At a recent seminar, a well-known clinician advised his audience that if their present dog is incapable of producing top scores or an OTCH, they should discard this dog and search for another. It is crucial that the class instructor become aware of this increasingly evident sentiment and strive to foster a more compassionate attitude in his/her classes.
The notion that only a potentially top scoring dog is worthy of time and energy is an anathema to the sport. Obedience was created to encourage socially acceptable behavior in our dogs, not to gather trophy after trophy. Trials were established to promote interest in training a companion animal, not to compile HIT upon HIT. Exercises were designed to enhance the enjoyment of the dog, not to amass high scores. Created to deepen and broaden the owner/dog relationship. The clinician’s narrow view drastically veers from the original goals of obedience.
Top scoring dogs are in part the product of superior handlers. Children, seniors, the physically challenged, and other individuals discouraged from participating in conformation are welcomed in obedience rings. Taking advantage of the “everyone can win” system, they compete against themselves and their unique abilities, earning titles at their own pace and skill level. Should we also discourage people not blessed with superior native talent and outstanding expertise from training and showing their dogs? To callously discard dogs that do not meet an arbitrary standard of perfection is a close step toward discarding people who fall short.
Instead of discouraging owners of problem or average dogs, the instructor must recognize his/her obligation to encourage these owners. Average dogs might become above average with creative training methods and persistence. In addition to the dog benefiting from thorough training, the handler may discover areas of personal development and awareness through increased effort. Unless aided with training, problem dogs rarely lead even an adequate life. To discard a problem dog because of its lack of high scoring potential is to seal its fate as a neglected, abused, or euthanized dog.
The bulk of exhibitors are not gifted handlers working with specially selected dogs. Most are simply competing with their companion animals, enjoying the social and recreational aspects of the sport as they strive for legs and titles. To discourage this majority is a disservice to all connected with the sport. These owners are the framework upon which obedience is built, and if these participants are discouraged, the sport will die.
Class instructors, with their contact with beginning and experienced handlers, are an influence upon the prevailing attitudes in obedience. Through word and example, the instructor must keep a sharply focused picture of the true value of obedience competition, and instill in his/her students an admiration and respect for all canine and human participants.
©1982 NADOI Notes