The 54th annual Carroll County 4-H Dog Show was held at the Carroll County Agriculture Center in Westminster on Sunday. (Michel Elben and Max Simpson / Carroll County Times)
Expertly guiding 10-month-old Bernese mountain dog Bones through the ring Sunday morning, Brandon Paugh demonstrated the deep connection he has developed with his canine companion. Brandon, 9, won this year's 4-H Spirit Award for best dog/handler partnership during the 54th annual Carroll County 4-H Dog Show at the Carroll County Agriculture Center in Westminster.
"I'm excited because I've never won a trophy before, and I've done this for two years," said Brandon, of Taneytown. "It's been tough because the first time he was with me he wouldn't really listen. We've been working together for four weeks, and here we are winning a trophy."
The 4-H Spirit Award was presented by 2015 winner Mickala Holland, of Taneytown, and 2013 winner Anna Lowes, of Manchester.
"Brandon has worked really hard with his dog. You can see he takes such good care of him," Mickala said.
"Brandon was in one of my training classes, and I know he has put in a lot of effort," Anna added. "He has a really great attitude."
Brandon's mother, Jackie Paugh, said the Carroll County 4-H Dog Care and Training Project has taught her son a lot of responsibility and leadership.
"When he first started, all he wanted to do was cuddle him, and now he's learned how to command," Paugh said.
According to the 4-H Dog Show's assistant superintendent, Robin Korotki, participating 4-H'ers are encouraged to dress like they are going to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. They compete in the classes of fitting and showing, obedience, and rally obedience.
"I love to see the communication between the child and the dog. If they can communicate with their animal, it helps their communication skills overall," Korotki said. "In fitting and showing, the 4-H'er is judged on the way they present their animal. In obedience, we're looking for teamwork. In rally obedience, we combine obedience with an obstacle course. We're looking at willingness of the dog to do the activity."
Some of the program's participants, such as Anna Lowes, 18, have been showing for more than a decade. This year, Lowes showed her Belgian sheepdog, Flame.
"I co-own him and even though he doesn't live with me, we've built a connection," Lowes said. "A week ago, he was diagnosed with bone cancer, so this will be his last show. He always shows really well for me and makes it all very enjoyable."
Fourteen-year-old Heidi Herzog, of Upperco, has been showing for seven years. This year she exhibited a mountain feist named Beethoven.
"I like how the dogs remember what they learn," Heidi said. "We're looking for consistency. And when they actually get it, it makes me happy."
Nineteen-year-old Emma Baugher, of Westminster, exhibited her shih tzu, Holly. This is her last year in the program.
"I think I've grown as a person and in my relationship with my dog," Baugher said. "I've learned to be responsible and take initiative in the ring. The most important thing is to have fun with your dog and form a relationship. It's not about the competition."
Thirteen-year-old Megan Thompson, of Hampstead, showed her pitbull, Daisy, for the third year.
"I like to see her progress," Megan explained. "She's getting better at obedience. She listens better and perks up when I call her. I think she really likes fitting and showing because she's so elegant."
Megan's mother, Amy Thompson, said dog showing has taught her daughter valuable life skills.
"She learned a great deal of organization, responsibility, compassion and time management," Thompson said. "While she's in school, she has to organize her time appropriately. She plans her week early so she can care for another living being."
Eighteen-year-old Nicole Michol, of Hampstead, showed her golden retriever, Ginger, for the fourth year.
"It's a lot of fun to see all your hard work pay off," Michol said. " I think every 4-H'er puts in hard work and learns to deal with defeat. Life isn't going to be easy, so this teaches you how to deal with challenges. If you win, it also teaches you how to be humble."
Some program participants, such as 18-year-old Elsa Lunceford, of Manchester, showed for the first time. Lunceford exhibited her Parsons Russell terrier, Ziggy, at the show.
"I like it a lot because they do a really good job training you for eight weeks before the show," Lunceford said. "I've worked with Ziggy every day. She's learned how to sit, lay down, heal and stand square."
Sixteen-year-old Jared Parrish, of Westminster, expressed excitement to show his pug, Rico, for the first time.
"I can't wait to show him off in the obstacle course," Parrish said. "I'm nervous that he won't listen to me, but I'm excited to show how we work together."