BY ED GEBERT
Times Bulletin Editor
egebert@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT — Hogs, sheep, goats, cattle, and horses are all familiar projects for 4-Hers in Van Wert County. Now there is a chance to bring along man’s best friend to a 4-H meeting locally.

The newest club is for dogs, and the 4-H leader heading it up is Donna Jones. The owner of three shelties, Jones became involved with the 4-H program a decade ago in Butler County.

“I started getting involved as an assistant leader, and then I got onto the junior fair board as the advisor to the dog program in Butler County,” she explained. “When I came up to Van Wert, that’s what my daughter is doing right now. She’s the junior advisor to the dog program.”

Jones held the first meeting of the Van Wert County 4-H dog club this past week and already has a handful of kids involved.

She said, “Sign-ups aren’t until March, so as long as you join before March, it’ll be fine. You have to make six meetings, but we’re going to have two meetings a month until the end of May. Then we’re going to try to meet every week, most weeks during June and July. We’ll take a couple of weeks off for the state fair, so hopefully we can get some people going to the state fair if they’d like to. But we’ll meet most weeks during June, July and August leading up to the Van Wert County Fair.”

For Jones, 4-H and the dog program have become a big part of the lives of her daughter and herself.

“I enjoy the whole program, the way the 4-Hers learn responsibility and the way they come together as a team. When my daughter was in it, the other people in the dog club were like a family, and everyone would come together and be so supportive,” she said.

So far no one in the club has shown dogs before, so each member is coming in with a fresh start. What lies ahead could be any number of activities and training regimens. Jones said that while there will be dog training education at every meeting, that training could also take on different aspects of raising a dog.

She said, “We have a regular 4-H meeting where we’ll discuss whatever business the club wants to get involved in. Then at every meeting there will be dog training in obedience, showmanship or confirmation and general dog care for the You and Your Dog project.”

If the club continues to expand, Jones said she will be adding training in tricks for freestyle competition or agility. There is also the Dog Bowl competition, if enough 4-Hers are interested.

“There are so many different things you can do in the 4-H program with your dog,” Jones said.

Club members must be at least eight years of age by Jan. 1, 2014 and in the third grade, or age nine to 19 on Jan. 1, 2014, to join.

And you need a dog. Jones noted that any dog in general good health that is more than six months old will do. The dog does not need to be a purebred animal, although she admitted if a participant wants to enter dog shows outside of 4-H, a purebred may be required.

The dogs do not need to be well-trained already, since that will be the focus of club meetings. Nearly every dog has the potential for the program, provided the 4-H student is willing to work at it.

“There would be very few dogs that you wouldn’t be able to do anything with,” Jones said. “You just have to be patient and keep working with them. Some dogs will be more of a challenge, but if you’re willing to put in the work, there shouldn’t be any reason why your dog can’t learn how to be a good citizen and do some of the basic maneuvers.”

For more information about the 4-H dog club in Van Wert County, contact the Extension office at (419) 238-1214.