Young Louisa dog handler brings out best in pups

Posted on Thursday, August 23, 2012 at 11:18 am

Hope Matkin and her dog, Cody.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” Anatole France.

If this quote rings true, then animal enthusiast Michaela “Hope” Matkin’s soul has been fully awakened since the age of four when she began her animal showmanship.

On Wednesday after her first day of school, Hope, her Toy Fox Terrier “Cody,” and her grandmother, Janet Matkins, came by the Central Virginian office for a brief interview in regards to the accomplishments Hope has achieved with her dogs.

She introduced her dog, “Cody,” and followed to the conference room all the while talking to Cody in a low, calming voice.  She was telling him that it was okay, and what a good boy he was as she hugged him close to her. As we all sat down, Cody never took his eyes off of Hope, as if he were waiting for something. Cody seemed satisfied he had done well and could now relax.  He curled up in her lap as we began talking.

At first Hope may seem shy, but that is quickly diminished as her face and eyes light up as she excitingly talks about how she got started with her horses and then her dogs.

With her primary horse, Star, she first competed at age four and won the Leadline competition.  She then went on to win the “Showmanship Class” in the walk/trot competition at the age of six.  Last year she competed in the Virginia State Fair, placing in competitions; Novice Youth Western Pleasure, Novice Youth Hunter Under Saddle, Youth Hunter Under Saddle, and Youth Walk/Jog Western Pleasure.

By the age of nine, Hope expanded her repertoire by showing puppies and older dogs in such shows as the Australian Shepherd Club (ASCA), the American Kennel Club (AKC), and the United Kennel Club (UKC).

“It seems easy, but it can be very, very hard,” Hope said when asked how difficult it was to learn dog handling for these types of shows.

In March, Hope took Bunny, her grandmother’s dog, to her winning championship title in only two weekends.  This was quite an accomplishment, as Hope not only beat out the adults, but also beat out the ASCA breeder judges.  She left that competition with three majors and 12 points,

For the last 18 months, Hope has been training her first dog, Cody, and in August she took him to an AKC show winning “Best Junior Handler” and “Reserve Junior Handler.”

During the interview at the Central Virginian office, Hope demonstrated some of the training skills she has been perfecting with Cody.  As she placed him gently down on the carpet, Cody immediately turned his attention up to Hope waiting anxiously with his tail wagging.  She took her finger and pointed toward his backside stating sit and he sat.  Then she laid her hand out telling him to lie down.  He did.  If she moved her hand in a clock-wise position and told him to roll over, he would roll over.  Sometimes a dog handler is not allowed to say the commands out loud for the dog so Hope is training Cody to accept the verbal as well as the hand signals alone.

At one point she even got Cody to talk while he was up on his hind legs hopping around looking at Hope becoming excited and more verbal.

“You have to reward your dog,” Hope said as she cuddled Cody telling him what a good job he had done.

To read the entire story, see the Aug. 23 edition of The Central Virginian.

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