If you are in the business of training dogs and people long enough, you will have your share of “unplanned events.” Wild dogs, weird people, unpredictable weather, and even our own actions can combine to create some surprising and challenging classes. As good instructors, we are professionals, and hopefully able to rise above and conquer (or at least gloss over) the biggest disasters.
Long-time NADOI member Lillian Puchalski, # 250, wrote to tell me about the class she was teaching in a parking garage. Ahhh yes, the good old days before 5,000-square-foot climate-controlled buildings! Lillian said it was the first night of a Beginner class, and only about 10 minutes before start time, when she walked into the garage and tripped on the uneven concrete floor. She not only landed hard, she landed on her face! As she tried to recover, she was told by those helping her that her nose was lacerated down to the bone and bleeding badly. Not to be deterred, Lillian asked for whatever bandages could be located, and marched out to confront her class! She wrote me, “Once they recovered from their initial shock, they did great and in fact some are still training with me to this day!” Of course they are; they knew that Lillian was either nuts or the best and toughest instructor they’d ever find! And to think I once cancelled a class because I had a bad cold.
Speaking of injuries, the only time I ever had a dog hurt in a class was when one got caught in a big metal door. We were meeting in a new site, one that was less than perfect for a lot of reasons. I never dreamed a dog could get a paw stuck under a metal door, but that’s what happened. It was such a total fluke that to this day I don’t think we could get the same thing to happen twice. A nice black Lab caught a rear paw between the door and the concrete porch, and neither the door nor the paw could move. When we finally got the paw loose, we were sickened to see huge, deep cuts that, naturally, were bleeding profusely. I grabbed a towel out of my tack bag (it was a clean-up towel but it had been washed) and wrapped the paw. We carried the Lab to the owner’s car, and sent her to the emergency veterinarian. What is so amazing about this entire incident is that we were panicky, but the Lab, bless her, stood quietly and let us help her. What a dog! By the way, she did fully recover, came back to school but not in that location.
Outdoor classes give instructors plenty of opportunities for disaster, or at least a try at them. It took me several years figure out that we needed to ban buckle collars at outdoor classes. It was just too easy for the dogs to back out of them, and I was getting too old to go chasing them around the park and through the neighborhoods. “Auditors,” or loose dogs, are always a possibility at outdoor classes. Most just come to watch, and then go on their way. Some, however, come to play; and even worse, some come to cause trouble. I usually carry an air horn, as it seems pretty effective on both types. Sometimes just tying up the non-payers until class is over solves the problem. We won’t even discuss “loose” humans, both kids and adults. It is not fun to try to teach a class next to some jerk in a 4-wheeler showing off next to you!
The unpredictable nature of the weather probably is the cause of most outdoor dog class disasters. I can’t count the times I have driven to class under fair skies, only to unload and have the heavens drop on the arriving students and me. Of course, the reverse is true as well. I sometimes cancel a class because it is raining at my house, only to find out later that not a drop fell at our class site. Even if there is no rain, classes are sometimes cut short due to the threat of lightning strikes. If you think these aren’t disasters, you have never had to reschedule every class or placate unhappy students!
Even indoor classes aren’t safe from the weather. About five years ago, I taught an hour-long class under a stairwell. We all huddled, bent over and uncomfortable, in the “tornado safe designated location.” Collies and Chows, Pugs and Paps, and people, all doing the best we could while waiting for the all clear to sound. Then there was the time I arrived at my indoor site in a driving rain, only to discover that my keys to the building were nowhere to be found!
All in all, most of us do pretty well and manage those unpredictable events. I have never had a student get hurt, or lost a dog, and although I have been bitten, it’s always been my fault not to see it coming. I am sometimes amused at non-dog folk who seem to think what we do is dangerous. I would agree that driving on the freeway in late afternoon traffic for 45 minutes to get to my class site across town is darn risky!