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New Mexico 4-H members, their dogs learn the skills of working together

Relationships are built on trust and communication ? whether it is between humans or with their four-legged friends.

Woman working with dog, while youth watch.
Sherry Galemore, of Valencia County, cleans a dog?s ear during a grooming demonstration at the New Mexico 4-H Dog School held in Albuquerque in June. Thirty-three 4-H members from 12 counties ? and their dogs ? participated in the annual three-day event where the youth and animal learn obedience, showmanship, rally-o and agility event activities. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)

Youth have an opportunity to develop communication skills with their dogs by participating in a 4-H Dog Project. The National 4-H Dog Project curriculum consists of three levels that take a youth through the steps of selecting a dog, along with the basic skills for teaching a dog obedience and keeping it healthy. The advanced levels teach activities that the youth and their dog may participate in, such as dog show and agility competition.

New Mexico?s 4-H Youth Development, which is endorsed by New Mexico State University?s Cooperative Extension Service, is funded and conducted by the volunteer parents and families from Dona Ana, Valencia, Quay and Chaves counties.

The event is held annually in Albuquerque to help youth and their families to become familiar with the 4-H Dog Project.

?The dog school is designed to promote responsible dog ownership,? said Linda Herrera, coordinator of the school.

For 16 years, members of dog organizations from around the state have volunteered to teach the youth how to take command of their dogs with the simple words of ?sit,? ?stay? and ?come.?

This year, 33 youth from 12 counties ? and their dogs ? gathered at the Bernalillo County Sheriff?s Posse Arena in Albuquerque for the three-day event. The school is filled with workshops, demonstrations and training times to help the youth develop a greater understanding of their dog and themselves as a team.

?The first two days, we spend time with the kids, teaching them showmanship, obedience, rally-o and agility,? Herrera said. ?We also have demonstrations of different varieties of dog uses, such as barn hunt dogs, where the dogs are trained to find rodents in barns. The New Mexico Correctional K-9 teams did a demonstration on how they work together with their human partners to find drugs and protect citizens.?

Demonstrations are also given in grooming, Frisbee dogs, dancing dogs, earth dogs and herding dogs.

The final day?s activity is a dog show, in which each youth is encouraged to show their dog.

?This experience will prepare them for other opportunities to show their dog in county 4-H dog shows, state fair 4-H dog shows and, perhaps, American Kennel Shows,? Herrera said.

Traditional 4-H projects involve livestock, from as large as steers to as small as rabbits, but the 4-H dog curriculum may be the type of project any family can accommodate.

?Maybe all they want to do is to complete the project by becoming a more responsible pet owner for their pets around the house or in their neighborhood,? Herrera said. ?The dog project is something they can handle.?