Routt County Fair dog show teaches young handlers what it takes to win a ribbon |

Routt County Fair dog show teaches young handlers what it takes to win a ribbon

Elisa Engelken pets her dog Baxter during the showmanship portion of Tuesday's dog show at the Routt County Fair. This year, 13 dogs competed in the show, which included showmanship, obedience and a rally event. The fair will continue Wednesday with the poultry show, home arts check in and an ice cream social.
John F. Russell

— Most of the 4-H members who were competing at the Routt County Fair dog show Tuesday wanted to go home with a ribbon, but Cathy Shryock is hoping the young dog lovers will leave the show with much more.

“I just love the kids getting a good start to what could be a life-long relationship with their pets,” Shryock said. “I think the things they learn in our program will make them better, more responsible pet owners.”

She hopes the lessons they learn will carry over to other pets the children are likely to own and love during their lifetimes. Shryock believes the skills she is teaching them as part of the 4-H dog program are more important than where they place in the Routt County Fair.

But on Tuesday, it was all about the ribbons. The young participants wore their best cloths, had their dogs groomed and never took their eyes off the judge as they made their way across the arena.

The show marks a year spent training the dogs and hours of classroom work where the children learned the importance of nutrition, the background of their dog’s breeding and characteristics of the different breeds.

On Tuesday, the skills they learned were on display as the young handlers did their best to get the dogs to respond to their commands in a difficult setting. The handlers answered questions designed to test their knowledge of important topics and they also completed record books and performed interviews that were factored into the final results.

But even hard work and preparation can’t prepare the handlers for everything they would face in the arena.

“There are a lot of distractions at the fair,” said Mattie Rossi, who has been in the program the last four years. “The first year, things went really well, but the last two years have been kind of rough.”

Mattie understands just how hard it is to show a dog at the Routt County Fair.

Her experience showed on Tuesday as she worked with her border collie Maizy. She was quick to point out that dogs have a mind of their own and being in an enclosed arena isn’t always great.

“It’s different than working with other livestock,” Mattie said. ”You don’t have to say goodbye at the end of the day.”

Elise Barbier took an interest in the 4-H dog program several years ago, mostly out of curiosity. But after working with her dog Olive the past couple of years, Elise said the idea of not coming to the show isn’t an option. Barbier doesn’t live on a ranch, and she said preparing for the dog show is really a treat for her dog, who was breed to work.

“She really enjoys it, and that’s one of the biggest reasons why I’m here every year,” Elise said. “She’s a border collie and working is something she enjoys — it gives her a purpose. That’s an important thing with this breed of dog.”

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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