On a typical Tuesday night, Jennie Dencklau stands like a ringmaster at the center of a circle of dogs and their owners. She directs them as they stop and start on cue, sit, stay and heel.
Some of the dogs are a lot better at it than others, but that's OK. They're all here to learn.
These every-other-week sessions are how 4-H kids learn to train their dogs before the fair. As leaders of the dog project, Jennie and Brain Dencklau meet with the kids at the Webster County Fairground to practice with their pooches every other Thursday, starting in February.
Dog Project Leader Jennie Dencklau helps Adalynn Lawman, 10, teach her dog to sit properly. The 9-month-old American Bulldog/mastiff mix had been a shelter dog. About 14 dogs came to the first day of dog training for the 4-H Dog Project; Dencklau said the sessions get much busier closer to fair time.
Their job is to train the 4-H'ers how to lead their dogs effectively, Jennie Dencklau said.
"The dog project is about teaching 4-H'ers to be responsible dog owners, and how to make their dogs a member of the community," she said. "So we teach things about general care and grooming, health issues, different careers you can do with your dogs."
There were about 14 dogs the first night. Things will get a bit more busy when it comes closer to fair time, Jennie Dencklau said.
"This is their first night of dog obedience training," she said. "As you can see, we have a mixture of kids who have been in it before and have fairly well-behaved dogs, and then I have some rambunctious ones."
"This is the fun night," Brian Dencklau said. "Everybody's going in the wrong direction, and nobody's sitting, and it's quieter than normal too. Dogs are usually barking.
"It's 90 percent teaching the kids, and 10 percent teaching the dogs, as you can see."
Training kids how to work with their dogs is a lot like training the dogs themselves.
"Repetitiveness, same way every time," said Brian Dencklau. "They'll both get used to it eventually."
The Dencklaus have been in the project for years, though Brian Dencklau said Jennie does more of the work.
"She's the leader of the pack," Brian Dencklau said. "I'm mostly just in charge of getting here, getting things going, moving the tables out."
Jennie Dencklau has been helping out with the project since shortly after high school. She's been a leader for about 36 years.
"It's rewarding, because you see the kids mature into really doing something special," Jennie Dencklau said. "It makes me really happy when kids advance and do other things."
"I like kids. I'm a pediatric nurse at the hospital," she explained. "It's fun to see them when they're just 9 years old coming into the project, and to see them mature and graduate from high school, and still in the dog project, is a great thing.
"Sometimes I feel like I run a home for retired 4-H dogs at my home," she said. "But right now I only have two dogs, my own dog and my youngest child's dog still at home."
Jennie Dencklau was in the dog project as a 4-H'er. Later, all six of her children went through the program as well.
She still remembers her first dog, given to her by her father.
"He was a railroad man, and he found a mutt alongside the railroad tracks one day and brought him home for me," Jennie Dencklau said. "His name was Hobo. He probably was a boarder collie mix. I just started in 4-H with him, and he was eventually a champion."
Jennie Dencklau has been in the program long enough to go through two generations of 4-H'ers. Mike Greve, who brought his son, Shane Greve, to the session, also remembered learning from the Dencklaus when he was younger.
"I was probably junior high, about eighth or ninth grade," Mike Greve said. "I had a basset hound, and he won champion and reserve champion all three years I had him.
"Brian was still breaking up fights and mopping the floors back then too."
Greve commended their patience with the sometimes unruly dogs, as well as their dedication.
"You see people in the horse project or whatever, the different projects, once their kids got out they were kind of done with it," Greve said. "But (the Dencklaus) were running it before they had kids, when they had kids, and now their kids are out and they're still doing it. Hats off to them, I guess."