Westminster Dog Show: Where Judging Is Dog-Beat-Dog

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Across the country leashes have been clipped, dog beds tossed into suitcases and man's best friend has prepared for his moment in the sun. Roll out the red carpet, New York City, the big Apple is going to the dogs. A lot of dogs.

This year's Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which kicks off Monday morning, will bring more than 2,000 dogs to Madison Square Garden. It is considered the dog show of the year. A who's who for the canine set.

There will be posh poodles, commanding coonhounds, dapper dachshunds and prancing Pomeranians, all sharing the stage and hoping to be the one standing at the end when Best in Show judge Michael J. Dougherty crowns the top dog Tuesday night.

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There are 2,721 dogs representing 187 breeds in the running for the coveted title this year, the largest entry pool in 15 years.

David Fitzpatrick knows what it's like to be in the Westminster spotlight. His dog, a Pekingese named Malachy, won Best in Show last year.

"I just wanted him to go out and have people remember him looking so well," Fitzpatrick told ABC News. "I was really pleased with his performance. I couldn't have asked for anything more for him to do."

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Now retired, Malachy spends his days at home in Pennsylvania chasing toys and ruling the roost over Fitzpatrick's other eight Pekingese.

"Everybody walks a wide berth around him. They just treat him like he's the king," Fitzpatrick said. "He sort of has a royal attitude.

"He comes by that naturally. It's not because he's a winner. He thinks highly of himself."

As he probably should.

Last year's Westminster was Malachy's 115th Best in Show win. And after that many wins, Fitzpatrick knows how to keep control in a tense ring.

Fitzpatrick and Malachy made to the final ring in 2011, an astonishing feat given that Fitzpatrick was showing his dog with a broken arm. They made it to the No. 2 spot, bested by a Scottish deerhound.

But getting one more chance, even that didn't make the pair nervous. Keeping calm, he said, is exactly what viewers will see from this year's finalists. If the handlers are calm, the dogs will be too.

"It's like any other sport really, you have to concentrate," he said. "Save your dog for the couple minutes performance you need in the ring. Don't wear him out. And you need a lot of good luck, too."

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