Pre-registration, or advance registration of the beginner class, seems to be more and more popular with instructors. Aside from the obvious advantages of controlling class size and reducing paperwork on the always busy first night of class, pre-registration allows the instructor to screen out dogs or handlers who should not be in a group situation, and obtain valuable advance information on those who do come into class.
When prospective handlers return their registration forms to our office prior to class, they have provided us with facts which reveal much more than name, dog name and breed, etc. The answers to some questions asked on the form are automatic “red flags.”
Although an obedience school in the middle of Manhattan may not find it necessary to screen out dogs or handlers ahead of time, in our area of the country (Texas) we are glad that we are able to see some dogs prior to class. For example, some breeds and mixes of certain breeds cue us that more interview time with the handler may be warranted. Sometimes it is the owner who gets “screened out,” not the dog! Attack trained dogs, dogs from poorly run schutzhund classes, extreme sharp-shy dogs are best worked with individually. We simply explain that not all dogs or handlers are suited to a group situation, for the safety and pleasure of all.
In addition to asking the breed of dog, we also ask the handler to give his age, if a minor. We don’t automatically ban kids from classes, but we would want to meet, ahead of time, a twelve year old youngster with a young, intact male of a large breed. The same child with a small breed would cause no such concern. We don’t usually red flag senior citizens unless they indicate some disability -in fact, more of them do exceedingly well.
Another of our questions asks if the dog has ever been on a collar and leash. If not, they can be provided with our leash training hand-out and instructed on how to practice at home.
Other red flag questions include, “How does your dog get along with other dogs?” “How does he get along with other people?” “Is he very shy?” “Is he unpredictable?” “Has he ever bitten you or anyone else?”
Out initial phone contact with the prospective handler combined with the questions on the registration form, and if necessary, a personal meeting, will almost always enable us to not only screen out those handlers who don’t belong in a group class, but also enable us to prepare better for what may await us on the first night of class. I don’t intend to be “nailed” by a sharp-shy dog while fitting a collar if I can possibly help it! And I’m always glad to have brought the “weenies” when I have to go out to someone’s pick-up truck because “Cujo” doesn’t want to come in!
Red flags are just that -attention getters which alert the instructor to stop until more information is gathered. They may be the obvious answers to key questions on your class registration form, or they may be as subtle as the things left unsaid in your phone conversation with the prospective student. The wise instructor will learn to “read between the lines” in both instances and spot problems before they can become unpleasant surprises.
©1990 Helen Cariotis