Obedience instructors rely upon authorities in the field for information, ideas and solutions. Books and articles written by such individuals are invaluable aids, as are seminars and workshops presented by them. Yet an ideal source for new information frequently remains untapped. Students, both canine and human, continually offer a fertile opportunity for increasing the instructor’s general knowledge.
Although the instructor is more skilled at “reading” the dog, assessing temperament and specific training methods required, the owner is a source of other valuable infor- mation. Because the owner is closely associated with the dog, she can give observations otherwise unavailable to the instructor. By considering the owner’s observations of the dog’s behavior problems or idiosyncrasies, the instructor is able to form more accurate conclusions of the best way to handle a particular problem.
Inexperience or lack of technical expertise does not preclude helpful and accurate insights. An instructor may be tempted to dismiss a student’s input because “He’s only a beginner”, or “What does she know? She’s never trained a class!” It is exactly this fresh outlook that may provide a new thoughts about a particular type of dog. Sometimes an instructor may drift into a mental rut, and an unaccustomed outlook may provide surprising results.
Most instructors train with a certain method or approach. While this does give form and structure, there will always be dogs that are not receptive to the specific methods used. Instead of struggling to force the dog to learn with methods that are contrary to the dog’s physical and/or mental make-up, the instructor needs to adapt the training to the dog. For example, the instructor that uses only praise to reward good behavior, and has a dog in class that is not motivated with praise, needs to explore other reward systems. By forcing the dog into a rigid system, the instructor is not only ineffective, but depriving herself of an opportunity to utilize the dog as a teacher. When confronted with a dog that does not fit into the usual system, the instructor who views the dog as a source for the development of a new technique will greatly enhance her abilities.
If an instructor limits herself to knowledge that pertains only to obedience training and trial work, she denies herself limitless information. Talking with a person who competes in field trials with a retriever or stock dog trials with an Australian Shepherd gives a new perspective on methods and ideas. Reading about Guide Dog training methods, or the use of sentry dogs in the Army will broaden the instructor’s views. People who participate in activities other than obedience trials are excellent sources for more knowledge and a deeper understanding of people and dogs.
Instructors need to realize that each new handler and dog we meet are potential teachers. As we teach them our skills and attitudes, they can in turn teach us. The most effective and progressive teacher is one who views all sources as possible teachers, and welcomes information from them.
©1980 S. Myles