Tyler Thompson patted his German shepherd, Ally, on the top of her head.
Dressed in his Sunday best — a blue cotton button-down shirt, pressed dark slacks and black shoes — Tyler and his family waited patiently for him and his dog to be called for the last competition in the Westminster 4-H Dog Show.
A few minutes later, Tyler and 10-month old Ally entered into the showing area to perform for the judges the skills they learned during the last 12 weeks.
Tyler, 11, of Hampstead, and his dog are newcomers to the showing world. This is their first year participating in the 4-H Dog Training Project — a 12-week program in which Carroll-area children and teens learn the skills and commands to successfully show a dog. The child and teen handlers are taught by professionals who have participated in dog shows around the country, and some even around the world.
Iris Katz, 64, of Westminster, is one of the program's instructors. She has been training and showing dogs since 1975 when she received her first Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
"It's an unusual breed," Katz said. "I wanted to socialize him and was told to take him to a basic obedience training class."
Katz began to train her dog competitively and set out to earn top titles for the then-uncommon breed, which was then not recognized in the American Kennel Club.
During the training project now, Katz and other instructors work with participants and their dogs on basic commands such as stay and heel, and on- and off-leash exercises to prepare them for the competition.
Katz particularly liked to wok with student Dylan Groft, 16, who specializes in training dogs with disabilities.
Dylan's family owns a kennel which raises boxers and Chihuahuas, and he has more than 15 dogs at home.
"We've had dogs since I was born," Dylan said.
Dylan, who has dyslexia, has been handling dogs for five years. He said he first started training dogs with the help of his mom based on a book he received, but it proved difficult with his dyslexia. He joined the 4-H Dog Club eventually, and with the help of instructors like Katz, he learned new techniques. To train disabled dogs, he learned compensatory techniques including how to train a deaf dog by using their sense of smell.
"Training deaf dogs is almost easier because there are less distractions," Dylan said. "A squeaky toy or other dogs barking—like in [the arena center] there's an echo when the dogs bark—don't become a distraction to the dogs."
During the 4-H Dog Show, contestants and their four-legged companions showed in obedience, fitting and showing, and rally, which comply with AKC standards and guidelines.But unlike the AKC, the 4-H Dog Show allows dogs of all breeds, including mixes, to show.
As the rally portion of the competition got underway, Tyler grabbed Ally's leash and guided her through the different performance stops.
Rally is a mix between agility and obedience, which include some complicated moves such as having the dog sit while the handler runs a lap around the course.
Tyler and Ally did not place as high in rally as they did in other portions; they won grand and first place in obedience and second place in fitting and showing.
"We got sixth in rally," said Tyler as he showed off his ribbons. "Rally was a little bit difficult because of all the turns. We definitely are going to focus more on our sitting and staying."
But Tyler and his sister, Megan, 8, who also showed for the first time, will be back next year to claim more titles.
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Rally Judge Marian Isner, said she was really impressed with the kids and teens who showed for the competition this year.
"We want the handlers to be able to get the dogs to do certain things, but I also want to see the kid and the dog work as a team," said Isner, who has been judging obedience and rally competitions for years.
According to Isner, dog showing is not about a handler finding a well-behaved dog. But, she said, a handler and a dog must have mutual respect for one another, especially in rally which is a precursor to obedience competitions.
Isner said one thing that's particularly special to the 4-H Dog Club participants is that they're down-to-earth.
"A lot of these kids come from farm families," Isner said. "They are really down-to-earth and they give their best during the show."
Twenty-seven participants signed up for the 2014 4-H Dog Show and 20 of them will move onto the upcoming dog show at the Maryland State Fair on August 21.
Reach staff writer Krishana Davis at 410-857-7862 or email@example.com.