Kira Nickel slips her hand through the leather strap and sits on the edge of her porch.
"Platz!" she says firmly.
Cobalt, her purebred German shepherd, responds to the German word for "spot or take a seat" and lies down.
"I need to work with her a lot more," says the 11-year-old from Nikiski. "When I work with her, she's a lot more happier and she loves me more."
Kira and Cobalt have spent the last three years working together as a team in obedience. This weekend, they will show central Kenai Peninsula residents at the Kenai Kennel Club Dog Show what they've learned.
The show begins Friday at 9 a.m. at Skyview High School and continues Saturday and Sunday.
Kira pauses before recalling Cobalt.
Photo by Jay Barrett
"We've been working together every day because the show's coming up," said Kira.
Although three years may sound like a long time, obedience training is a continual learning process for both the dog and the handler. Kira and Cobalt already have earned the first of three legs of their CD, or companion dog, title. Kira plans to achieve that title this weekend.
"If I work her enough, I'll do good," she said.
The duo have been a team since Cobalt was a puppy. Kira started working with her when Cobalt was a month old at the urging of Kira's mother, Wendy Nickel.
"I've had dogs a long time, and I started going to classes and really liked it, so I kept going," Wendy said.
She said she thought getting Kira her own dog and going to classes would give them more time together, so they signed up for obedience class at the Kenai Armory.
Kira and Cobalt work on heeling.
Photo by Jay Barrett
"It gave her 'Mom time,'" Wendy said.
Besides Kira, Wendy and her husband, Kirk, have two other children -- Jennifer, 9, and Dylan, 6.
Wendy said Jennifer is starting to show an interest in working with dogs, but Dylan doesn't care.
"He'd rather just play in the dirt."
It didn't take long, Wendy said, before she could tell Kira was a natural with dogs.
"Within the first couple of classes, I knew she had a knack."
Kira's "knack" landed her a position as teacher in the puppy obedience class.
"She has a way of getting them to move," her mother said.
However, working with your own dog can be a different story.
Cobalt still needs some work, Kira said.
"My mom's been going to class and helping me a lot," she said. "Whenever my mom gave the correction (Cobalt would) do it. She didn't think I would (correct her). So when I started to correct her, she started doing better with me.
"She still needs more work on recall," Kira said, referring to the dog's response to coming when called.
Among the other tasks she and Cobalt are expected to complete are a one-minute sit, three-minute stay, heeling with and without a leash and for Cobalt to hold a standing position while being checked by the judge.
"I've been showing her for two years," Kira said. "The first show we got our first ribbon. She stayed and did everything perfect."
Since then, the two have traveled to several shows, including some in Anchorage, Eagle River and Kenai.
Kira said she's a little nervous about this weekend's show, but that won't keep her out of the ring in the future.
"I want to try and finish her. Getting this title means I'm done with it, but I'm going to keep going for more titles," she said.
And her mother knows she'll do it, too.
"She does real well out there (in the ring)," Wendy said. "It takes a lot of determination, and she wants it."
For now, though, Kira would be happy to walk away from this show with her first title.
"If I work her enough, she'll pass, and I'll be really happy because it's been years."
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