For the past several years, the Kentuckiana Cluster of dog shows, held in Louisville, Ky., in March, have been America’s largest dog shows, with entries of 2,300 to over 2,900 dogs each day. The popularity of the cluster is warranted, and there’s still time to make plans to go this year – entries close on Wednesday, February 29, at Onofrio Dog Shows.

What’s the secret to this cluster’s success? It’s a combination of things that begins with a central location that’s easy to get to from the East Coast, the south, the north and from anywhere in the Midwest. Well-thought-out judging panels that include both seasoned all ‘rounders, as well as promising provisional judges, add to the appeal.

Louisville, Ky., is centrally located and accessible from many parts of the U.S.

The Kentuckiana cluster show committees do their best to make exhibitors and handlers feel welcome at their shows, and the cluster boasts a venue that offers plenty of space for big rings and ample setup space. Dozens of specialty shows and supported entries mean that major points are available in lots of breeds.

Let’s look at a breakdown of how many breeds in each Group had majors available at the Saturday show in 2011.

Note that several of the newest breeds, including Icelandic Sheepdogs and Redbone Coonhounds, boasted 5-point major entries last year.

This year’s specialties will be held on Wednesday for Boxers, Am Staffs, Yorkies and Border Collies. On Friday evening after the all-breed shows, there will be specialties for Cockers, Bassets, Bostons and German Shepherds. Several breeds are holding “Concurrent Specialty Shows” on Friday and Saturday, which will allow exhibitors to show twice in one day; these are Weimaraners and Westies on Friday, and Dachshunds, Pugs and Shelties on Saturday.

Parent clubs holding shows in Louisville in 2012 include the Otterhound Club of America, American Manchester Terrier Club, American Belgian Tervuren Club, Scottish Deerhound Club of America, Bedlington Terrier Club of America and the Dogue de Bordeaux Society of America.

Regional competition for the Eukanuba Breeders Stakes is also being held at this venue. On Friday Sporting, Hound, Working and Terrier will be judged, with Toy, Non-Sporting, Herding and Best in Stakes on Saturday. Entries can be made the day of the event.

To compete in the Breeders Stakes, a breeder enters three dogs from at least two different litters. He or she must be the breeder of record on all three dogs and must handle the first of the three dogs shown. Competition begins at the Group level and judges evaluate the overall quality of the breeding program based on the three exhibits presented. Group-winning trios compete for Best in Stakes, and all regional stakes winners will be eligible to compete again at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship in Orlando, Fla., in December.

Michelle Santana’s Foxfire Doberman Pinschers are former Eukanuba Breeders Stakes winners.

And like all successful clusters, Louisville includes much more than just a dog show during its four-day run. Health clinics for eyes and BAER testing are held on Friday and Saturday. Like the Chicago shows that founded the concept, Louisville holds a dog judging competition for juniors from ages 9 to 18. Also for all young people who’d like to attend, the AKC Registered Handlers Program offers a free handling clinic on Saturday afternoon, where handlers work with kids and their dogs to help them learn how best to present them in the ring.

Of course, plenty of comfortable dog-friendly hotels nestle near the show site, and the Louisville airport is just a hop, skip and a jump from the dog show. The city of Louisville offers great choices for dining in any price range.

The Onofrio travel group has a block of rooms reserved at special rates at the Crowne Plaza Airport, the LaQuinta Inn and Suites Expo Center, and the Best Western Airport; to get these rates book through Jack’s Travel Professionals at