There is chemistry between kids and dogs that is pure magic. I long to recapture some of that magic for myself, so for the last eight years or so I have been a volunteer leader for our county’s 4H dog project. We show kids the ropes for training their dogs, both for competition and for their general well-being. The project has steadily grown from a grand total of four to over thirty. Part of that growth has been due to the Herculean efforts my fellow leaders and I have made in promoting the project, and part of it has been a result of the agility equipment we built.
The project encompasses showmanship, obedience, and agility, but it’s the agility that both the dogs and the kids crave. Naturally, there’s no comparing flying over jumps and barreling through tunnels to sedately walking at heel around a ring while some strange dog tries to sniff your backside. But one of the goals of the program is to teach the kids how to train their dogs to be enjoyable members of the family.
Dogs are natural leaders, and they don’t easily relinquish that role. Given the choice, they’ll always be the first to rush outside for playtime, or begin gobbling their food before receiving permission. And they heartily resist being told where and when to pee. But with patience and consistency, the kids can teach their canine companions all of these things, and it’s just short of magic when they see the results of all their hard work.
While the agility is great fun, it’s the obedience and showmanship training that provides the hands-on, focused interaction between the kids and their dogs. In a few short months, the dogs turn from a yapping, jumping, out-of-control pack into a focused, obedient extension of the kid at the other end of the leash; a smiling, confident, self-assured kid.
Writing can be a lot like training a dog. A plot that’s not kept on a tight leash, or characters that wander around out of control, can undermine your best efforts. If you don’t take your edits seriously, you can end up with a stinky mess. Have fun with the hoops and ladders, but make sure you have the groundwork firmly established first.