By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN Emily Swartzer loves dogs. She grew up with them, and she has a talent for training them. Some people even call her “The Dog Whisperer.”
Despite her commitment, though, the Holy Trinity High School sophomore didn’t expect her springer spaniels, Marley and Mack, to both win grand champion titles at the Sept. 24-25 Minnesota 4-H Dog Show.
“When they gave the awards, I was blown away; I think everyone else did very good,” said Swartzer, daughter of Joe and Katie Swartzer of Silver Lake.
Marley scored 192.5/200 in the graduate beginner class for obedience, and Mack (who is Marley’s 1-year-old son) scored 195/200 in the beginner class.
This was Swartzer’s first time competing at the state show, after winning grand champion with both dogs at the Wright County Fair this summer.
Before the county competition, she and her dogs participated in a series of training sessions at the Wright County fairgrounds. She also worked with Mack and Marley at home, perfecting their ability to heel, sit, stay, and more.
Between the county and state competition, Swartzer trained on her own.
“I tried to spend 30 minutes a day with each dog,” she said.
In Mack’s beginner class, many of the exercises are performed on leash.
“Marley’s was a little more complex,” Swartzer said.
One part of the competition, for example, involves “recall” off leash. First, the handler tells the dog to stay in the sit position. Then, the handler walks forward about 25 feet, turns to face the dog, and commands the dog to come. The dog must come directly, at a brisk trot or gallop, and sit close enough for the handler to easily touch.
Swartzer has had Marley since Christmas of 2012. She describes him as attentive and eager to please and also liking to test his limits at times.
With training dogs, Swartzer said it’s important to “lay down the rules,” and “make sure the dog knows you’re the master.”
Being consistent and starting slowly is also helpful.
“You have to be very patient, and know that they’re not going to get it right away,” Swartzer said. “It’s little by little.”
When Swartzer first started training Mack as a puppy, she limited exercises to five minutes a day, because of his short attention span. She also shortens trainings in hot weather.
The breed of dog will also make a difference in training.
“Spaniels are pretty easy to teach,” Swartzer said. “They’re a people-oriented dog.”
Now that competitions are over for the season, Swartzer is keeping up on training at a more relaxed pace. In the spring, she plans to go at it again on a daily basis.
“I set my expectations very high,” she said. “This upcoming year, I want to do agility with both my dogs.”
Agility is when handlers direct their dogs through various obstacles as quickly and accurately as possible. Swartzer said her dogs are energetic, and would likely do well in this sport.
In addition to Marley and Mack, the Swartzer family has a 9-year-old springer spaniel, Carly, who is Mack’s mother. Other animals on the property include rabbits, chickens, and cats.
Between pets and people, the Swartzer household is bustling with activity. Swartzer has five siblings, including Michael, 5; twins Kortney and Nicholas, 8; Joey, 13; and Alicia, 18. (Alicia served as a 2015-16 Winsted Ambassador.)
“I like the big family,” Swartzer said.