CITY OF TONAWANDA — At the age of 12, Claire Ermer of Tonawanda has already earned many honors in the dog show ring — including, most recently, a perfect score and blue ribbon in novice agility and the title of New York state grand champion in grooming and handling at the state fair in Syracuse.
But when asked what she values most from the past handful of years, it’s not the ribbons she mentions.
“Friends,” she said. “You make a lot of new friends. You get a better relationship with your dog, and you have a lot of fun.
“You get to meet a lot of people ... human friends, dog friends.”
At the state fair, Ermer, a sixth-grader at Tonawanda Middle School, competed with her Shetland Sheepdog, Denver in the 4H dog show division. In the novice agility category, she had a clean run, completing a course of jumps, tunnels, A-frame, teeter-totter and table with a perfect score of 100 for a blue ribbon. She also was awarded the title of New York state grand champion in grooming and handling B.
For this class, competitors had to answer questions to describe their dog’s breed origins and purpose, and to locate structural body parts of the dog. Additionally, the competitors had to showcase their dogs grooming and movement in the show ring.
At her home in the City of Tonawanda recently, Claire showed off a collection of awards and ribbons — many blue — including her purple grand champion ribbon, and many of the tools of her “trade,” including brushes and nail clippers. Looking on were Denver and the family’s other dogs, corgis Rocky and Jiggy, and Dancer, a Schipperke.
“I started 4H when I was about 8 years old,” she said. “I trained Jiggy for obedience; he’s retired now. Denver, I started last year for grooming and handling. This year, I will train Rocky or Denver.”
With the dogs looking on, Claire showed how to check their ears, their teeth and nails (“not too short, not too long”) and explained about various points deductions and rules in the category of grooming and handling, from the dog’s condition and appearance to the handler’s appearance and attitude to how the dog stands and moves.
“You have to teach your dog that it’s OK that the judges touches them,” she explained. “The dogs have to learn that it’s OK. It’s not that bad. It’d be all over soon.”
Even with some experience behind her, Claire said, she had a rough start for the past season.
“I started really low and thought I wasn’t going to make it through the year,” she said. “But I started really practicing at home and it really worked out for me.”
Claire is a member of the Erie County Ridge Rovers 4H dog training club, which meets weekly at Eagle Ridge Kennels in Orchard Park. In addition to local shows, the group shows its dogs at the Erie County Fair in August, and some go on to the state fair. She is also a junior member of Western Lakes Dog Training Club of Tonawanda.
It’s a passion that runs in the family. Lisa Ermer, Claire’s mother, started showing dogs years ago in a number of categories, and continues today. Claire’s sister Carly, 7, plans to start showing when she is old enough.
“It gives you a goal. It gives you something to do with your dog,” Lisa Ermer said. “Many behavior problems you see with dogs are because they need an energy outlet. Otherwise they get themselves in trouble. “
Claire already does a lot of care for the dogs, including bathing, feeding and grooming, Lisa Ermer said.
“It makes them responsible, I think,” she said. “They have to be responsible.”
Marcia Ritchie, the educational leader of the Ridge Rovers, founded the club in 2000.
“We do obedience, we do showmanship, which is how you present your dog,” she said. “You have to be know about dogs in general, and your brand. We do agility in the winter, which of course is like an obstacle course for dogs. We periodically do field trips and information meeting where kids are learning about parts of the dogs, different breeds, health concerns.”
Ritchie said that the experience should be a good one for both sides of the team.
“It builds a healthy relationship between child and dog,” Ritchie said. “They’re learning about how dogs learn, what makes their dog tick, how to motivate them. I’d also like think they’re learning to be kind.
“It’s a lot of work. It’s not easy, the kids have to be committed. They have to practice everyday, just like any other kind of lesson.”
To take part, dogs must be immunized and non-aggressive. Skill level doesn’t matter, and dogs can be any breed — including mixed.
“They don’t need a fancy dog,” Lisa Ermer said. “They just need control.”
The Ridge Rovers group is open to those from ages 7 to 18, but participants must be at least 9 years old to handle dogs for training classes and show. The group’s first meeting will take place at 4 p.m. today at Eagle Ridge Kennels, 7081 Ellicott Road, Orchard Park. (The groups meets at the Canine Sports Complex, 356 Hertel Ave., Buffalo, for its agility training.) This meeting will be without dogs.
Participants will be able to meet others and fill out forms to join Erie County 4-H and the group. Those interested should bring along their dog’s current vaccination information, including kennel cough vaccination, for the records. The fee for Erie County is $25 and the Ridge Rovers annual dues are $15.
For more information, call Lisa Ermer at 692-5498.
FOR MORE INFORMATION To learn more about the Ridge Rovers 4-H club of Erie County, call Lisa Ermer at 692-5498. The group's first meeting of the season will take place at 4 p.m. today at Eagle Ridge Kennels, 7081 Ellicott Road, Orchard Park.