GREENFIELD – With her left ear cocked up in the air, an 18-month-old schnauzer mix named Bella awaited her turn in the ring at the dog showmanship contest Monday night at the Hancock County 4-H Fair.

Bella was among dozens of dogs demonstrating their skills for judges in three separate categories: obedience, showmanship and agility.

Participants included a dachshund, a yellow lab, a cocker spaniel, a sheltie, a welsh corgi, three boxers and more, all looking to make their owners proud.

The kids are all part of the Hancock County Paws & Pals 4-H Dog Club, which meets in the show arena at the fairgrounds each Monday night from early march through mid-August as they prepare to show their dogs at the county and state fair.

A contestant waits with her dog as a judge tallies her score during Tuesday’s Dog Show at the Hancock County 4-H Fair. Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

“We had 32 participants finish this season,” said the club’s superintendent, Carla Nelson, who said the club will now set its sights on training for the state fair.

“When they first come in, the dogs can be a little out of control, but by the time they get here (to the fair) they’ve worked with them and trained them, and I think there’s a level of pride that goes with that,” she said.

Ten-year-old Katherine Gardner stood patiently beside Bella as the judge checked the dog’s build, at one point stroking his hand down the back of the dog’s head.

Bella responded like the good girl she is, allowing the judge to check her frame and stopping and starting to walk upon Katherine’s command.

Her mother, Stephanie Gardner, said her daughter has spent hours working with Bella in addition to the time she spends training in the show arena with the 4-H Fair dog club.

“These shows can be a struggle for the dogs,” said Gardner while watching the show inside the packed arena.

“They want to see all the people in the seats and there’s so many distracting smells,” she said.

A dachshund walks with its owner during Tuesday’s Dog Show at the Hancock County 4-H Fair. Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

One particular dog had a special degree of training, so much so that his owner opted to compete in a level two categories higher by herself to avoid having an unfair advantage over fellow competitors.

Foresty, a 2-year-old yellow lab, stayed patiently by her owner’s side throughout the event.

Fifteen-year-old Lizzie Chaffee of New Palestine told Foresty to heel and he would heel. She told him to stay and he would stay, but he’s trained to do so much more than that – from fetching Lizzie’s phone to helping her go shopping and even getting dressed.

As a teen with a degenerative condition called mitochondrial disease, Lizzie knows the sweet, brown-eyed lab is a great companion, but on Monday he was just another well-behaved pooch in the ring.

“They’re doing awesome,” said Lizzie’s mom, Angie Chaffee, of her daughter and her four-legged friend.

Thankfully, Foresty wasn’t too distracted by her presence. “Some dogs get so distracted by the parents being here that (the parents) have to hide or leave the arena,” said Chaffee, who brought along a contingency of family and friends.

One of this year’s dog show judges, Terry Lee, spent 14 years as a 4-H dog club superintendent before turning his focus to judging.

The New Castle man now travels to various counties around the state judging 4-H dog shows.

“It’s great. I have fun with it,” he said.

Based on what he witnessed Monday night, Lee said it’s clear the local Paws & Pals 4-H Dog Club members are putting in the work training their dogs.

Despite the distractions, when the dogs were put into a heel position off-leash, “90% of the dogs did not move,” he said.

The first category of the evening was obedience, in which the 4-Hers demonstrated their dog’s ability to follow basic commands.

The next category was showmanship, for which each 4-Her exhibited their dog’s body, build and gait.

The last category of the evening was agility, which challenged dogs to run an agility course set up in the show ring. The dogs each took a turn completing the course, which featured jumping over hurdles, trotting across a balance beam, darting through a tunnel and traversing over a tall ramp.

As a judge, Lee was impressed with what he saw.

“You can tell kids in this county have done well (getting prepared),” he said.

For a full listing of 4-H fair competition winners, check out the Hancock County 4-H Fair notebook to be published at the conclusion of the fair, which runs June 18-28.