In the obedience world, success is often looked upon as achieving clearly defined, measurable goals. The American Kennel Club criterion are usually the yardstick with which we measure success. We say the handler with the consistently high scoring dog is successful, as is the one with an Obedience Trial Champion. While these outward displays of success are commendable, they are only one element of success. Participation in obedience activities and classes, whether or not they lead to titles and awards, can lead to a feeling of personal success. Increased self-confidence, pride in their abilities to train a dog, and a better self-image are aspects of personal success that instructors can facilitate for their handlers.
Using a handler’s name helps him to feel that his presence in class is valuable. Referring to someone by name is an acknowledgement of their individuality and significance. When greeting a handler by name as he arrives for class, the instructor helps him to feel unique, not just one of the many handlers in Wednesday night class. During the few minutes before class is when a remark such as ‘‘Fluffy got a haircut!’’ tells the handler he and his dog are important enough to be noticed and commented upon.
The first five minutes of actual class time are an ideal opportunity for the instructor to build positive self-images in the class. At this time, comments can point out improvements in a dog’s behavior, better handling habits from the owner, or the general improvement since the first week. A good habit for instructors to develop is that of making the first comment to a specific handler complimentary. A remark like “Good! You remembered to keep your hand on the snap when you sat Fluffy” helps the handler feel good about his efforts. Even if the handler did nothing else right when he sat the dog, pointing out the one good element helps the handler anticipate class with happiness.
Through the use of touch the instructor can convey concern and support. A timely pat on the back or an arm around the shoulder can help the handler feel he is not ignored. When an instructor takes a handler’s hand and helps make a leash correction, it may just be the simple physical touch that silently says “I care” that helps the handler succeed.
To help a handler attain self-confidence, the instructor can ask him to demonstrate an exercise he and his dog perform especially well. By illustrating to the class the correct handling techniques used, the willing attitude of the dog, or perhaps the evident rapport between dog and handler, the instructor can help a shy handler feel more assured.
Occasionally handlers become upset when they encounter resistance from the dog or are unable to perform a certain exercise. Instructors can assist them in overcoming dis- couragement by reminding them of earlier progress. By discussing specific skills they have developed, the instructor can help handlers realize that there truly are abilities they have acquired. For many, this is the first time they have trained a dog, and it is important that they feel good about the effort as well as the result.
The majority of people who attend training classes will never exhibit their dogs in trials or earn degrees. To help these handlers feel positive about their experience in class and training a dog is a critical aspect of obedience instruction. Helping other people achieve more self-confidence and pride in themselves and their dogs as they accomplish personal success is a worthy part of obedience training.
©1980 S. Myles