Getting NADOI members together anywhere usually leads to lively discussions, and this was the case recently on our email list. Someone asked if “bad behavior” on the part of some dogs was a common occurrence at agility trials. As members joined in to give their opinions, the topic quickly became “are some dogs too social at competition events?”
Some members did think that “some” agility people are too casual. They may have an “uppity” idea about obedience training and think that it is a bad thing. Many of these same folks have “overly friendly,” outgoing, larger-breed dogs. Some owners of large, guard-type dogs don’t seem to be able to “read” their dogs and see that they may actually mean to do some harm to another handler’s dog. Unfortunately, both these kinds of exhibitors can cause problems in a trial situation. Imagine that you are standing around, waiting your turn to take your small dog into the ring for a fun run, when along comes “Miss Friendly,” who, unfortunately for you, is at the trial to have a “fun time.” Miss Friendly runs up to your dog, her owner paying no attention to her, and “thumps” against your little guy. Your dog reacts, and in an instant, your focus and that of your dog has changed! Miss Friendly’s owner was not a responsible dog owner in this situation.
While at any competition, you certainly do not want your dog upset, intimidated, or distracted by some other dog, so-called “friendly” or not! Most members agreed that instructors have a real responsibility to explain this to newbies. They also agreed that while serious competitors in agility are very good at controlling their dogs and keeping a watchful eye on them, there can be a problem with some novice people.
Some members who participated in the discussion were quite adamant that any handler out in public and participating in dog activities should have a social dog that can interact with other dogs and people. They feel that there is no excuse for a dog-aggressive dog, no matter how talented the dog may be in whatever sport. Dogs working for people who are frequently out in the non-doggy world (in other words, therapy and service animals) should certainly be social. Dogs who can’t interact appropriately in public with other dogs should be left home, and dog obedience instructors need to make sure their students understand aggression prevention, good management of the dog, and responsible ownership. In the classes that I teach, for example, I instruct and enforce the “no nose-touching rule.”
Many discussion participants thought that while the above may certainly be true, no one needs to feel that his dogs must interact with other dogs at competition venues, or even at training. The agility class I am in, for example, is full of serious competitors and our dogs are loose much of the time. However, they are expected to be interacting with their owner, working, or on a stay. Before and after class, with the handlers’ permission, they may socialize. Naturally, some breeds or individuals are going to have a more stand-offish temperament, and won’t be overly friendly with everyone, or even want to play. Some of my friends think I am a little anti-social because I don’t let my dogs play with others at a trial. I want to keep them safe, but more importantly I want them to think that I am the only friend they have at the show!
Handlers who insist on allowing rambunctious play at agility trials often don’t realize the effect their dogs have on dogs who may be some distance away. I recall one time at training when I was almost dragged off my feet when my large and very friendly dog spotted some other dogs playing and lunged towards them. It just never occurred to that group that their actions could get someone else hurt.
Most agreed that there are people in every dog sport who simply do not control their dogs. One reason could be that, unlike in days past, dogs are no longer just a part of the home scene, but often the center of it. Their job is to be the “child,” even in households that have children. All seemed to think this topic would be a whole other discussion!
To get the final word, I took this question to Donna Albro, an AKC obedience judge with over 25 years experience working with competitors.
“A small percentage of our population is involved in dog competition events. The rest see us as a spectator sport. All dogs involved in the sport, whether it is agility, obedience, conformation or other dog related activities must have social manners. Dogs must be trained so that they can interact with people and other dogs. Some dogs in the sport of agility lack this attribute. This should be the responsibility of the owner or handler. If that is not enough, other trainers, dog clubs and show-giving clubs should stop condoning bad behavior. Those of us in the sport have a duty to the general public to portray dog/handler teams in the best possible light.”
As with most social interactions, having some common sense and good manners seems to apply to our competition dogs as well!