So, you want to be an obedience instructor. Great! I think you’ll find it one of the most rewarding things you can do. To watch a feeling of harmony emerge between a dog and his owner and know that you helped create it is a good feeling. And what’s more, it’s lasting. Being an obedience instructor is a little like being a kindergarten teacher. The teacher teaches the children and their children and their children’s children. And with each generation she renews her feeling of having contributed something worthwhile to someone.
An obedience instructor teaches an owner and his dog. Frequently, a few years later, the owner returns with another dog. More often than not, the second one does better than the first because the owner remembered the basic lessons and taught them at home long before coming to class. And when the owner and his second companion graduate, the instructor once again experiences that feeling of meaningfulness. As for you, my friend, I think you’ll make a good instructor. You like people and you have a way with animals. You present a nice appearance and your vocabulary is above average. You have the time and physical stamina as well. You are patient, kind, determined, and understanding. You are always eager to learn. But most of all you want to help people and their dogs.
Don’t worry that you might not be able to distinguish between a Shih Tzu and a Lhasa Apso. (The owner will proudly inform you as soon as you show interest!) Or that you can’t remember whether a Boston Terrier belongs in the Terrier or Toy Group. (You might suggest you and the owner look it up together…then you’ll both learn something.) These things are incidental to the job. As time goes by you’ll find yourself playing the role of settler of family arguments re the dog, veterinarian, dog behaviorist, adviser to puppy purchasers, etc. And then there’s always the caller who just found out he’s being transferred to Europe and wants you to ship his dog for him and get around the European quarantine! To all these and more you cannot turn a deaf ear. You must listen…in fact, you’ll become quite good at it! And then, you must objectively recommend a solution in the most tactful manner you can muster. If you’re smart you’ll let the dog owner make the final decision. In most cases, you’ll find that all he really wanted in the first place was just someone to talk it over with.
Some questions then. One day, in a beginner’s class perhaps, what will you do when two owners get careless and there is a dog fight? What will you tell the little old lady who brings a huge, lunging dog to class and can’t handle it? How will you deal with the handicapped owner who’s determined to train his dog? Will you be overly sympathetic or tough? And what about the owner who stubbornly refuses to give a proper correction to an over-indulged dog? The shy dog and the quiet little woman…how will you handle them? In your Novice, Open and Utility classes how will you deal with handlers bent on high scores at the expense of their dogs? Can you teach them the difference between Dog Obedience as a Sport and the Sport of Scoring High? Can you take it when a know-it-all student begins to tell you how to run your class? On the other hand, can you learn from your students and be gracious about it? Are you willing to share your knowledge and experience? What’s more, are you willing to admit that there are other ways of teaching a particular exercise?
These comments are not meant to offer advice or answer questions, but to stimulate your imagination. To set your wheels turning. To show you how important it is for you to anticipate. Be alert. Be ready for the unknown, the unexpected. For surely, one day it will happen. And when it does, I know you’ll handle the situation with common sense, because you’re the kind who can keep his cool. As you know, working with animals, whether it be canidae or homo sapiens, requires a person who can cope. Like I said, I think you’ll make a good instructor. And, like good wine, you will improve with age. In the end, you’ll leave behind a legacy of owners and dogs who enjoy living together and show it.
©1974 C. Schwartz