Fourteen-year-old Piper Fracker has always been a dog lover, but it wasnâ€™t until she was in the fourth grade when she got her first puppy that she found herself inspired to learn what it takes to properly train an animal. Piper grew up going to the Thurston County Fair and always had a keen interest in visiting the dog barn to watch trainers show off the best of their canine companions.
â€śWhen we first got my dog, Nanook, he wasnâ€™t well behaved at all and I wanted to train him and teach him good manners,â€ť Piper says. â€śI saw people training their dogs at the county fair and got inspired to learn.â€ť Nanook (an Inuit name meaning white bear), is a 5-year-old Bichon-Poodle mix. Piper says Nanook was on the more aggressive side, innately wanting to attack or bark at other dogs. But since working with him through her 4-H Club, Nanook has become more docile, well-behaved, and has learned many different tricks.
According to their website, 4-H is a global network of youth organizations whose mission is â€śengaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development.â€ť The name is a reference to the occurrence of the initial letter H four times in the organizationâ€™s original motto, â€śhead, heart, hands, and health,â€ť which was later incorporated into the fuller pledge officially adopted in 1927.
Nanook (right) is a Bichon-Poodle mix and weighs about 19 pounds. Photo courtesy: Piper Fracker
Piper began 4-H in fifth grade and joined the Muttz-K-Teers Club, (one of several dog training clubs), shortly after. It was in this youth program that she first started to see a difference in her dog training skills, as well as great improvements in Nanookâ€™s behavior and temperament. â€śAt first I was worried Nanook wouldnâ€™t listen to me,â€ť she says. â€śBut then one of my leaders was able to help me straighten him out and told me about things that were preventing me from teaching him.â€ť
For anyone dealing with an ornery pup, Piper has a few training tips. She says to be patient! It took her more than two years to get Nanook properly trained and satisfactorily well-behaved.
Piper showing her pup, Nanook, at the 2017 Washington State Fair. Photo courtesy: Piper Fracker
The 4-H curriculum for dogs allows grades 3-12 to compete in a number of different categories, including obedience, showmanship, agility, and grooming, with the goal of teaching youth how to feed, care for and keep a dog healthy; groom and train their dog; and be an overall responsible dog owner.
Piper says her first fair experience was filled with nerves. â€śWe didnâ€™t know what to expect and I was really nervous Nanook wasnâ€™t going to behave,â€ť she says. â€śBut the next day, he was so well behaved, happy and confident. I had a huge smile on my face the entire time.â€ť
At this yearâ€™s fair, Piper and Nanook will compete in herding, rally, showmanship, and obedience. She says Nanookâ€™s strong point is agility, perhaps due to his love of jumping. According to the American Kennel Club, agility is where trainers direct their dog through a pre-set obstacle course within a certain time limit. Courses typically have between 14-20 obstacles, which can include tunnels, weave poles, tire jumps, seesaws, and pause tables where the dog must stop for a set amount of time.
Piper says agility is Nanookâ€™s best skill. Photo courtesy: Piper Fracker
So far, Piper has loved her 4-H experience and says she plans to continue dog training through high school. Piper and Nanook have training lessons every Friday but says she spends every day working with her dog. I love getting the chance to work with my dog and see how our connection continues to get stronger and stronger,â€ť she says. â€śTraining a dog takes a lot of time and effort, but thereâ€™s nothing like building a special bond with your animal.â€ť
Come check out Piper and Nanook performing every day throughout the week at the Thurston County Fair, taking place Wednesday, August 1 through Sunday, August 5 at the Thurston County Fairgrounds & Event Center.