BANGOR, Maine — When 12-year-old Nicole Buck returns to school later this month in Minot, she’ll have something to brag about to which none of her friends can lay claim.
She won first place Saturday in the Junior Handler category at the Penobscot Valley Kennel Club B-OB, Rally-O Match. Nicole competed against two other girls, her sister, Alison Buck, 9, of Minot, who won second place, and Kaylyn Raymond, 10, of Hermon, who came in third. The girls, not the dogs, were being judged on how well they handled their pets.
The match was a practice event for about 75 dogs and their owners who hope to participate in the club’s show later this year. Winning in shows, but not matches, earns dogs points toward possible championship titles under American Kennel Club rules.
“My job in the ring,” Kaylyn said, “is to make the dog look as good as I can and to try to have fun.”
She said that her dog, Sable, a 7-month-old male border collie, kept sitting when he should have been standing.
The Buck girls said that they had spent the past two weeks practicing twice a day with their cocker spaniels. When they aren’t preparing for a match, Alison said that she and Cooper, a 5-month-old male cocker spaniel, play ball and swim in the lake near their home.
“He only goes in when I go in,” she said of their dips.
“Today,” Alison said, as Cooper lay at her feet nibbling on grass, “I learned that he needs to work on keeping his head up and not eating grass.”
Nicole said that her cocker spaniel, 1-year-old Annie, pulled her head back when she should have kept her neck extended as the judge looked her over.
“This is my own little sport,” Nicole said of dog handling. “I play ball with her. She sleeps with me. She watches TV with me.”
Having children begin competing in matches at an early age is a good way to get them involved and for them to learn better ways to handle their dogs from the judges, veteran dog handlers said Saturday.
“The best of the dog brings out what’s great in the kid and vice versa,” Judy Koch, 72, of Gray said. “It’s fun. It’s healthy. It’s an environment that’s good for kids to learn in.”
The Bucks purchased both their daughters’ dogs, described as “distant cousins,” from Koch. Matthew Buck began showing dogs for Koch about 17 years ago when he was still a teenager, his wife, Lisa Buck, 34, of Minot said.
“This is definitely a family thing,” she said.
The PVKC match moved about three years ago from Bass Park to the waterfront to be more visible in the community, according to organizers.
“A lot more people spend time down here,” Dottie DeBeck, 64 of Bangor said Saturday. “We get a lot of handicapped people who live downtown who come here and we’re able to put a dog in their laps, which is good for them and the dog. A lot of families come down here for a walk and see us. At Bass Park, by the time they knew we were there, they’d driven by.”