WATERLOO --- Man's best friends strutted their stuff Thursday as dogs ranging from kitten-sized to beast-like competed in an obedience competition at the five-day Black Hawk County 4-H and Future Farmers of America Fair.
Splash, a border collie mix, confidently obeyed 15-year-old Laura Brammer's commands to sit, heel and walk. The Cedar Falls native and her furry friend were awarded first place in the pre-novice obedience competition at the National Cattle Congress.
However, the 6-year-old dog wasn't always confident. When Brammer and her older sister, Christina, adopted Splash from the Cedar Bend Humane Society five years ago, they met a scared, multi-colored dog that recently escaped an abusive owner.
"When we first brought her home, she didn't know how to play," said Christina Brammer, 17. "It was difficult at first, because you really didn't know where to start."
Thanks to love and affection from the Brammer family, Splash quickly felt safe. At that point, Christina Brammer knew she wanted Splash to compete in dog competitions, similar to the one's she saw through her volunteer work at the humane society.
"She's still a little timid around men, but she's gotten to the point where she's pretty good at everything," Brammer said.
"We've competed all around the Midwest, and we went to a national competition and she likes the agility course," Brammer said.
Training dogs provides a learning opportunity for children and teenagers, said Bobbie Conkling, superintendent of the dog competition. Through her own experience training dogs as a child, Conkling knows the competition experience is rewarding.
"It teaches them responsibility. It could be a new interest for them they didn't know they enjoyed," Conkling said.
Though it was the first time the sisters trained a fearful dog, they learned the importance of trust and the rewards it can bring.
"Positive reinforcement are the most important words," Laura Brammer said. "That's the best way to train a dog."
The fair continues today and Saturday. Events this evening include a 4-H carnival for grades K-6 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. outside Estel Hall and a dance for grades 7-12 from 8:30 to 11 p.m. at the Pepsi Pavilion.
Various competitions will be held throughout the day Saturday beginning at 9 a.m. followed by a family picnic from 4-5:30 p.m. and the Parade of Clubs and Family Fun Night at 6 p.m.