Going to the dogs
Berryville Main Street sets canine event
By Val Van Meter
The Winchester Star
BERRYVILLE — What pooch wouldn’t enjoy bobbing for hot dogs in a tub of water on a July day?
ABOVE: Cari Messick (right) teaches a puppy kindergarten class at the Clarke County Parks and Recreation Department in Berryville. She is planning activities for canines during the third annual Berryville Main Street Dog Days Festival from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. BELOW: Bella, a mutt, is eager to learn in the class. She belongs to Karen Vacchio of Frederick County.
(Photos by Rick Foster)
Don’t let your dog miss this event, just one of the fun things Cari Messick is planning for the third annual Berryville Main Street Dog Days Festival from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday.
Last year, 350 dog lovers and their pets attended the event in Rose Hill Park, according to Berryville Main Street spokeswoman Sue Ross.
The event features a costume parade for dogs and a “stupid pet tricks” contest, Ross said, along with many vendors offering doggie products.
Clarke County Deputy A. C. Nicholson and his police dog Winter will be special guests.
Messick, a certified pet dog trainer and owner of FitHound positive puppy and dog training, in Summit Point, W.Va., teaches puppy kindergarten and basic manners classes for parks and recreation departments in Clarke and Frederick counties and in Frederick, Md.
She also works with dogs and their owners in their homes on basic training and special behavioral issues.
Entertaining and training
When designing games for the canine/human partners for Dog Days, Messick wants the owners to have fun and the dogs to gain confidence and socialize with other dogs.
“I want it to be entertaining for the owners,” Messick said, “and keep the dogs from getting bored.”
She’s considering an egg and spoon race, a more difficult balancing act when the competitors are leading a dog on a leash, and a dress-up relay, where owners race to a pile of human clothing and doll their pooch up in a T-shirt, and hat or maybe sunglasses, then race to the starting line.
She has a version of musical chairs, in which the owners can’t claim a seat until they coax the dog to perform some particular movement, such as sit or lie down.
“We’ll do them two or three times” during the morning, “so everybody gets a chance.”
Messick may have her two Rhodesian Ridgebacks at the event, if she can persuade her husband to come along to dog-sit.
The dogs have their own repertoire of tricks, in addition to their basic obedience: they can play dead on cue, shake hands, say their prayers, or target items.
Teaching tricks “builds a dog’s confidence, and it’s fun to show off when people come for dinner,” she said.
Messick only trains with positive reinforcement: no harsh punishment or physical correction.
Training a puppy is “like having a young child’s mind to mold,” she said.
Messick has “always had dogs,” but she started showing them when she got her first Rhodesian Ridgeback. “I took a couple of training classes. It was a nice hobby.”
Then she met Pat Miller, and learned about the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.
She was an apprentice with Miller for two years, attended an executive program for more than a year and won her own certification. Last year, she quit her job in the advertising field and went into training full-time.
“It’s been challenging, building your own business. But I’m doing what I love,” she said.
Rewarding and socializing
Messick uses rewards in her training process.
“We use food in class, for practical purposes,” but it’s important that each owner learn what motivates the dog.
“What reinforces the behavior?” she asked. Some dogs prefer attention or play time to treats.
Owners must also develop a relationship with the dog.
If you are a “calm, collected, fearless leader” to your dog, “you’ll have far fewer issues and the dog will be better-behaved as a family member you can take out in public or have interact with your guests.”
Socializing is also important. She suggests owners introduce their puppies to 100 people in their first few months of life.
If, in the first 13 weeks of his life, the dog associates people, unfamiliar places, and other dogs with good things, you should have a well-adjusted dog who is not afraid of the unusual, Messick said.
“Fear is the underlying cause of aggression,” she said. Dogs “bark, snarl, snap or bite because they are afraid.”
Exercising and coursing
She is also a big advocate of plenty of exercise for dogs: “Most dogs don’t get enough exercise and that leads to issues. A lot of annoying habits disappear when you tire them out.”
Messick accomplishes this with her two dogs by competing in “lure coursing,” a sport that sends “sight hounds,” racing after an artificial rabbit across country.
“It is a special 100-yard course. It’s great exercise and helps keep the hunting instincts up.”
Several Coursing Clubs have been established in Virginia, and Messick noted that two of the closest ones are at Oatlands near Leesburg and in The Plains.
Some people say dogs often resemble their owners, and when it comes to training, Messick believes owners need rewards, too.
So, she said, she’ll also have some small prizes for them at the Dog Days games.
To compete in the Dog Day Festival games, contact the Berryville Main Street office, 5 S. Church St., at 955-4001, or download a contest application at wwwberryvillemainstreet.org. Registration can be completed on festival day, but participation in some events may be limited.
—Contact Val Van Meter at