Thank goodness for the dog. Throughout the whole coronavirus lockdown, school closing and restrictions, kids in the 4-H Dog Project had something positive to focus on. Leaders got creative with online teaching so that the kids could continue learning how to train and care for their dogs. This weekend, they'll get to show off what they learned at the Boulder County Fair, even if it won't be the event they envisioned when the year started.
"She can go super fast, like a torpedo," said 10-year-old Mandy Roth, who has learned all sorts of things about her dog, Kimmie, since joining the 4-H Dog Project three years ago. Her 85-pound black and white labrador retriever mix seems to have an on-off switch. "She sprints really hard and then sleeps," Mandy said. Kimmie loves to jump and "is really, really kind." The two of them have progressed from basic obedience to off-leash work and agility training.
"I love being with Kimmie and being able to train her and see how much that training is paying off with how well she behaves," Roth said. Her mom, Kate, agreed, "I've never had a dog as well trained as we have now."
It's not just the results that Kate Roth loves. Even though most of the training has been through video conferencing, the program has helped her daughter through the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. "This is the number one social interaction she had. It was the only thing that wasn't cancelled. It was the one activity in the middle of everything. It was absolutely huge," Kate said.
The family got creative and built a teeter totter in the backyard and set up a hula hoop. "We added old tissue paper and made her a fire hoop she jumps through," Mandy said. Nothing was actually lit up other than her imagination, fueled by orange and yellow streaks of paper dancing in the breeze.
4-H Dog Project leader Anne Janicki said she started with 61 kids at the beginning of the year, "We had one or two training classes and everything came to screeching halt." About 20 families postponed to next year, because of the pandemic. Janicki said most of those kids were in their first year when in-person learning is even more important, "You don't blame them, it's kind of a different year."
Janicki didn't want to give up, so she scrambled to figure out video conferencing and set up online training sessions and Yappy Hours where they'd share dog jokes, learn about dog care, breeds, and hear from veterinarians and other trainers. Kids also gave presentations about something they learned. Offline, they worked on their dog bingo cards with squares that represented activities like playing with your dog for 20 minutes and practicing "down," "sit" and "stay." As pandemic restrictions have eased this summer, there have been some in-person training and activities for four or five kids and dogs at a time, outdoors, with masks.
After all their hard work, Janicki is relieved that the kids will get to finish their project at the fair. There will be in-person classes Aug. 8 and 9 at the Boulder County Fairgrounds with limits on participants and no spectators except online. 4-H families that aren't comfortable with being on the grounds can submit videos.
Classes will be livestreamed on the Boulder County Fair Facebook page. There will be showmanship, obedience and Rally classes where kids and dogs show off their teamwork by going to different stations on a course and performing tasks such as going over jumps and turning 360s.
This year's fair was supposed to emphasize dogs with various entertainment events including Corgi races, dock diving (jumping into a pool after a toy) and trick dogs. That will be rolled over to next year.
Mandy Roth is glad that she and Kimmie will be able to finish their 4-H year in person, even if it isn't the full fair experience. She's looking forward to moving up a level next year. In the meantime, she'll keep building on her relationship with Kimmie. "You get closer to your dog and find all these new parts of their personalities that you didn't know. We found out she has a cartoon howl. She sounds like Snoopy. It's really funny."