4-H club relishes dogged pursuit

September 27, 2004|EMILY TOADVINE

Big dogs, small dogs, purebred and mutts. All kinds wind up on the end of a leash when the Boyle County 4-H Dog Club meets Tuesdays at the Boyle County Fairgrounds' livestock pavilion.

"The main goal is to get the child and dog to bond more," says Lisa Sparkman, one of the instructors.

While giving her golden Labrador, Gunner, hugs, Haley McMullin, a fourth-grader, says that is her reason for joining the club.

"I thought me and my dog could do this because we could have fun together," she says.

Haley may be attending in the spirit of fun, but some of the club members take obedience training a little more serious.

Jessica Johnson, 12, received a second in junior showmanship for handling and presentation of her dog, Dakota, at the 4-H state fair. Ann Cothran received an American Kennel Club companion dog title after her collie, Angel, qualified at three different dog shows. In the shows, the dog had to hold all the stay commands and Ann took it upon herself to enter the dog in the shows.


"That's a lot," says Joan Caldwell, one of the four instructors. "Adults don't do that well."

Sparkman, who helps teach with Jamie Baker and Cheri Carbone, says she didn't have that type of instant success.

"It took me 16 shows," she says, explaining that the breed she shows - Australian shepherds - was a factor.

Two years ago, Emily Couture, 11, won two blue ribbons at the 4-H competition at the state fair with her 4-year-old dog, Scout. When not in class, Emily says she tries to practice obedience training with her dog about 15 minutes a day, four times a week. One of her German shepherd's favorite parts of the class is doing jumps. This is called agility training.

"It's a little more freedom for the dog," says Sparkman.

Most of the club members have a preference for a certain breed and Emily says she considers German shepherds her favorite. She likes its markings and its challenging personality.

"It's because of their looks. They're smart, but a little stubborn," she says.

Because they provide a challenge is one reason Sparkman has Australian shepherds.

"They're free-thinkers. They're very independent dogs. Border collies and goldens, Labs really want to please their owners. Aussies will please you, but they want to see what's in it for them."

Smaller dogs usually harder to train

Sparkman observes that smaller dogs usually are harder to train. That means Joanna Dunn, 14, has her hands full with her black Pomeranian, Bear. Still, it's her favorite breed.

"I saw one when I was little and from that one, I wanted one."

Joanna knows the way to coax Bear into doing his tricks.

"He'll do anything for food. He listens pretty well."

Nancy Lewis, 10, says food is the motivation for her Rottweiler and coonhound mix, China. Before classes, she prepares treats of cut up lunch meat or cheese that convince China to sit, stay, wait and lie down.

If Joey Jackson, 14, had to sum up the personality of his Chow and golden retriever mix, Teddy Bear, he would say lazy.

"He sleeps all the time. He does agility, but he does it very slowly," says Joey, whose dog out of good-nature or sleepiness, let Joey pile gravel on his head between lessons.

Joey, who is home-schooled, works with a variety of animals at his Mercer County home. He also cares for cows, sheep and a horse.

The club usually splits into two classes, one for beginners and one for those with more experience. The club, which is for ages 9 through 19, began meeting Aug. 31 and will continue until Oct. 26. Sparkman says they would still accept members. She can be contacted at night at (859) 332-7294 or Caldwell can be reached at (859) 734-2191.

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