As a dog instructor you may be the only professional person who has the time and opportunity to educate dog owners about the correct way to manage their dogs. Since all dogs enrolled in obedience classes need to have their vaccinations to participate, you know they have been to a veterinarian. But veterinarians rarely have the time to educate owners about the responsible treatment of dogs because they are busy tending to health issues. This is also true of groomers and pet store owners whose main focus is educating owners about their areas of expertise. Dog obedience instructors, however, have the dog owner in class one hour a week for several weeks. This makes the dog owners a captive audience and provides the ideal time to educate owners about dogs and to help the owners begin to view themselves as responsible guardians for their dogs.
When you greet your students and their dogs you will be showing the owners how you feel about dogs by the way you praise and affectionately pet their dogs. During the first few weeks of class, you will be helping the owners gain some control of their dogs, and as this begins to happen you will be building your credibility. The ground work has now been laid for your students to listen to your advice about the responsible way to treat dogs.
The methods used to train dogs these days focus on the dog learning new behaviors, such as: sit, down, come, or stay, and being rewarded for thinking through the process. I find it a challenge to break the habit of handlers who immediately jerk on their dog’s collar even before it has a chance to respond to the command. This is the beginning of teaching the owners to avoid force as the foundation for training. An example of this is the learning of the Down command. In my classes I teach the Down using a treat as a lure starting at the dog’s nose, moving the lure to the ground between the dog’s paws, and then moving the lure away from the dog (in an “L” pattern). If a dog doesn’t “down” during the initial practice in class, I send them home to practice in their quiet training area. Also given an alternate idea such as using the lure to coax the dog under a chair, for example, with the result being a dog that is in the “down” position. These methods all respect the dog as a thinking creature that deserves humane treatment.
Pet overpopulation is an issue that should be mentioned in all classes. I have a couple of handouts that I give out and even if the people in class have already had their dog spayed or neutered, I encourage the students to pass the information on to anyone they know who has yet to be enlightened about this issue. Since I have been involved with animal shelters for the last ten years, I have stories to share about the problem of too many dogs and not enough homes. Must puppies are born to be dead before they are one year old; this message definitely falls into the category of responsible ownership.
Allowing dogs to run free is one of the biggest problem areas I run across in the area of educating dog owners. Since I live in a rural area, most people feel that if they own five or ten acres their dog should be able to run free and stay at home. The truth of the matter is that most dogs will not stay at home. Any bunny can lure a dog off his property, as can the goats or chickens that live next door. Maybe there are people who ride bikes or jog past the dog’s property. This is setting up the dog for trouble which might include chasing or biting of the passers-by. Traffic is life threatening for dogs that are unconfined, because dogs do not understand that cars are killers. I also like to mention the potential for developing angry neighbors because dogs that are allowed to run free are getting into trouble somewhere. One of my solutions is to give out a handout on confinement providing some ideas about the different types of fencing available. This is a good time to remark about the fact that chaining your dog is not one of the solutions for the permanent confinement of dogs.
A dog cannot speak for itself so it is up to us as dog obedience instructors to educate the dog owner in all aspects of dog ownership. We must speak up for the humane and responsible treatment of dogs. To understand and enjoy your dog is a deeply satisfying experience; a dog obedience instructor has the opportunity to teach owners how.
©1996 Carol Cronan (Gannaway)