Every dog has its nightSometimes, obedience is a relative thing. The dogs getting their workout Monday evening at the Dakota County Fairgrounds are as likely as any other to get obsessed by a stray scent, bark or take off across a field in pursuit of nothing in particular.
By: Nathan Hansen, Rosemount Town Pages
Sometimes, obedience is a relative thing.
The dogs getting their workout Monday evening at the Dakota County Fairgrounds are as likely as any other to get obsessed by a stray scent, bark or take off across a field in pursuit of nothing in particular. But they’re also willing to hop fences, scramble over tall, wooden ramps and crawl through flexible plastic tunnels that look a little bit like plastic Slinkys on steroids, all at the command of attentive owners who stand within arm’s length — within easy grabbing distance, in other words — or at the far end of a leash.
Maybe teaching Fido to roll over isn’t quite as impressive as you thought.
These particular dogs — and the owners who hold those leashes — are all part of the 4-H dog project. About 60 of them show up each Monday night at the Dakota County Fairgrounds to work on everything from basic obedience to advanced agility-course running. The program also offers a winter Dog Bowl — a quiz bowl competition in which all the questions are about dogs.
For the kids who get involved, it’s all a big mix of an obedience class, a 4-H activity and an excuse to play with their dogs.
“It’s good for the kids. It’s good for the dogs. It gets them out and socializes them,” said Jan Brulie, one of five leaders of the Dakota County program.
The program socializes humans and dogs alike. Esther Susag, an active 4-H member who showed up Monday with a hyperactive St. Bernard named Lars, said she’s made good friends through the dog program.
“Everyone’s really nice and understanding even when Lars runs away,” she said. “They all pitch in to come and get him.”
The dog program has been around as part of 4-H since the 1940s, but local leader Leona Hausbank, who like Brulie first got involved when she was a kid, isn’t sure how long it’s been active in Dakota County. It draws dogs of all shapes and sizes, from massive animals like Lars to Izzy, a chihuahua-rat terrier-pug mix who could sneak under Lars’ belly with plenty of headroom to spare.
The program is about a lot more than teaching dogs to sit or stay, though.Hausbank said the dog training is a tool for helping 4-H members leadership skills they’ll need later in life. Even the Dog Bowl program, Hausbank says, teachers kids valuable study skills.
Mickie Trudeau is in her second year in her program with Frank, a dog only slightly smaller than Lars who Trudeau said was ill-behaved didn’t always know his own size. And while he still has a tendency to take an unplanned runner across the fairgrounds the dog’s behavior has improved to the fact he runs most of the agility course without issue, leaping over fences and crawling over an a-frame ramp without complaint.
For Shaylee Bistodeau, who is in her third year of the program with a 5-year-old black lab named Abby, the weekly classes are a chance to spend some quality time with her dog.
“I enjoy it a lot,” Bistodeau said. “I just like to spend a lot of time with my dog and learn new stuff.”
There is plenty of opportunity for dog program participants to hang out with their four-footed friends. In addition to the Dog Bowl there are obedience and agility-course competitions at the Dakota County Fair and at the state level. There are also American Kennel Club competitions.
“There’s opportunities out there,” said Hausbank, who also serves as a USDA agility judge.
She’s not the only one with experience. Among them, the five leaders of the Dakota County dog program have more than 100 years of experience working with dogs.
The students take advantage of that knowledge. Jase Simon, who went through a beginning agility course Monday with his dog Buddy, is starting over with a new dog.
“I think if you do one dog too long you want to start over with a new project,” he said.
Whatever the kids’ reasons for getting involved, everybody seems to have a good time.
“You learn life skills, Hausbank said. “It’s a lot of fun.”