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South Neighborhoods
Good dogs: Well-behaved canines educate public about responsible pet ownership

Thursday, November 07, 2002

By Linda Wilson Fuoco, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Riley danced and bowed and played to his audience. The more people clapped, the faster his tail wagged. The 1-year-old Airedale terrier was among seven dogs performing last weekend with The Ruff Striders canine freestyle team. The crowd loved watching Terry Younkins of Moon put her big terrier through his paces. They liked it even more when they and their children were allowed to pet Riley and the other Ruff Striders.

Debbie Cecotti of Bethel Park gets a "hug" from her collie Windy as they wait for the fourth annual Dog Fair sponsored by the Western Pennsylvania Kennel Association to start at the Galleria Saturday. (Pam Panchak, Post-Gazette)

More than 50 other dogs danced and pranced and jumped through hoops and over hurdles at the Galleria mall in Mt. Lebanon. Though many of them are champion show dogs, they weren't trying to win titles, trophies or ribbons.

The dogs and their owners were participating in the fourth annual Dog Fair sponsored by the Western Pennsylvania Kennel Association. Dog owners -- some of them breeders, handlers and trainers -- had come to educate the public about dogs, dog care and being a responsible dog owner.

Riley and the other dogs demonstrated what goes on at conformation competition and obedience and agility trials.

Canine freestyle involves dogs and people dancing in time to music. The dogs work off-leash, utilizing what they've learned in obedience classes. Freestyle adds elements like spins and jumps and flat-out dance moves.

The Ruff Striders included the Airedale, a golden retriever, two rough-coated collies, a German shepherd dog, a poodle mix and a collie mix.

The last two dogs, Simon and Peaches, were both rescued from dog shelters.

Shelley Caldwell of Finleyville was one of the announcers at the demonstration, while ruff striding with her white German shepherd dog, Kia, and Colby, her blue merle collie.

Caldwell teaches obedience classes at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society and at the WPKA building in Crafton. She and the Ruff Striders practice weekly at the Crafton facility, formerly known as PAWsitive Academy. The doggy drill team is available for demonstrations at nursing homes and for nonprofit organizations, including Scout groups.

What all the dog owners had in common was a willingness to share their dogs with the public. The event was very hands-on, giving children a chance to get up-close with well-behaved, well-socialized dogs. It also gave experienced dog owners the chance to educate the public about safe behavior around dogs.

For instance, children were politely told they must ask permission before petting anyone's dog. The answer was always "yes" Saturday, but Caldwell and other trainers explained that some dogs might growl or even bite if a stranger tries to pet them. The children were taught to hold their hand out so that the dog could smell the hand before being petted.

There were dogs of all sizes and shapes at the fair.

Willie, a tiny Cavalier King Charles spaniel, was popular with the women and small children. Grimmey, a boxer who's head was nearly bigger than the little spaniel's body, hovered near Willie, competing for attention.

Willie and Grimmey are both owned by Judy and Bill Colbert of South Park. She's been breeding boxers for 37 years. He's an operating engineer during the week and a professional handler on weekends.

The Colberts, like the other owners and breeders, were more than eager to talk about the breeds they love, telling the public their strong points, as well as their drawbacks.

For further information about the Ruff Striders or training classes, call 412-384-5537.

Linda Wilson Fuoco can be reached at lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1512.

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