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Chloe Bales has been training and competing with her dogs since she was four years old.

It’s an unforgiving 30 degrees below zero on one of the coldest days the Rollins family can ever remember. Twenty-five acres of frozen white fields surround their home in Glenwood City, Wisconsin.

In this weather, it makes perfect sense to stay indoors, but 5-year-old Nate Rollins has other ideas.

Nate is bound and determined to train Daisy, his 3-year-old Clumber Spaniel, Chequamegon’s Daisy Red Ryder. The youngster wants to do what his father does with his dog—hunt, find game, flush, and retrieve birds in spaniel hunt tests. It’s instruction day, and the child wants to get going.

Can this wise-beyond-his-years whippersnapper teach a lumbering 60-pound dog the ins and outs of a canine sport?

Small But Mighty

“It’s my dog, she’s good, and I love her,” says Nate.

In a small fry’s mind, this should suffice for competition. Still, this moppet adds discipline, passion, and energy to his teaching mix.

After bundling up in a wool cap, gloves, and a puffy coat that probably weighs more than he does, Nate packs his dog whistle and clips Daisy’s leash onto the dog’s collar. The pair follows Daisy’s half-sister, Mazey, and Nate’s parents, Mitch Rollins and Kellyn Miller, out the door of their home and into their truck.

“Working with Daisy helps Nate build his language skills and confidence around dogs,” says Miller. “How many 5-year-olds can tell a large breed to ‘sit’ and ‘come’ and the dog does it?”

Despite the teeth-chattering temperature, the family drives an hour to Cadott, Wisconsin, where Nate and his father train their Clumbers with professional gundog trainer, Todd Stelzer.

What ignited the young protégé’s interest?

“At nearly a year old, Nate couldn’t take his eyes off our Clumbers,” recalls Miller. “He had an instant attraction to our puppy, Daisy, and she responded to him, so she became his dog. I feed her, but he exercises her.”

The family breeds the powerful bird dogs, and Rollins competes in AKC spaniel field trials.

“By age 2, Nate insisted on toddling after his daddy and his dog into the field when they went out for training,” recalls Miller. “Nate didn’t want to touch the chukars and pheasants but liked blowing two toots on the whistle to let Daisy know to return the bird to him.”

Under Stelzer’s tutelage, Nate trains Daisy for fieldwork.

“At this stage, Nate works Daisy alone at the starting line, but when he goes into the thicket, Stelzer accompanies him,” says Miller.

In spring, Nate and Daisy are planning to enter the AKC Minnesota Spaniel Hunt Test.

Border Collie Baby

Does spending time working with furry companions beat hanging out with pals and playing video games?

“The benefits of children participating in dog events are endless,” says AKC Canine Good Citizen Director Mary R. Burch, Ph.D. “Caring for a dog teaches children to be kind, and they receive unconditional love and joy. If parents want to involve their young ones, it’s a good idea to encourage and never force them.”

When 4-year-old Chloe Bales tagged along to the agility class her mother taught, the youngster wanted to run a Border Collie.

“Chloe was the only child learning alongside the adults,” recalls her mother, Stephanie Bales, of Spotsylvania, Virginia. “I let Chloe work with Millie, Rockcreeks Flyn Aces, who was the only one of my dogs who would listen to her.”

Under her mother’s guidance, the daughter crate-trained and taught Millie basic obedience.

“Learning agility helped Chloe to work out snafus, manage strategy, and to remember courses,” says Bales.

When Chloe wasn’t perfecting her moves in the group setting with Millie, the girl practiced at home. Later she transferred to a different agility class.

“The instructor had trouble knowing what to teach Chloe because she already knew more than the other students,” says Bales.

Five years later, 12-year-old Millie had a string of agility titles after her name.

After a casting director ran across a YouTube clip of Chloe and Millie competing in agility, the girl and her Border Collie appeared on Steve Harvey’s show, “Little Big Shots.” When Chloe asked the dog to walk across the seesaw and leap through a tire jump, the audience went wild.

