Rifle 4-Her leads canine crew to second place finish in state dog-show competition
Tabor Tiffany wears her most recent injury as a badge of honor. Working at a local animal shelter last week, she accidentally got her middle finger stuck underneath a dog’s collar, and the dog, like many do, moved too energetically.
The finger might be in a splint, but it’s like Tiffany is in doggy heaven.
“This is what I want my career to be,” she said on Wednesday. “Training dogs and working with dogs.”
She is a senior at Rifle High School, and, in late August, she joined three fellow 4-Hers in winning second place overall in the team-rally division at the Colorado State Fair dog show in Pueblo.
There, the Garfield County-based 4H canine team competed against up to six teams. The objective in team rally division has participants stop at signs located throughout the course, directing them to perform certain commands with their canines.
“There’s four of us, and we’re all off-leash,” Tiffany said. “Our dogs have to heal with us and have to do everything without, basically, any control.
“This is the first time our county has ever had a rally team go to state.”
Fellow 4Her and college freshman Alyssa Hamilton had just moved into her new home at Colorado State University when she went to Pueblo to compete in the dog show. The Coal Ridge High School graduate said they’ve been consistently training their dogs essentially every week since April 1 leading up to the Garfield County Fair in August, which helped strengthen team chemistry and bond and ultimately led them to the honor.
“It’s going to show some of the younger kids that we are able to compete at a higher level,” Tiffany said.
The Garfield County 4Hers canine team was led by Lolita Shaffer and, later, Joey Ball after Shaffer moved to Oklahoma earlier this year.
“I’m just very proud of the effort that we put in during the summer and just the amount of time Joey (Ball) put into us and our training,” Hamilton said. “That helped us a lot to get us where we are today.”
Doing well in canine competitions and working with dogs through 4-H clubs have helped people like Hamilton and Tiffany gain experience in doing what they love and, in the meantime, open windows of opportunity.
Hamilton said she’s now going for an animal science degree at CSU and is currently working with cattle for a class. Though bovine creatures are a tad bigger, working with dogs has given her a way to translate well into working with other animals.
Plus, going to Pueblo was a way to unwind from the stress of moving to a new place, Hamilton said.
“It’s kind of my happy place,” she said. “Moving into college and having a new environment change, I just wanted to give all my effort into one last dog show.”
Tiffany has been participating in 4-H for the past nine years. She’s worked with dogs for the past eight. And, despite this being the first Garfield County rally team to go to state, she has competed individually at state for three years. In 2020, she won first place in the obedience competition and third place in showmanship.
“Tabor is the rock of the team, for sure,” Hamilton said. “She has been there the longest, and, no matter what she’s doing, she’ll drop everything and help people.”
This year, Tiffany took fourth in advanced showmanship.
“The advanced class in showmanship is up against some kids that have been in big professional shows,” she said.
For Tiffany, her mind is very set on attending the School for Dog Trainers in North Carolina for six months before deciding what to do next. She said she also has in her crosshairs trying to compete in national events sanctioned by the American Kennel Club, one of the premier dog organizations in the nation.
“She’s the driving force, in my opinion, behind the club,” Ball said of Tiffany.
One of her dogs, a mini Australian Shepherd named Diesel, has helped her triumph at state. In the local 4-H club, they have dubbed Diesel the nickname “robot” because she will follow just about every command.
“When we go to county, (Diesel) goes in there and she walks differently,” Tiffany said. “She acts like she owns the place.”
Mandy Tiffany, Tabor’s mother, said her daughter used to literally act like she was a dog when she was younger — a story Tabor giggles at.
“She’s definitely passionate for her dogs,” Mandy said of her daughter. “She wanted to be a dog. Every time we’d turn around when she was in kindergarten, she’d be playing as if she was a puppy.
“I’m glad she chose training dogs.”
In addition to her passion for teaching and training dogs, Tabor said dogs have of course trained her over the years. In the past, she said she used to be super strict with her dogs. Now, the pure happiness dogs usually have has rubbed off on her.
“Now, I go into practice, and I make it so much fun,” she said. “I’m not worried about how other people in the room are looking at me because I’m just being goofy with my two dogs.”
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