astro World Series of Dogs Shows) took a page from Kansas’ Sunflower Cluster’s playbook when it began the Dr. Mari Jon Filla Student Art Exhibit and Contest. Local kids in grades kindergarten through 12 participate, sometimes with as many as 800 entries, and the results are nothing short of astonishing. You can see some of the 2012 winners here.

This cluster has become known as a great place for judges’ education with seminars, including hands-on study, for 29 Hound breeds offered this year Thursday through Sunday. The cluster has also become well known for its Meet the Breeds, now in its 19th year. More than 100 local fanciers typically participate, letting their dogs meet and greet the public and sharing information about owning and living with their breeds. This is a great service to the local community and to the world of purebred dogs.

Two free clinics will take place during the shows. On Thursday retired professional handler and AKC judge Adelene Pardo will conduct an Amateur Owner-Handler clinic. A diehard and no nonsense dog woman, Adelene knows the ropes as well as any of today’s most accomplished professional handlers, and has been teaching for more than 40 years. A clinic for junior handlers will take place Saturday, conducted by Kathleen Farlow.

The cluster offers Best Puppy and Bred-by-Exhibitor competitions, with $100 gift cards from show vendors as the Best in Show prizes. The Greater Houston Boston Terrier Club sponsors an all-breed health clinic with eye, heart, patella and BAER testing as well as microchipping, and Galveston County KC sponsors an echocardiogram clinic. Perhaps the most valuable thing the Reliant Park cluster offers exhibitors is a strong and varied panel of judges.

To benefit Houston Citizens for Animal Protection, a contest urges creative people to build a better doghouse, and the results, on display during the dog show, are voted on by the public and then bid on in a silent auction. The proceeds go toward helping homeless animals, proving that purebred dog people care about all dogs, not just those with pedigrees.

In addition to the aforementioned Meet the Breeds, other major draws of the cluster for as many as 40,000 people from the local community (and this was true more than 20 years ago when I lived in Houston) are agility, flyball, canine freestyle dancing, Frisbee, obedience and rally. Oh, and did I mention that there are literally hundreds of great vendor booths in what the cluster now calls “McScotty Market,” with great shopping for dog fanciers of every ilk? As the cluster promos note, the vendors sell “everything a dog can eat, wear or lie down on,” and much, much more. The Reliant Cluster really does offer an enjoyable few days at the dog show.

The Happy Valley Cluster, four shows hosted by the Chambersburg Area and Nita-Nee Kennel Clubs, takes place outdoors July 18 through 21 at the Grange Fairgrounds in Centre Hall, Pa., north of State College almost in the center of the state. Obedience and rally are also on offer each day.

New this year at Happy Valley is a “Barbecue and Social” on Saturday evening after Best in Show. Tickets are just $10 pre-ordered or $12 at the door for what sounds like a delicious feast, not to mention an opportunity to visit with friends and enjoy some downtime.

The clubs are offering 4-to-6 Puppy competition all four days, as well as Veterans classes in all breeds. On Saturday the Brandywine English Setter Club will hold its specialty at the show, and is hosting a Meet the Breeds after breed judging. I should mention that entry fees for Junior Showmanship, Puppy, Bred-by-Exhibitor, Veterans and Miscellaneous classes at these shows are just $21, low by today’s standards and no doubt much appreciated by exhibitors. The clubs also charge no admission or parking fees.

Up in the Pacific Northwest, the Metropolitan Exposition Center in Portland, Ore., will be the site of the Stumptown Cluster, two all-breed shows hosted by the Portland KC. They’re preceded by specialties on Friday for more than a dozen breeds, as well as the Terrier Association of Oregon show.

Portland Kennel Club claims to be the first AKC all-breed club to have hosted AKC Coonhound bench shows, and based on past success is offering them again this year Friday through Sunday at the Expo Center. This will make for a terrific place to see and learn about Coonhounds.

The club offers 4-to-6 Puppy Sunday only, BAER, cardiac and patella clinics along with low cost vaccinations and microchipping both days, and the International Canine Semen Bank, Breeder’s Veterinary Services and Cool Bred Canine Reproduction will be on site all weekend. This club has also kept Puppy class entry fees at a low $20.50.

Mid-July is, thankfully, not a terribly busy time for dog shows, with all-breed shows closing in only three locations – Northern California; Putnam, N.Y., in the Hudson Valley north of New York City; and Rothschild, in central Wisconsin – in addition to the shows already covered. If your club has something fun happening at its upcoming show, please be sure to email me at a few weeks before the closing date, and I’d be happy to report on it. Keep your dogs cool and safe this summer!