News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 16, 2013

50 years of dog show: Long time 4-H leader leads by example

Susan Hayhurst
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A golden anniversary — 50 years — is definitely something to brag about. The 2013 Indiana State Fair marks that milestone this year, as it celebrates the 50th dog show on Saturday and Sunday, the final weekend of the fair.

Vigo County’s own Sue Pfrank knows something about commitment. She has been a 4-H dog leader and state fair dog show judge for more than 30 years.

Pfrank’s dedication to caring for and showing dogs began during her childhood. “As far back as I can remember, a dog was always a part of our family. My venture into obedience training started when I was 12, and I took a dog-training class sponsored by the local kennel club. I remember not doing so well in that class!

“Two years later, I joined the dog project in Vigo County. I’ve been a 4-H dog leader for 34 years, and I’ve been a state fair dog show judge for 37 years. I judge at about 15 county fair dog shows each summer. This summer, I judged in 18 counties.”

Pfrank’s experience, patience and enthusiasm shine through her kind demeanor as she works with 4-H’ers, their individual dogs and the youths’ parents. She instructs youths how to teach their dogs the exercises for competition obedience and agility.

“Obedience at the beginning levels include heeling, a stand for examination, coming when called, and staying in a sit and a down,” she said. “More advanced training includes off-leash work, retrieving and staying in place while the handler leaves the ring.”

“Agility training begins with learning to negotiate the obstacles and then learning to direct the dog through different paths on an agility course,” Pfrank explained. “It’s different from showing other animals because the performance of the dog and handler team is judged instead of the animal’s conformation. It’s very difficult to train a dog to keep its attention on its handler when there are interesting smells on the ground or noises to investigate.”

Pfrank is known as an encourager for youth and dog, no matter their age.

“Training takes time, practice and patience, and not everyone wants to put in the effort that it takes to shape a dog’s behavior,” she said. “All of the 4-H’ers and dogs that stick with our classes show improvement — there’s just different amounts of improvement based on time spent training, the handler’s abilities and the dog’s personality.

“I do recognize some 4-H’ers who want to participate with a young puppy are best to wait for a year, because puppies take more time and patience, and our dog training classes usually move too quickly for puppies. Training should be enjoyable work for both handler and dog.”

Pfrank’s passion is 4-H

Cindy Hoggatt Barnett, 17-year state fair dog show manager, is a Vigo County native, who along with her brother and sister, was a 10-year, 4-H dog club member. She is grateful for the legacy Pfrank leaves each year through her 4-H participation.

“Sue has inspired many 4-H’ers and their families throughout the years,” Barnett said. “She has worked on the county level as well as the state fair dog show. On the state level, she has served as an officer of the state advisory committee, an instructor at county and state workshops, and as a county and state fair judge. Sue is a great advocate of animal care and training. Her first interest is always the 4-H’er, their dog and their family.”

Under Pfrank’s leadership, more than 300 youth have participated in the Vigo County 4-H dog club, 11 this year. “While none of our county youths are participating in this year’s state fair dog show, [they] have placed 19th of 119 in Beginning B Agility in 2012; 5th of 77 in Beginning B Agility in 2011; and 15th of 55 in Beginning A Agility in 2009. When our kids go to the state fair, they’re competitive.”

What can you expect to see at a 4-H county or state fair dog show? At the county level, visitors would see 4-H’ers and their purebred or mixed-breed family dogs competing in obedience and agility. On Saturday at the state fair, there are 14 obedience rings, two agility rings and drill teams competing. On Sunday, three showmanship rings and two agility rings are kept busy. Approximately 450 handlers and their dogs take part at the state level.

“The 50th year for the state fair dog show is significant because the show is organized by the volunteer members of the State 4-H Dog Advisory Committee,” Pfrank said. “We recruit and organize about 140 volunteers for the show weekend — ring stewards, score sheet auditors, gate monitors, unloading zone attendants, set-up and clean-up crews — all for the current group of 4-H’ers so they can enjoy the state fair dog show experience. I’ve been secretary of the advisory committee for the past 23 years and am known for keeping track of details to remember for the next year, helping with the scheduling of show times, and being available to answer questions about the show.”

‘Mom sets a great example’

Pfrank’s daughter, Carolyn, grew up with the dog program as her primary 4-H project for 10 years, and quickly gives kudos to her mom for what she has learned and the foundation Sue provided. “The challenges I faced with my first 4-H dog gave me a great foundation for the future. Mom was always supportive and helpful without ever ‘doing it for me.’ Her emphasis was always on my dog and I achieving personal success, rather than on our placement in a given class.

“Getting to travel with my mom to the various county shows as she judged each summer was enlightening,” Carolyn said. “I believe getting to see the many different approaches to training and showing played a big role in my willingness to try new things as a trainer and leader.”

Carolyn’s 4-H dog experience sparked a passion for training. While she trains her two Border Terriers on a daily basis, she is also an instructor for the Monroe County 4-H dog program, has judged 4-H dog shows for 14 years, and has been a presenter at the annual Indiana 4-H dog leader workshop for six years.

“Mom sets a great example for everyone involved in the Indiana 4-H dog program, simply by being herself,” Carolyn said. “She advises all of us to know the rules, and carry a copy for reference; pay attention to what your dog is telling you, and give him the benefit of the doubt; to remember dog training and showing is a partnership; success is defined individually; and, the means and what a person learns along the way are always more important than the end.”

Susan Hayhurst is a freelance writer from Vigo County, where she and her husband operate a farm. She has served on the Indiana State Fair Commission since 2005. Hayhurst will be writing periodic feature stories from the 2013 Indiana State Fair for the Tribune-Star. The state fair runs through Sunday.