The original obedience event promoted by Mrs. Whitehouse Walker was to disprove comments that “bench dogs were beautiful, but dumb.” One assumes that the dogs were competing to prove themselves worthy of the titles as Champions of Record. The participants in the early obedience classes were interested in making their dogs better companions in their communities and the winning of a trophy seems to have been a secondary motive. Times have changed and it sometimes looks that what started out as a friendly leisure activity has turned into a fiercely competitive drama with attendant trappings of animosity, envy, poor sportsmanship and, worst of all, cheating.
As instructors we have a responsibility not only to our students – the potential exhibitor – but to the sport as a whole. We must recognize the human qualities and needs which are at work in obedience activities and plan ways to meet these needs. These requirements relate to the human element, not the dog. As society becomes more urbanized and gets farther away from communion with nature, people tend to look for some tie with nature. The domesticated pet is one such link. As occupations become more fragmented in their functions and people no longer see the final results of their labors, there is an increasing need to experience “accomplishment feedback”, or the sense of accomplishment that brings an inner feeling of satisfaction.
Dog obedience training and competition provide a way to experience accomplishment feedback. From the time a puppy is acquired, to the completion of his U.D.T., the handler is personally responsible for each success and failure. The instructor guides the handler and can provide the opportunity for success. To the handler, success brings accomplishment feedback which need not necessarily reflect itself in the scores he gets. No team of dog and handler is alike and the potential of each will be different. It matters little if a team scores high or low, so long as the instructor has shown a sincere interest in all his students and prepared each to the best of his ability. Teams which in all likelihood will just squeak by are entitled to the same encouragement and tutelage as those with the potential to make the instructor look like a genius: they have the same right to accomplishment feedback. Once that title has been awarded, the scores become fading memories.
Trial giving clubs should also understand exhibitors needs. Exhibitors need clubs to put on trials, but clubs also need exhibitors to attend these trials. The exhibitor makes the trial possible. He is willing to incur the expense of traveling, has paid his entry fee, and is entitled to understanding and courtesy. Every dog entering the ring should have the opportunity to earn a qualifying score. This means adequate rings, grounds in good condition and good planning and organization. What we often see instead is a needless commercialization of trials by excessive offerings of trophies and cash prizes.
Accomplishment feedback does not hinge upon receipt of a trophy. Particularly cash prizes are of dubious taste and completely unnecessary. The club which for years has held by far the largest trial in the East has never offered cash prizes. With the expense of attending a trial becoming more and more formidable, savings could be effected by cutting back on trophies and lowering the entry fees.
Judges too must understand their part. Let the chips fall where they may, but treat every exhibitor alike and stick to the Obedience Regulations. Favoritism is particularly misplaced in the obedience ring and every exhibitor is entitled to be judged fairly in accordance with the requirements spelled out in the Regulations. I know some judges who seem to delight in inventing ways to disqualify exhibitors thereby defeating the entire purpose of the Obedience Regulations. It is difficult enough to prepare exhibitors for a trial, let along having to worry about non-existing “requirements.”
If everyone does their part, there is accomplishment feedback every step along the way – for the instructor, for those putting on the trial, for the judge, and for the exhibitor. Accomplishment feedback – try it, you will like it.
©1975 O.S. Point