I once read, “Experience isn’t what happens to a man, it’s what a man does with what happens to him.” Hence the following –
On Friday, in June of 1972, I was asked to hold a brush-up class, making comments on how my handlers who were between classes might improve their scores at an AKC Trial they were attending on Sunday. The results at the Trial were better than these handlers had hoped for. The word spread and the following Friday eight handlers were standing in my front yard waiting to be analyzed, criticized and encouraged. I was shocked, as there were no matches or Trials for that weekend, yet delighted to work them.
In the following weeks I moved the “Drop-In” class to Monday nights to accommodate the majority of handlers and charged them one dollar for 1½ to 2 hour workouts. For tax purposes, I had them sign a dated sheet indicating handler and that they had paid.
Handlers from other trainers came and were most welcome. I made no attempt to change their training methods, unless they were between classes and only then upon request. However, I made it plain to all that I would not tolerate dog abuse for any reason. Through previous experiences I have found it necessary to remove all open and utility jumps from the training area. Inexperienced handlers are always attracted to the jumps and if not personally told to refrain, will attempt to put their dogs over them in a most disagreeable manner.
Instructing a Drop-In class is not easy, not a job for just lip service. Never knowing who is coming, how many are coming, or what type of instruction is needed until class time makes it similar to a weekly training clinic. I start each weekly class by dividing the handlers into groups of about equal ability. Workouts are devoid of excessive routine. Therefore, handlers learn to correct the first time, as there may not be a second chance. Brisk heeling followed by a brief rest, allows each group the opportunity to evaluate others faults and attributes. The mental picture or goal I urge in training is, “If an individual was looking out a window and could only view you from the waist up, it should be difficult for him to tell that your dog is with you.” The words that best describe this scene are, a confident attitude and a natural mannerism.
Many times a drill down is held in which corrections and praise are permitted. Those who fail to correct or praise properly are excused until the next brief workout. At other times we have drill downs in which I select the first handler or dog in error. This handler then places his dog on a down stay in an out of the way area and proceeds to look for the next critic. This promotes fellowship among the handlers and gives them an added incentive to know the AKC Obedience rules and regulations.
If the dogs and handlers are tired from a strenuous workout, we sometimes do an individual heeling pattern for variety. Everyone relaxes with their dogs beside them while one handler is put through his paces. Then each resting handler gets a chance to comment on the performance. Compliments as well as criticisms are in order. Many times handlers benefit from hearing the same thing their trainer has been telling them. Coming from a different source, sometimes makes it more impressive.
Each and every week, I present a challenge to all handlers attending this class. Examples: While heeling your dog off leash, without changing your stride or mannerism, give him a verbal command to “sit” in a natural voice and keep walking. Only those interested would try and as usual they were the better handlers. After all handlers had attempted the exercise (some at times successful) I then would demonstrate how to train to accomplish this exercise. My evaluation of such challenges is that they produce handlers who better understand their dogs, and dogs that are programmed to a word or signal and not to an exercise.
Perhaps there are trainers who feel that they would not want to demonstrate their knowledge, or for that matter a lack of it, in handling a drop-in class. The measure of value in holding this class is not monetary. It is being able to share your knowledge with others and to build upon this knowledge by benefiting from your own and others’ mistakes.
To this date some 2,000 handler’s signatures (of which many are the same) have proved that there is a definite need and demand for this type of instruction.
©1974 J. J. Kenner