In the ring, Levi’s beagle ears flop a little as he follows his boy, 9-year-old Hayden Myers, over a jump.
Myers doesn’t have a lot to say to questions about Levi’s training regimen. His reason for doing the dog show at the Brown County Fair is pretty simple: it’s fun.
Children of all ages and skill levels lead, cajole and sometimes even drag their faithful companions through their paces in three events: agility, obedience and showmanship.
The dogs that hop through hoops or sit patiently — or impatiently — are family pets. They won’t be sold at auction and may be shown year after year, growing with the children who lead them through their paces.
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There is a closer relationship between the children and their dogs than with show livestock, said Diane Pedersen, Muddy Paws Dog Club leader.
Shelby Blake shows horses, cows, goats and poultry, but she is closest to her horses and dogs.
These animals become like family members, Pederson said.
For the past three years, Dale Phelps has shown Buddy, a rescue dog his family took in six years ago.
It took awhile for Buddy to warm up to them. Now, “he hangs around with me more than he used to,” Phelps said. “If I don’t get up by a certain time, he freaks out and will come wake me up, or crawl in bed with me and go to sleep.”
Each time a dog learns something new, the excitement the children feel shows, Pederson said. That serves as its own reward, encouraging the children to learn more.
Ten-year-old Marqi Satter has a strategy for getting her dog to behave while training: getting away from family and distractions. “I hold a treat and make her sit for three minutes or something like that.”
Satter’s parents wanted her to start 4-H with something simple and work up, as her sister, Mattie, has. After two years, Marqi is in the dog club and cat club showing family pets, and Mattie is working with rabbits and sheep in addition to her dog.
The dog club is a fairly easy way to get started with 4-H, Pedersen said. Many club members live in town or in apartments, without the space needed for larger animals or livestock.
Training a dog doesn’t require much in the way of space or supplies, Phelps said. Obedience training can be done at home, and sticks laid out on the ground can serve as a practice agility course. Some club members take their dogs to playgrounds to practice.
Brittany Justus, 16, is in her third year doing 4-H and the dog club. She has had her miniature Australian shepherd, Pepper, for nine years.
While they don’t work on agility every day — running through, under and over obstacles — obedience training is a perpetual task, she said. Teaching a dog to wait patiently or stay controlled in the presence of visitors prepares it in small ways for competing in the arena.
In the show ring, Justus could be heard calling her “Pepper Renee.” That’s when she misbehaves, she said.
Savannah Lovins said her mother has never watched Lovins show dogs, because all of the dogs go straight to her.
“It is kind of a family group,” said Alyssa Besser, Brown County Purdue Extension 4-H Youth Development educator, about the dog club.
“It’s a group of kids who are all helping each other to get better.”