Steamboat Springs Eleven-year-old Jacquelyn Denker sauntered with pride Monday morning into the showcase arena at Hayden Town Park with her 4-year-old Australian shepherd, Ginger.
Denker was among the competitors in the K-9'ers 4-H/FFA Dog Show held in conjunction with the Routt County Fair. She and the other competitors stood before Rifle judge Julie Price, who grilled those entered and observed the relationship between the dogs and their handlers.
Denker was a competitor in the junior division competition in showmanship.
"I work with her every day on showmanship and obedience," Denker said, adding that when Ginger jumps over obstacles, she really gets excited.
Denker and Ginger are such an experienced team they are in the highest division of the 4-H Dog Show the open dog obedience.
"Sub-novice is a dog and a handler that have never competed they're on the leash all the time," said Daleena Babcock of the Routt County 4-H Council. "The open class is when the dog jumps over obstacles and dumbbells. They're working off the leash all the time."
Sub-novice is the least experienced dog and handler. Novice is next in the hierarchy of experience, working a bit without a leash, then graduating to the graduate novice division, and finally the open dog obedience.
For the past two years, Denker and Ginger have qualified well enough at the annual 4-H Dog Show to compete in the state fair dog show in Pueblo.
They did well enough this year to earn another trip to Pueblo, but the big winner at this year's show was Denker's sister, 15-year-old Jana Denker.
Jana Denker won the overall champion and was also the obedience champion with her dog, Buster, a 6-year-old catahola-blue heeler mix.
"I think he'll do OK at state. He's pretty smart," said Jana Denker, who has only been working with Buster for a year.
By contrast, Jacquelyn Denker got Ginger as a puppy and has raised her ever since. The Denkers use obstacles in their backyard to train Ginger and Buster and the other dogs they've had to keep in shape for competition.
The 4-H K-9'ers Club begins in the spring with classes once a week to work with handlers and dogs on showmanship and obedience.
"They meet once a week and have a couple shows in the summer, but this is the one that actually matters most," Babcock said.
Babcock said starting to train for dog shows with a puppy will result in success.
"First you teach it its name, then to sit and lay down," Babcock said, adding that a 6-month-old puppy begins to learn the ropes.
"Dogs are incredibly smart. It takes a lot of time to work with a dog."
In the showmanship competition, dogs need to be groomed, stand with their legs a certain width apart and be between the handler and the judge. Showmanship judges the handler on how well the dog pays attention to its handler's commands.
The obedience division looks closely at the skills of the dog and how well it performs particular patterns. When the handler stops, the dog is supposed to sit and the dog must walk right beside its handler so as not to show control.
"It's kind of fun to watch," Babcock said.
At the end of the year, a member of the K-9'ers is presented with an outstanding exhibitor award.
The person who receives this award has the highest dog show scores, record book scores and interview scores combined.
The Denkers' other sister, Jamie, is the dog leader of the 4-H K-9'ers Club and conducts the interviews with the 8- to 18-year-olds.
The questions vary for each age division but refer to things such as the basic knowledge and anatomy of a dog and the definition of certain behaviors and actions of a dog.
"We usually have about 10 or so," 4-H agent Jay Whaley said of the number of participants. "We need to get a program like this in Steamboat. There would be a bunch of people in Steamboat doing this."