It’s hard to change, but to keep current with all of the advances in dog obedience instructing these days you had better keep up with the changes or you will get lost in the shuffle. When I started teaching classes 9 years ago, the sessions lasted for 8 weeks and class size was 8 to 10 students. I spent a lot of energy in teaching people how to heel with their dogs, long steady sit/down stays and stand for exam. The graduation was similar to an obedience trial. Over the years I have discovered 8 weeks is too long of a time commitment for the busy families of the 90’s. Today my classes last 6 weeks, class size is 2 to 5 students, and graduation is an AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test. For example, on Mondays I teach three Level I classes, with a total of 12 students. The graduation will be Monday evening with all 12 students coming to that one CGC graduation. I have guest evaluators come to the graduation test because by this time I am no longer a friendly stranger, but instead the favorite teacher!
I have eliminated heeling from my Level I classes, now we cover walking with the leash loose. Taking out the heeling work left a big void, but from observing and then realizing that it was during the heeling segments of my old lesson plan where most students, two and four legged, lost interest. If your dog learns to walk with the leash loose you will have no problem passing Tests 4, 5, and 9 of the CGC test. Most students are not interested in participating in obedience trials with their dog; they just want to enjoy walking their dog with no pulling.
Instead of concentrating on a three-minute sit-stay, the focus of the stay exercise in the updated classes is walking twenty feet away from your dog and then returning. This is taught using both the sit and down stay. Stay is a very important command and can literally save a dog’s life, but if the owner/dog team is having trouble finding success, they may give up on this command entirely. To pass Test 6, all your dog needs to do is stay in the position, down or sit, you left him in while you walk to the end of a 20-foot line and back. This can be accomplished by most owner/dog teams after a couple of weeks of practice.
Although the dogs in Level I training learn to stand on command, our focus is sit for exam. This is accomplished by the students standing in a circle with their dogs sitting in the heel position, then myself or one of the folks observing the class walking around looking in the dogs’ ears and touching their feet while the dogs stay in the sit position. If your dog can do this you will be able to pass Test 1, 2, and 3 of the CGC test.
I update my lesson plans regularly, but the switch from obedience trial base training to CGC training was a very big change. I had the other lessons timed so that I knew the lesson would last for one hour. With all the changes, I wasn’t sure of the timing anymore. One thing I was sure of though was that the students and their dogs are finding more success in the new CGC based lessons. My drop out rate is near zero and as a result more students than ever are signing up for Level II, carting, or agility classes with their dogs.
If you are not familiar with the CGC program, call or write for a free information kit; The American Kennel Club, Attn: CGC, 5580 Centerview Drive, Suite 200, Raleigh, NC 27606 (919) 233-9780.
©1996 Carol Cronan (Gannaway)