Each year, one event at the Fulton County Fair proves that, in America, it doesn’t matter who your parents were: with hard work, a willingness to obey the rules, and enough Alpo, you can succeed.
That event, of course, is the Fulton County Junior Fair Dog Care, Obedience, and Showmanship Show, where dogs of every size and shape, from purebreds to pure mutts, compete with their young trainers to determine who’s Top Dog in Fulton County.
The “Dog Guru”
Mary Jo Blohm, Wauseon, became involved in the Fair Dog Show more than a dozen years ago when her children joined the Tail Waggers 4-H Club in Delta to train the family’s sheltie for their 4-H project.
A year later, Mary Jo was asked to become the club’s advisor, a position she still holds.
Today, she’s also the selfdescribed “go-to” person for any kid in Fulton County who has questions about taking a dog to the Fair Show.
“I’m the ‘Dog Guru,’ I guess,” Mary Jo laughs. “If you’re taking a dog to the Fair Show and need information, I’ll help you, even if you’re in another club.”
To take part in the show, youngsters must be in 4-H or FFA and register their dogs for the Fair by April 1.
From that date on, they must keep track of all activities with their dog, such as feeding, training, grooming, and vaccinations, in a project recordkeeping book where they also track the cost of caring for their pet.
In addition, they study a reference guide that provides general information about canines, as well as the “how-to’s” of obedience training and showing dogs in the ring.
And, like other junior fair exhibitors, they must complete a quality assurance program, although theirs is dog-specific.
Unlike most other animals exhibited at the fair, dogs don’t spend much time there.
After being groomed at home by their young handlers, they arrive just in time for the Junior Fair Dog Show and leave when they’re done competing.
And, unlike many other animals at the fair, dogs do not compete by age, weight, or breed.
At the 2009 show, young pups shared the ring with veteran competitors, a tiny Chihuahua strutted its stuff alongside hulking Rottweilers, and a mixed bag of mostly mixed dogs went wet-nose-to-wet-nose in both obedience and showmanship classes at the junior, intermediate, and senior levels.
The Best-Laid Plans
Of Dogs And Kids
Mary Jo recommends that kids spend at least a half-hour a day working with their dogs during the months leading up to the Junior Fair Dog Show.
In some cases, that results in a near-perfect performance in the ring.
At the 2009 show, for example, a boxer executed his handler’s commands so faithfully that one spectator remarked, “I wish my kids behaved that well.”
But even with all the training in the world, Mary Jo notes, some dogs don’t do well when they step into the ring.
“Dogs can behave differently in the ring, and it can be frustrating for the kids,” she stresses.
“So I tell them, ‘Your dog can do a long down perfectly, but then you’ll be in the ring and a fly will buzz around his nose, and he’ll get up [before he should].’ It can be difficult, but it’s important to me that they keep a positive attitude.
“Things happen, and you’ll see the kids who handle it so well. The dog does exactly the opposite of what he’s supposed to do, and the kid is laughing, and the judge is laughing.”
At last year’s Junior Fair Dog Show, a golden retriever, which was supposed to maneuver an obstacle course to retrieve a toy, drew chuckles from the crowd when she did what any smart dog would do: she walked around the obstacles to fetch it.
If the judges had been handing out ribbons for common sense and efficiency that day, the golden would have won, paws down.
Fetching A Ribbon
Mary Jo says that training a dog teaches kids patience and responsibility.
“It’s not just giving the dog food and water; there’s more that they can do. It’s a long-term commitment. They have to keep working at it. It could be several years before they win a ribbon at all.”
When a dog does win a ribbon– in 2009, the aforementioned Chihuahua sported one that was taller than he was– it’s awarded by the Puppy Princess or Puppy Prince, who is the senior winner of the Skillathon at the Fulton County Kennel Club Show in July.
“What I like best is that I get the beauty of actually watching kids with their dogs from the beginning to show day,” Mary Jo explains.
“I love seeing all their hard work pay off, getting that ribbon– even if it’s a fifth-place ribbon.
“They worked so hard, and they got it, and there’s that smile on their face. I like knowing I had a part in teaching them something and they did well. Or, even if they didn’t, coming out of the ring with a smile, and saying Yep, we’ll get it next time.
“That good attitude: I love seeing that it in a kid.”
The Junior Fair Dog Care, Obedience, and Showmanship event is Sunday, Sept. 5, beginning at 9 a.m. in the Sale Arena.