Cars, vans, and pickups began ascending into the parking area at the Nite Owl Lounge in Wadena. Dogs of all shapes, sizes, and ages, were joined by their human family members. Another “Socialization and Obedience Class for the Family Dog” was about to begin. Tonight almost 20 dogs are expected and most of the people are members of local 4-H Clubs. Lead trainer, Lucille Belch, and her husband, Jack, run the classes. The two have been life partners for 48 years and they live in a rural home just a few miles from where Lucille grew up near Wadena. “There are 12 weeks of classes for 4-H Dog Training in three categories: beginner, advanced and community,“ said Lucille. For students to compete in the county fair, they must attend six of the classes with their dog. “The expectations after six weeks of training is that dogs will respond to the commands,“come,” “sit,” “stay” and “heel.” After 12 weeks, the dogs will sit stay, “down stay” and “stand stay.” They will walk at various speeds and make sharp corner turns.” In addition to the training given by Lucille, students can choose to take part in agility training sessions, which are coached by Sebeka native, Don Isaacson. Graduates of the initial Obedience class may also choose to participate in Showmanship classes or Rally Obedience Training, also taught by Lucille. According to the flyer, “Rally Obedience is not as strict as Obedience, but teaches you and your dog to communicate together as well as having a good time together.” Throughout the classes, Lucille guided the participants with instructions. “Hold the leash loose, or the dog will fight. Keep the letter J in your leash. Walk with dog on your left side. The dog’s shoulder should be by your knee. Praise and talk to your dog the entire time. Pop her back. Pop her forward.. Say NO in a firm voice. Make correction and move on. Make the corners nice and square. Praise! Don’t walk with leash around your wrist; hold in your right hand, make corrections with your left. Don’t stop until it’s done correctly. Use the sound, PSST to get your dog to stop whining. When they improve even a little, Praise. Forward. Halt. Heel. Sit. Stay.” As for the “watch me commands,” Lucille explained, “Dogs don’t like us to look them in the eye. They find that threatening. Put your hand in front of their face. Use slow hand signal. Stand in front- close enough to touch their muzzle.” “We use only positive reinforcement,” she said. She also admits that she is a fan of the television show, Dog Whisperer.” “Host Caesar Millan provides excellent information and advice. He has my utmost respect,” she said. Lucile encouraged the students to work with their dogs everyday. “Ten minutes, twice a day,” she said. “Take the choke collar off when you are not training. Don’t push too hard, too fast. Stay calm; dogs sense when you are nervous or upset. If you’re getting upset, quit.” Throughout these classes, parents and family members shared many thoughts about Lucille and the dog obedience class. “Lucille obviously works well with the kids; otherwise kids wouldn’t be coming back year after year.” In fact, some families are in their 3rd generation of training from Lucille! “She’s great with the kids~ always caring and giving new ideas to help with the training,” said one. “This is such an excellent program. Lucille does a great job, works so well with the kids,” said another. “She’s patient and firm, gives positive feedback.” “This has become such a great family time for us,” said another. “It’s so fun to see all kinds of dogs respond to this training!” Lucille said that no dog is too young or too old for training, but certainly, the younger, the easier the training. “That way, they learn good habits from the beginning.” Patience, Persistence, and Praise are the key, says Lucille, a lot like raising good kids. Other advice: “We come so dogs learn to trust us and other dogs. Don’t baby, but don’t damage. Avoid eye contact when meeting. Let the dog come to you. Let them use their sense of smell; let them sniff you.” If your dog jumps…. “Keep your leash close to where people come in to the house. Then put the leash on your dog whenever you meet, greet people.” She added… “Never let your dog go in or out of the door first. Remember, we, not our dogs, are the leader!” Kathy Harrison, a community member, comes to class to help in the training session, and also, to provide socialization for two of her Great Pyrenees, Belle, and Dallas, both rescue dogs from Texas. “This training makes travelling with these dogs so much easier,” said Kathy. Kathy and her husband also provide a home for rescue dog, T-Bear, who works as a therapy dog. Kathy is a firm believer in the whole process of dog training and socialization; she’s worked with the instructor, Lucille, for decades. “First, when I was involved in 4-H during my high school years., and later, in the 1980’s and 90’s, when both of my kids were involved in dog projects. Lucille has a heart of gold. She is so patient and such a wonderful role model. Lucille fosters a bond between the kids and their dog. These classes provide positive family bonding. Kids are learning how to work together with their dog…learning life skills.” Lucille retired from a full time job four years ago, but has been doing this “side job” for 32 years. She’s lost count how many classes she has taught. She has taught sessions annually, sometimes semi-annually, in Sebeka, Menahga, Park Rapids, and Wadena. Besides teaching Dog Obedience and Socialization classes and subsequent follow up classes, Lucille has become certified as a judge for 4-H competitions. She’s judged competitions at county fairs across the state and even at the Minnesota State 4-H Dog Show. Her husband, Jack, has supported her through these many events. “I got introduced to this class when our daughter, D’Juana was in this 4-H project with our dogs. D’Juana was 12 ½ when she died in an accident. Her dog, Max, a Black Lab- German Shepherd cross, needed to continue training. So, I took over. Working with dogs and their human beings has been my therapy through all these years,” explains Lucille. “Each year we award a D’Jauna Belch Scholarship to the 4-H project member who, as a trainer, shows leadership qualities, and whose dog shows the most improvement.” There is no fee for 4-H members to take the classes. As for the tuition fee charged to community members, that income is all donated to the Wadena County Humane Society to continue their work with shelter pets. Jack and Lucille currently share their home with Nakea, a 3 year old Golden Retriever and Ernie, a Black Lab. Ernie was the last of 10 puppies the Belches trained as guide dogs over a 10 year period. Nine of the puppies grew up to be guide dogs to people all over the world. One lives in Spain, another in Mexico, and the others, all across the U.S.A. Ernie’s shy temperament made him ineligible for the guide program. Instead, he was guided right into the Belch family as their pet.
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