4-H fun is all in the family for the six Doolin kids

The Enterprise — Anne Hayden

Giving Stella a hand: Ellen Doolin claps for her daughter Maggie, and her beagle/pug mix, after the pair completes an obstacle course in the fastest time of the day at the 4-H Dog Show.

The Enterprise — Anne Hayden

A trick for a treat: Kelley Doolin, 15, of Berne, rewards her dog, Miracle, with a cookie at the 4-H dog show at the Altamont Fair, after the springer spaniel performed one of her tricks, crawling on her belly toward her owner.

The Enterprise — Anne Hayden

Lapping up attention: Marcy Forti, of Knox, gives her dog, Roxy, a belly rub in between rounds of the 4-H Dog Show at the fair, and the canine relishes the massage, showing all of her teeth and her lolling tongue.

ALTAMONT — The Doolin family of Berne has enough members to make up a 4-H club all by themselves.

“You need at least five kids in a 4-H club, and I have six,” said Ellen Doolin, sitting in the bleachers Tuesday afternoon watching two of her daughters compete in a dog show at the Altamont Fair, while her sons, beside her, asked if they could go visit the cow barn.

Maggie Doolin, 11, and Kelley Doolin, 15, were working with their dogs in subjects like obedience and agility, as well as showing off their tricks — shake, crawl, and dance — and dressing them up in costumes. Maggie’s dog is a beagle and pug mix named Stella, while Kelley’s is a springer spaniel named Miracle.

“We’ve always had dogs,” said Mrs. Doolin. “It’s easier to live with them when they’re well-behaved.”

It was that reasoning that led her to enroll Maggie and Kelley in the summer session of a 4-H dog camp, run by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Albany County.

Barbara Stevens, a 4-H leader and the judge of the dog show at the Altamont Fair, said the Cornell Cooperative Extension has a dog-obedience series, with sessions during school breaks in the fall and spring, as well as the week-long camp in the summer.

The extension partners with the Albany Obedience Club in Glenmont, which regularly holds obedience and agility classes for adults, and certified instructors work with the 4-H kids on beginner-level obedience and agility.

Doolin said her daughters have developed a much deeper bond with their dogs having worked with them so closely.

“They work with them quite often, because they are skills you have to practice on a regular basis for the dogs to recall them,” said Mrs. Doolin. “In order to get them ready for this show, they had to bathe them and groom them and everything; it’s all part of it.”

“I really think they enjoy just being able to spend time with their dogs,” said Stevens. “So many kids have chaotic lives these days, and just taking time to connect with animals and to see the positive interactions is amazing.”

Maggie freely admitted that it takes her dog, Stella, longer to learn than some of the other dogs, but she laughed good-naturedly as she sometimes had to drag the pup to get her moving. When she and Stella had the fastest time through an obstacle course, though, she beamed with pride.

The Doolins have three dogs, and each of the girls chose which dog they wanted to work with; there was no arguing over it, Mrs. Doolin said. The third dog is not good with crowds, and therefore wasn’t a consideration for dog shows.

Miracle, said Kelley, is a pretty fast learner, and a relatively calm dog. However, she does sometimes steal eggs from their hens and eat them whole, she told another 4-H member, in between rounds of the dog show. Several of those hens had competed Tuesday morning with Doolin siblings in the 4-H Poultry Show. 

The show, with only three participants  — there were six registered, but three of the dogs were scared of thunder, and stayed home due to the weather — was only competitive in a friendly way. The third participant was Marcy Forti, of Knox, with her dog named Roxy.

All three girls cheered each other on, and laughed at themselves, and their dogs. The dogs, for their part, milled around each other, sniffing and lunging playfully.

The atmosphere was so laid back, even the parents got to try taking the dogs around the course a few times, to the delight of the kids, who shouted instructions and encouragement.

“4-H is a wonderful thing,” Mrs. Doolin said, before rushing off to the 4-H science fair just in time for the judging to begin.