Canine connections

Canine connections

The St. Charles County 4-H Dog Care Drill Team emphasizes learning on both ends of the leash.

By Brett Auten

The learning happens on both ends of the leash.

For the four-legged members of the St. Charles County 4-H Dog Care Drill Team, tasks like “fetch,” “speak,” and “sit” are yawn worthy.

This select pack of applause-thirsty all-stars of the 4-H Dog Care program, which is open to all St. Charles County youths, makes several community performances throughout the year. Their next will be at the River City Rascal’s game in celebration of their Bark in the Park on Sept. 3 at 4 p.m. at CarShield Field in O’Fallon. All dogs are welcome at the ballpark for the game.

Second only to the shooting sports, the dog care club is one of the more popular selections in the St. Charles County 4-H program. Clark Gafke serves as the instructor for the drill team. Gafke has had a lifetime love and appreciation for the human and canine bond. 

“It’s some good fun to have and it teaches life skills,” he said about being a member of the drill team.

A typical performance for includes two or three dance routines where the handler takes their dog through a series of commands that are individually specific while set to music. After a sit/stay series, the dogs showcase their agility. A fan favorite is a timed competition through a course, as is barrel racing

A big part of the weekly practices is socializing the dogs and raising the comfort level around one another.

“They need to be comfortable with having 12 other dogs coming straight at them,” Gafke joked.  

Karissa Hagl, 17, is a junior at Fort Zumwalt East. She and Buddy, a 10-year-old Keeshond, are veteran members of the drill team. 

Hagl and Buddy have teamed their way through courses, granted some of which were make believe, for as long as she can remember.

“I remember being in the driveway and having him jump cartons, sticks; pretty much anything I could get him to jump over,” Hagl said. 

Hagl was already a 4-H member so she and Buddy signed up for the next open session. Buddy was a natural and gold-stared his way through the program. His natural showmanship eventually landed him a slot on the drill team.

“He’s very friendly and he loves the attention,” Hagl said. “The whole experience has made our relationship stronger. We have grown more attached and understand each other in a whole new way. I really like that piece of it.”

For Buddy, it has become more than reason to get him out of the house. The members of the team have become his crew.

“It’s not even the training, it’s the connection with the other dogs,” Hagl said. “He lights up. He has friends there that he’s known for five, six years.”

The St. Charles County 4-H program year runs from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31. Certain activities may have participation deadlines. The 4-H membership is open during the months of October through January.

 The 4-H educational programs empower young people to reach their full potential while working and learning in partnership with caring adults. As one of the nation’s largest youth organizations, 4-H helps young people become competent, capable, caring and contributing members of society.

St. Charles County has several 4-H clubs for children ages eight to 18, as well as projects on more than 75 topics, 4-H has something to interest every child, of smattering of which includes geocaching, robotics, international exchanges, horsemanship, starting a business, arts and crafts, raising animals, woodworking, photography and gardening.

For those getting their first taste of 4-H there is Clover Kids clubs for those age five-to-seven-years-old. Clover Kids introduces the 4-H experience as children learn how to get along with others, work in groups, explore their interests, while building self-confidence. Clover Kids do not enroll in projects or raise animals, and do not participate in competitive events, contests or shows.

To join a 4-H club, call 636-970-3000 or email A staff member will explain the enrollment process and membership dues. In addition to dues, some projects may require a small investment to get started, and there may be a fee for materials, trips or other activities.

CUTLINE: Photos by Ray Rockwell

Cover-Dogs1 Members of the St. Charles County 4-H Dog Care Drill Team show off their skills.

Cover-Dogs2 The St. Charles County 4-H Dog Care Drill Team.