Rachael Oster wasn’t ready to walk away from 4-H when she aged out after high school.

She wanted to start a group of her own and share her talents with HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Sarah Schmidt, left, practices giving commands to her Sheltie, Rip, while 4-H leader Rachael Oster gives pointers. The group practices for dog show competitions about once a week. Oster started the group this year with an eye to having the group members compete at American Kennel Club dog shows.

So she rounded up three girls who were interested in learning more about showing their Shetland Sheepdogs (Shelties) and set to the task of teaching them how to train their own dogs for shows.

4-H, Oster says, is a great way to teach youth many skills they will use their whole lives, skills she learned as both a 4-H member and in showing her own dogs: responsibility, sportsmanship, leadership, poise.

“Everyone kept telling me I should be a 4-H leader,” she said. So Oster dove right in.

Oster, 19, is a student at Portland Community College and is studying architecture. She graduated from Hillsboro High School in 2012.

The three girls in her group jumped right into the show ring.

In April they competed at the American Shetland Sheepdog Association national show, held in Albany.

“They were very impressive. They did very well,” Oster said of her group.

The national competition drew Sheltie owners from all over the country, not an easy situation for novices to walk into.

Sarah Schmidt, 10, will be in fifth grade at Hillsboro’s City View Charter School. Her display of sportsmanship at the show was “a very touching moment,” said Denese Oster, Rachael’s mother. While Sarah didn’t quite achieve her goal at the show, the judge commended her on her hard work and diligence. “It’s okay,” Sarah told the judge. “I’ll try again next year.”

‘Rally’ takes many skills

The confident Oster is patient and kind while she critiques her charges on their dog handling skills as they run through a short course laid out with signs for the handlers and obstacles for the dogs.

The “rally” portion of a competition is something between an agility course and an obedience test for the dogs and a handling test for the youngsters.

The first requirement in putting a dog through a rally course is to learn more than 50 signs that tell the dog handler how to move their dog through the course. After the girls learn that, they must train their dogs to respond to subtle commands given by voice, hand signals or tugs on their leash.

“I wanted to be a vet, but now I want to be a dog trainer,” said group member Tara Fuiten, who will be a eighth grader at Valley Catholic School in Beaverton.

Next is the showmanship table, where the dogs stand to get judged on their body build and coats and how they compare to the breed standard. Even this portion of the contest takes skill and training. The girls learn how to hold their dogs still and position them the way the judges want them.

For Sarah, just lifting her dog onto the platform is a feat in itself. But her confidence shows as she presents her dog, Rip, for judging.

Higher level of competition

Oster’s goal was for her 4-Hers to enter American Kennel Club competitions. “They’ve taken the skills learned through 4-H and applied them at a much high level of competition,” Denese Oster said.

Since the national show in April, Sarah has gone on to earn several accolades at two other AKC shows.

In Canby in June, she placed second in the novice rally competition, competing against adults and children of other ages. She also placed second in junior showmanship.

Several weeks ago at the Pacific Northwest Shetland Sheepdog Club show, she won first place in both the novice rally and junior showmanship competitions.

A third member of the 4-H group, Alissa Crossland, 14, placed second in beginner obedience and junior showmanship in her age division.

Both girls are just one victory away from earning titles for their competition skills, quite an accomplishment in their first year.

And quite an accomplishment for Oster as a first-year 4-H leader.

While leading her group through the paces of dog shows, Oster earned her own rally title with her dog Kaitie, her first title as an adult.

And just to put an interesting and challenging twist on things, she trains Kaitie in German.

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