RICKREALL -- Wednesday nights in Building C at the Polk County Fairgrounds have gone to the dogs -- good dogs.
For students and their canine companions in Barbara Griffin's dog obedience classes, the lessons are about more than having well-behaved pooches or training the best in show.
Beyond the success dogs and handlers in the class had in the show ring, those taking the course say the lessons build the bonds between people and their pets, and in many cases, bring out the best in both.
Griffin, who has been teaching dog obedience since 1966 -- both for the county 4-H program and professional level, has seen that happen time and again.
During the intermediate level obedience class on Sept. 22, Griffin pointed out a little golden retriever dutifully following the instructions of her owner and relishing in the praise for doing well.
"When she started, she wouldn't let anyone touch her," Griffin said of the young dog.
In other instances, it's the students who need to come out of their shell.
"Several of these kids were so shy, they wouldn't talk to anybody," Griffin said of her younger students. "Working with the dogs has brought them out."
Whether building confidence in the student or dog, the trick is to start slow and build on a solid foundation.
On Sept. 22, the final obedience exercise of the class had all dogs lay in two lines facing each other on the cold concrete floor of the building.
The goal was to have them lay down without moving too far out of position, sniffing, or getting up. To make the exercise more difficult, Griffin had her students stand behind their dogs, in some cases many feet away.
The dogs are expected to stay put -- for a long time. The canines accomplished this to varying degrees of success. Some looked straight forward without moving, some turned around with pitiful looks to their owners but don't get up, others shifted position just enough to get a shaken collar and stern order to "lie down!"
None, however, got too far out of line.
If that seems impossible for your dog, then consider where each one of these canines started: with the simple exercise of sitting.
Griffin said from there, anything is possible.
"Any breed can be trained," Griffin said, pointing out the number of breeds in the class -- from exotic-looking Afghan hounds to a fluffy powder-puff Chinese crested.
The classes incorporate all ages and levels of experience of dog and human.
Class attendees Carol Jansen and Marge Bishop have been showing dogs for decades. Jansen, with her English springer spaniel, Skyler, and Bishop and Promise, a golden retriever, take the classes to keep their skills sharp. The classes also offer the dogs an opportunity to work around all types and sizes of canines.
"They need exposure to other dogs," said Jansen.
Working in the large group teaches them to focus with possible distractions everywhere, which makes them better competitors.
Griffin said Jensen and Bishop are among those in the class looking to take their dogs in the show ring, but some students have found other inspiration.
Jennifer Cutler, 14, and a freshman at Dallas High School, has been in the 4-H program for five years, taking classes with her flat coat retriever, Shadow.
She said the classes focus on teaching humans, too.
"She trains the handler, as well as the dog," Cutler said. "The handler needs to be as well trained as the dog. If you don't know how to handle the dog, you don't know how to make it mind."
Cutler said she would like pass the knowledge she has gained to other students.
"I plan on getting into a career working with dogs," she said.
Her first step will be helping Griffin.
Cutler and Shadow's success at shows isn't uncommon among those taking the classes.
At the Oregon State Fair this summer, 4-H members in Griffin's obedience class and her assistant, Chris Wallen's showmanship class, won eight awards.
Freshman Naomi Domes and her black lab, Callie, were state champions in showmanship and obedience in their 4-H classification.
Domes has been taking the classes for three years and, like Cutler, sees her future in working with dogs.
"I want to be a police dog trainer," Domes said. "That is something I'm drawn to."
Oregon State Fair Polk County 4-H Dog Award Winners
Showmanship senior division:
* Katie Ayers - state champion
* Emilie Peterson - reserve state champion
Showmanship intermediate division:
* Naomi Domes - state champion
* Jamie Kennedy - top 5 in state, medalist - award of merit
* Cierra Amsberry - state champion, pre-novice division
* Naomi Domes - state champion, novice division
Naomi and Cierra tied for highest scoring dog in trial.
* Jennifer Cutler - state champion, graduate novice
* Cierra Amsberry - state champion, advanced graduate novice division.