German shepherd Rocket was in his element Monday -- both in the frigid temperatures and among the nation's top breeds at the Westminster Dog Show.
The Riverhead canine snagged a ribbon of merit at the show, prompting his jubilant owner, Sue Condreras, to proclaim: "He's amazing. He looked phenomenal and performed the best he has ever performed."
Rocket -- whose standout feature is his strong, masculine head -- is one of 3,000 dogs competing in the 139th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Pier 92/94 on the Hudson River. This is his first time in the national show but the 4 1/2-year-old has earned grand champion titles in other contests.
The German shepherd seems to thrive in winter competitions, his owner said.
"We call him arctic boy," she said. "He loves this cold weather."
Rocket's regime is that of an athlete who uses not only his brawn but also his smarts. To prepare, his trainer takes him out daily for three- to four-mile walks and "roadwork" runs "to open up his gait to get ready for the show," Condreras said.
"German shepherds need a lot of physical and mental attention. You have to keep them busy," said Condreras, who raises German shepherds. To keep Rocket mentally stimulated, he is training to be a K-9 search-and-rescue dog.
Rocket eats raw meat and fish to keep him and his coat healthy. Judges also "look at the personalities of the dog," she said. "And Rocket is very intelligent and just a real love bug. He loves people and likes to be around them."
Dog lovers and breed aficionados lined up Monday in freezing temperatures to crush through the pier to pet and observe the champion dogs who were at their benches with owners.
Handler Jamie Clute of Greenville, South Carolina, whose charge was a border collie, said the canine is typical of "a high-energy breed that is always looking for the next thing to do." Clute said: "I love being around all these dogs. I've been doing this for 35 years and I have to say that I am better with animals than with people."
Another border collie, Rockie, garnered a ribbon in his group. His handler, Clint Livingston, of Colorado, said Rockie "is light and beautiful on his feet and is just great."
The final Best in Show competition -- which Rocket did not qualify for -- is Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.