When some people think about animal projects in the 4-H program, they may think more about larger animals such as steers, pigs, horses or sheep.
Although relatively new, the Companion Animal Project is growing in popularity and provides both urban and rural club members the opportunity to be involved in animal projects, said Steve Beck, assistant Extension specialist in the State 4-H Office at Oklahoma State University.
“The 4-H program has always been known to provide youth opportunities to develop skills they will use throughout their lives,” Beck said. “The Companion Animal Project is no different. In this case, we use the dog as a tool to help 4-H’ers develop responsibility and other life skills.”
Beck said through participation in this project, they try to convey the message there is more to owning a dog than simply feeding it.
“We want our youth to be involved with the dog, not just own it,” he said. “They develop responsibility as they learn how to take care of the animal, including feeding and grooming, as well as training it. We also hope they develop a humane attitude toward all animals.”
Colt Robertson is a member of the Creek County 4-H Dog Club, who enjoys working with the club.
“I really like going to the club meetings and doing community service,” Colt Robertson said. “It also has helped me with my public speaking because I’m used to talking to people and I’m not scared to talk to a group.”
His mom, Lyn Robertson, is the volunteer leader for the Creek County 4-H Dog Club, and she said they are very active in community service projects.
“We want people to know that 4-H is more than just sows, cows and plows. Our club members do a lot of promoting of the Creek County 4-H Dog Club and making people aware of the Companion Animal Project,” Lyn Robertson said. “My son has learned that while puppies are cute, they grow up to be dogs. Obedience training takes time, so through this process he is learning patience. And I see that patience not only when he’s working with our dogs but in all aspects of his life.”
She said the club participates in Good Canine Citizen, which is a service dog organization. Club members take their dogs into nursing homes and schools.
“Many residents in nursing homes had animals at one time. They enjoy that feeling of being able to pet an animal again,” Lyn Robertson said. “In schools, the dogs are used with students who have reading problems. The kids actually read to the dogs in an effort to improve their reading skills.”
The Creek County 4-H Dog Club also promotes safety, health and wellness for animals.
Through the Companion Animal Project, club members can seek other opportunities to help themselves grow as contributing citizens in their communities.
Beck said club members may check into volunteer opportunities at their local humane society or animal shelter. They can conduct fundraisers to help raise money for food and other animal necessities. They also can bring awareness about the importance of proper animal care.
Part of the Companion Animal Project also involves dog shows. While the shows are similar to AKC and UKC competitions, the purpose of the 4-H dog show is not about dog performance – instead, it focuses on positive youth development.
“We have a point system set up so the kids are competing on their ability level,” Beck said. “We also work hard to get judges who are there to offer kids help during the show.”
During a show, the dogs and their handlers can participate in four different contests including obedience, showmanship, rally obedience and agility. Obedience includes simple commands of sit, stay, down, heel and come. Beck said this is done in a structured format, and the club members are allowed to verbalize only certain commands to make the animal obey.
Rally obedience includes different stations at which the animal will perform a certain command, then move on to the next station. This contest encourages a lot of communication between the youth and the animal.
“The agility contest is really exciting because it’s fast-paced,” Beck said. “The dogs do jumps, weave through poles and walk on the teeter-totter. It’s always exciting and a lot of fun.”
Showmanship is the fourth contest. Club members demonstrate their ability levels in presenting their dogs to the judges.
“I want to point out that these are not breed shows. All dogs are welcome to participate,” he said. “Our main purpose is to see the positive interaction between the dog and the 4-H’er.”
Oklahoma State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local Governments Cooperating: The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, or status as a veteran, and is an equal opportunity employer.
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