GREENFIELD — Isabelle Hunt was having a tough time Monday night getting her dog, Carly, to listen.
No matter how sternly Hunt talked, Carly was much more interested in sniffing around the show arena at the Hancock County Fairgrounds than obeying any command from her 9-year-old owner.
With each new movement from the handful of furry friends around her, Carly would lurch forward, and Isabelle would, with all her might, try to hold the creature steady.
Isabelle is hoping that with some practice, she will be able to show Carly in this year’s 4-H fair, which is scheduled to begin June 19.
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Though the big event is still months away, 4-H’ers from across Hancock County are already starting to prepare. They have been meeting since February with their clubs to start working on the projects they will enter. And whether it’s handcrafting a model car or showing a steer in the show arena, all 4-H projects take time and practice.
And as the projects improve — crafts come together, animals learn to take commands — so do the 4-H’ers, in everything from time management to expanding their horizons.
“Four-H is all about learning and trying something new,” Shelley Vail, 4-H program assistant, said. “We want them to start working on their projects as soon as possible and not leave them to the last minute.”
There are more than 20 4-H clubs in Hancock County, each dedicated to a different aspect of the fair. Some clubs, Vail said, meet to work on different crafts. Others are dedicated to a type of animal.
Isabelle is a first-year member of the Paws and Pals 4-H club, a group dedicated to showmanship and obedience lessons for dogs.
She and about 30 other first-year participants take part in mandatory lessons Monday nights at the fairgrounds. This week marked their fourth class.
During the lessons, the kids learn to apply the same commands they’ll need while showing their dogs at the fair, 4-H leader Gwen Cochard said.
Cochard and her husband, Jan, have been helping young dog lovers train their pets for more than 30 years.
“This group looks really good for only their fourth class,” Cochrad said. “Most of these dogs weren’t even used to having a leash on (when we started), let alone following commands.”
Once they’ve mastered commands, the 4-H’ers move on to agility training, where their dogs will learn to jump through hoops and to climb over fences and through tunnels.
Similar lessons take place on other nights of the week with llamas, horses, lambs and other livestock.
But 4-H’ers know they will need to spend time practicing outside of their clubs if they want to receive that big blue ribbon this summer.
“(How well they do) really depends on how much time they spend practicing,” Cochard said. “They have to make sure they are working at home, not just on Monday nights.”
No matter what animal the child is working with, the key to a good showing at the fair is to form a bond with the animal, said Christina Cochard, who helped her mother at Monday’s Paws and Pals meeting.
As a veteran of the 4-H dog program and having just completed her 10th year with the group, she knows exactly what these youngsters are going through.
“It can be really tough, but you have to have a good relationship with the (animal),” she said. “This training is new to the kids, but it is all new to the dog, too. You have to be able to learn it as a team.”