As a child, she was shy, but talking about her dog brought her out of her shell, says Bales.

Stroller to Showmanship

Olivia Rutherford doesn’t remember going to her first dog show. The fourth-generation conformation exhibitor rode in a stroller while her mother, Jaime Rutherford, and grandmother, Shelley Olson, propelled her from behind. Her great-grandmother, Catherine Brey, was an AKC judge who also bred top-winning Bloodhounds.

Today, 6-year-old Olivia carries on the family tradition. Rutherford breeds, owns, and shows Pointers and Greyhounds. Recently Olivia took one of her mother’s Pointers into the ring. To gain experience, she also shows dogs in the Pee Wee class, which is for children too young for AKC Junior Showmanship.

For some children, going to dog shows might seem boring, but Olivia’s mother and grandmother included her in the experience. Rather than learn how to show dogs with formal instruction, the child is gaining training tips gradually and organically.

“She always seems to enjoy the dogs,” says Olson. “We sit ringside and discuss the breeds in the ring.

They also gave her a camera and asked her to take pictures of the dogs and is developing skills as a photographer, says Olsen.

Hanging out at the shows led to more responsibility when professional handlers, Stan and Jane Flowers, asked Olivia to hold French Bulldogs at ringside for them.

“My favorite things to do at dog shows include watching the dogs, showing in the Pee Wee class, and meeting and talking to people,” says Olivia. “I love it when someone asks me to feed, walk, or groom a dog.”

The Multi-Tasker

When the Dumont family of Chandler, Arizona, considered adding two Cardigan Welsh Corgi puppies to their family, son, Kyle, 15, and daughter, Carie, 10, promised to help care for the dogs.

Kyle opted to show the male in conformation, and Carie chose to participate in rally and agility with Niki, Serenci Fire, and Ice.

“Going out with my dog is a special time, and she learns so quickly,” says Carie. “In rally, the judge and the other competitors are supportive, and we have fun.”

Adding a Canine Good Citizen title, herding, and trick dog classes meant learning impressive time management.

“With two evening agility sessions, herding lessons before school one day a week, and a two-hour synchronized swimming rehearsal, the girl fits it all in. She has a calendar, and I never remind her,” says her mother, Tanya Panter Dumont.

Three years after acquiring Niki, Carie has a string of AKC performance titles on her dog’s name—AKC Rally Novice (RN), Novice Agility (NA), Novice Agility Jumper (NAJ), Canine Good Citizen Advanced (CGCA), and Novice Trick Dog (TKN). Now she’s taking Niki to the sports’ next levels.

Running With the Hound

Two years ago, Peyton Jessen of Plymouth, Indiana, watched the Westminster Kennel Club dog show on television. Seeing the groomed and well-presented breeds motivated her to visit a dog show.

“We went to a small show, but it was nothing like Westminster,” recalls Peyton’s mother, Amy Overmyer Jessen. “We stumbled around until professional handler Bekki Pina approached us and explained the routine.”

Within 20 minutes, 5-year-old Peyton was holding and petting Pina’s Pharaoh Hounds. After getting a crash course in handling from Pina, the girl wanted to take the dog into the ring.

Since Peyton was four years away from Junior Handler eligibility, Pina found Gabbie, a 2-year-old retired champion the youngster could show in regular breed competition. Usually, Peyton’s Portuguese Podengo Pequeno is the sole entry or only one of two dogs. This allows the little handler an opportunity to hone her skills in the breed and Hound Group rings. Peyton attends conformation classes three times a month and practices every week. “For her, it’s all about the experience and not the wins, so if she’s having fun and likes going to shows, we’ll continue,” says Jessen.

“She loves dogs, and her confidence level has zoomed since she started showing,” says Jessen. “By the time she can enter Junior Showmanship, she’ll be ready.”

Learn more about involving children in dog shows.

Related article: Junior Handler Spotlight: Madison Schlagel
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