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Kids and Canines
By JESSICA ROBINSON
Of the Baker City Herald
There's nothing particularly rare about a dog in the park on a Thursday evening, but there's something unusual about these dogs.
They don't run up to people.
They don't bark at other dogs.
They don't have a hair out of place.
And they do what their owners tell them.
"Sit. Sit, Bubba," Kayce Bass says, her face full of concentration. The unmoving yellow Lab grins up at her.
Bass is in Geiser Pollman Park, practicing with her 4-H dog club, Seeing is Believing. Next week, and just across Campbell Street, these five young handlers and 15 others will display their canines in the Dog Show at this year's Baker County Fair.
The showmanship segment will be at 5 p.m. Monday, and the obedience segment at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Both Dog Show events will be on the grass in front of the Show Barn.
To call it a "dog" show is somewhat misleading though. The competition really isn't about the dogs.
"What you're mainly doing is trying to train the kid," said Janice Cowan, 4-H adviser at the Oregon State University extension office in Baker City.
The dogs' elegant discipline in the ring is the product of the young dog handlers' persistent work.
A show is full of new sights and sounds, as well as the scents of other dogs, that will distract a dog if the handler hasn't trained it all year.
And grooming must be constant, or come time for the dog show, the judge will know.
"You can tell if care isn't constant," said Andi Foley, the judge of this year's showmanship segment.
Foley, herself a veteran of showing dogs in 4-H, says shows like the one at the Fair have a different focus than the famed Westminster Kennel Club show, which attracts more television coverage than many sporting events.
Fair shows are more about the handlers' relationship with their dogs.
"The kids and the dogs are a team," Foley said. Especially in the showmanship competition, she said, "it's more dependent on the kid's ability to show the dog than it is about the dog itself."
While the obedience segment concentrates on the dog's ability to follow commands, the dog is only a fraction of what's needed to wins a blue ribbon in showmanship.
"In showmanship, you're showing yourself, not the dog," Cowan said.
Judges look for poise. The handler has to demonstrate confidence in herself and in the dog, even when the dog is misbehaving.
"It's about saying, Oh, look at my dog.' It's about presenting the dog to the judge in a nice way," said Lily Raabe, a junior leader in the Keating Kanines club.
Raabe, 16, shows a headstrong schipperke named Coupe. She doubts he'll excel in obedience, but that doesn't mean Raabe and Coupe can't make high scores in showmanship.
She knows how to show him off to the judges.
Aside from the training in dog ownership that 4-H provides children, the program also lays a groundwork of life skills, according to Cowan.
"We do it to develop leadership skills in the youth," she said. "It certainly takes self-discipline to get up every morning and work with the dog."
The purpose of the competitions is to provide youth another important experience, not to find who's the best. Cowan describes the 4-H mission as "trying to produce blue ribbon kids."
Raabe, though she's placed first in past competitions, knows not to take it too seriously.
"The important thing is to have fun and do your best," she said.
For someone like Raabe, with five years of experience in dog shows, that may be easy to say.
But for Bass, who's preparng for her first dog show, it's a bit nerve-wracking.
"I don't know how (Bubba) is going to act when he gets out there," Bass, 17, said. "He can do any of those things, but in that new place with new excitements ... I don't know."
Passers-by stop to watch the girls get in their last-minute training in the park. These people catch the attention of the dogs, and though obviously intrigued, Bubba stays by Bass' side.
"Sit, Bubba," she says again.
And with a helping push to his hindquarters, he does.
Dog Show regulars will notice a few changes this year.
TWO PARTS: The two competitions have been split up to reduce the strain on the children and their animals. Both start at 5 p.m., but showmanship is on Monday, July 26 and obedience is on Tuesday, July 27.
DIFFERENT LOCATION: Traditionally held in the Leo Adler Ball Field, the Dog Show will take place on the grass in front of the Show Barn this year.
A WEEK EARLIER: The Dog Show will precede the rest of the Baker County Fair events, which will be in full swing Sunday, Aug. 1 through Saturday, Aug. 7.