Showing off the dogs
Flies were the only thing that seemed to catch Slugger’s attention. Several times, the three-year-old Bernese mountain dog had to interrupt his elegant walk to scratch himself.Earlier, Slugger had jumped over the corral fence while going through the showmanship test. So thirteen-year-old Morgan Wyrick, his exhibitor, decided to change his gentle lead for a choke chain. The obedience test was ahead and Wyrick, of Gypsum, didn’t want to take any chances with her dog.”He’s just too high-strung now,” said Wyrick, while she waited for her turn at the 4-H Dog Show Sunday.During the obedience test, Tuffy, a mix of Australian shepherd and border collie walked next to her owner Kensie Scott as if they were best buddies. Despite the sounds of babies crying, the noises of other animals and the smell of livestock living at the barn for two weeks, Tuffy only got distracted once when a pigeon flew by.”Dogs respond the best to affection,” said Scott, a 15-year-old who lives with her family in a ranch in Burns and also participated in Sunday’s dog show at the Eagle County fairgrounds.
Scott and Wyrick are among those Eagle County children who take part in Waggin’ Tails, a dog training program offered by the 4-H club in Eagle. Children ages five to 18 who take part in the project meet once a week with project leader, Mark Ruark, who teaches them everything from how to groom their dogs to how to walk them and praise them after an exercise is completed. Of all the programs the 4-H club offers – including dealing with other animals, sawing, cooking and crafts – Scott chose dog training because it helps her to relax, she said.”I live in a ranch and we use dogs to move cows around, so I figure they needed o have some sort of training,” said Scott, who has been part of the project for two years.
How long it takes to train them depends on the dog, Scott said.”You need patience and fun,” she said.Contrary to what many people might think, it’s not the cutest dog that wins at dog shows, said Jenny Wood, a 4-H extension agent.”During the showmanship test, the judge is looking at how clean and well groomed the dog is,” Wood said. “And how well the children set up the dog.”Other judging criteria includes: Ability to follow directions of the judge, smoothness in turns, and the dog’s attitude toward its handler.
And not only the dogs have to be well groomed for the show, with trimmed toe nails, clean teeth and well-brushed hair – Their owners or exhibitors are also under scrutiny. For the show, Scott left the blue jeans and the boots at the ranch, and wore a long black skirt, a blue blazer and a cream top.”The goal of the program is to teach children leadership, citizenship and lifeskills,” Wood said.A way to bond”Forward. Stop. Forward. Now turn,” Britton Nieslanic, the judge of the show, directed 10-year-old Samantha Eckert and her dog, Dakota, through the obedience test.
Training her black lab has helped Eckert to bond with her seven-year old dog. This is the first year that Eckert, of Eagle, joined Waggin’ Tails. She’s a busy girl at the 4-H club, also participating in sawing and horseback riding classes. “Dakota has always been a good dog, though he behaves better since I started training him,” she said proudly.Of all the programs 4-H has to offer, the dog training one teaches children skills they can use for life, said Kendra Scott, Kenzie’s mother.”And the project goes on year-round, so it’s a progressive thing,” Kendra Scott said. “The children learn to be patient and understanding.”And the dogs seem to learn a couple things, too.
When the time came for his obedience test, Slugger stayed by Wyrick, obeying and performing during the different exercises, even during the trickier figure eight. Even when she walked away from him and stood several feet away, Slugger obeyed and stayed as he was told. When Wyrick finally called him, the 120-pound-dog stood up and walked sheepishly toward her.Once out of the show corral, he started pulling Wyrick again.Staff writer Veronica Whitney, a writer based in Vail, Colorado, can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at email@example.com.