Saturday, July 17, 2010

County fair & memory lane

I've been spending a lot of time at the local county fair this week, taking pictures for the paper. Last night I went to the 4-H dog show. It was your basic choke-jerk-yank affair with all the snaps and snarls you get when you mix dogs and kids and 90 degree temps. Nobody got bit, nobody's dog ran off, I served as a Figure 8 post and didn't get peed on and only one exhibitor broke down in tears so I guess the show was a success. They were still using the graduate novice routine from 1982 but nobody asked my opinion so I kept my mouth shut.

I taught the local 4-H dog project classes for 10 years in this county and for 3 years before that in a neighboring county. I gave it up mostly out of frustration. My training methods were not going to produce a ring-ready dog for the county fair in 10 weeks, which is the usual amount of time alloted to the training sessions that started in the springtime and continued weekly until fair. It gives me some small bit of satisfaction to realize that their current trainer, who still uses the jerk and yank approach with all dogs on chokers regardless of age or size, isn't getting any better results either.

Another reason I called it quits on teaching the 4-H classes was the competition from every other thing under the sun. The weekly evening training classes were up against vacations, church camp, 4-H camp, sports camp, scout camp, trips to grandma's house, the beach, the mall and endless softball and baseball games and tournaments. You guessed it, the dogs always came in behind everything else. Sometimes the kids didn't even bother coming to the classes at all and just showed up the day of the show with dogs who had never been off the farm, let alone around a dozen other dogs, all pumped on adrenaline and stress.

Watching 4-H dogs shows is always bittersweet for me, since I got started training through the dog project about a hundred years ago and it holds a very special place in my heart. But it was different back then. Seriously different. Most of the kids in my local county project also showed in AKC trials, doing obedience, junior showmanship and competing in the breed ring. Our dogs were a high priority. So it's hard to watch kids yanking their dogs around the county fair ring, knowing that when they go home, the dog will get very little attention until next spring, if then. But at least they're spending some time with them now and hopefully they'll learn something about communicating with another species.

County fair aside, my own dogs have had a rather lazy week. We've been averaging temps around 90 and one day had a heat index of 105 degrees and another is predicted for today, which does not make for great training. Phoenix and I have been doing the 6 a.m. training thing, getting in a quick session before the heat catches up with me. He is fine with the heat. Me? Not so much.

One of my projects for our "vacation" time between shows this summer is teaching a flip finish. This starts with a solid hand touch. I thought Nix had that but I've not been clear enough on my criteria and instead of hand touching my palm, he touches anywhere from fingertips to my forearm. Sometimes he doesn't touch at all, just does one of those "How lovely to see you, dahling" air kisses. So I've got to clean that up first before I can start to shape it into the finish.

A handful of his breakfast crunchies and a clicker has been a great help. Now he's drilling my palm with much more accuracy, although what I call a "nose touch" seems to translate to Malinois-ese as "tooth touch." It's okay. Nobody's bleeding.


  1. As long as no one bleeds, it's all good. But... you may have to explain the bruises... "Do you feel safe in your home?"

  2. I checked out the Johnson County dogs at the fair two years ago. I was really depressed by the whole thing. They did "agility" on the saddest looking equipment and holding the leash the whole time. It was a mess and I felt bad for the kids and the dogs. Most of the "heeling" was done while the dogs only had their back feet on the ground. If I were tall enough, even my dogs could heel perfectly like that!

  3. I was in 4-H when I was younger, in the rabbit program. I WISH there was a dog program. I would've loved to have gotten involved with dogs earlier. Plus, I had The World's Smartest (doesn't every kid have the dog that was perfect?) Golden Retriever.

    In the rabbit program, they had a regular show (what would be conformation for dogs) and also Showmanship. I guess that would be similar to Junior Showmanship where they judge you and your knowledge and the health of the rabbit rather than the conformation. You had to present your rabbit to the panel of judges, go over them yourself and explain the breed, the different parts and show that they're healthy and answer questions. Some of the questions were straightforward, but the judges always threw in personal random questions like, "What color is his food dish?" because if the kid couldn't answer it, it showed that the kid wasn't the one taking care of the rabbit and they failed. At least that made it a little more fair for the ones (like me) who were the only caregiver.

    I understand why trying to teach would be frustrating. I thought back to how long I've been working with Layla, how far we've come, and how far we still have to go. 10 weeks is just a drop in the bucket. I think "impossible" is a good word to describe the likelihood of teaching them in that time.

    Good luck with the flip finish. Our regular finish is coming along well. As a separate trick/skill I'm teaching a jump up to the food. Hopefully at some point I can incorporate the two. Good thing I have more than 10 weeks to try :)

  4. I have judged both agility and rally-o for 4H. I had to excuse a girl in agility when she smacked her dog for not lying down on the table. The rally kids were better, but more than half the dogs in the class peed\pooped in the ring. Each time the kid said 'I was too busy' as an excuse. I have offered to teach rally for the kids (for free!), either weekly or as half-day clinics, but I never hear back. Most of the kids don't care about the sport, they just want credit for participating. Sometimes I wonder what modern 4H is teaching our kids. It's certainly not the same program as when I was a kid.