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4-H dog trainers learn the patience of Job

Caroline Drury waits patiently while her dog Stormy checks out the crumbs on the exhibition floor. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
Decorum restored, Caroline Drury keeps a stern eye on her dog, who was the model of good behavior after a brief romp outside the ring. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 2

We can all relate to the day Caroline Drury was having Saturday - you know, one of those days when you wished you'd stayed in bed.

Dressed to the nines in her aqua plaid suit with ruffles, wearing her sensibly flat ballet style slip-ons and a matching plaid flowered headband, 10-year-old Caroline Drury looked like she was headed to the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in Madison Square Garden.

The Park Rapids girl was about to get her comeuppance at the hands of a black Lab that easily outweighed her.

When Caroline showed him last weekend at the 4-H dog competition, Stormy the Lab had a mind of his own.

He was hell bent on ruining the obedience trials for his patient handler.

Caroline started off well, but then Stormy dashed out of the ring to find something on the floor. His nose working like a Hoover, Stormy veered under the bleachers while spectators tried to form a human wall to corral the dog back into the ring.

Caroline called him, then again with an edge creeping into her voice. Then she clapped her hands.

By then Stormy had spotted other dogs he was interested in. A 4-H scorer finally grabbed his choke chain and hauled him back into the ring.

Decorum restored to both human and canine, Caroline proceeded to take Stormy through his paces, which he then performed flawlessly.

He sat when he was supposed to and stayed when he wasn't supposed to stray.

Caroline was philosophical when the competition was over.

"He's a hunting dog," she explained.

Guess he found something worthwhile under the bleachers.

Caroline didn't let her composure flag and admitted in dog training, patience is the key ingredient.

Like many 4-H competitors, she is optimistic that one bad performance doesn't matter, something likely taught at home, not necessarily in the ring.

But because dog handlers train in groups, they tend to rub off on each other.

"I think he did really good," said a smiling Matt Konshok of 3-year-old Brownie, his Springer spaniel.

Molly Stack, 11, of Nevis, was likewise pleased with the performance of Maggie, her Cavalier King Charles spaniel.

"I've been working with her a year," Molly said. beaming when the obedience exercises were over and leaning over to praise Maggie with several pats on the head.

Judges look for handlers and their dogs following a series of commands, whether they have a good working relationship, whether the dog pays attention to its handler and, of course, obedience.

Bemidji judge Lori Brama said it can be tough, especially when the Hubbard County fairgrounds featured two rings with simultaneous events. Dogs passed each other in the rings and sometimes stopped to size up the canine competition.

"Sam was pretty distracted," admitted 12-year-old Emily Steffen of Park Rapids. Her mixed breed dog got caught up in the excitement of all the dogs and all the action.

And while many kids said they're not sure they want to pursue dog training as a career, the poise and the lessons of hard work they learned preparing for last weekend's competition will probably multiply in dog years.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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