Many instructors who teach basic classes like to use a “demo dog” to show their students how an exercise is taught. If a picture is truly worth a thousand words, then using a dog to show each step of a command, as well as the finished product can be of great benefit to those just learning how to train their dogs. Demo dogs can be the personal, already trained dog of the instructor or an assistant, or the instructor can elect to use a “green” beginner dog from the class, or a combination of both.
If you bring your own dog to class as a demo dog, there are several things you should consider. Is your dog currently in competition? If so, wagging him around to all your beginner classes may bore him, and you can end up with a jaded performance the next time you are in the ring. Using him to demonstrate the basic exercises that he already knows, particularly if you apply corrections, may not serve to keep him an “up” and happy worker at the shows. The last thing you want to do with a competition dog is bore him by end-less repetition and drill of beginner commands. The obvious advantage to bringing your own trained dog is that he is a “known quantity” and you can depend on him to do the exercise properly. He is also a great promoter of obedience trained dogs and your business, in particular. And of course, he helps to earn the dog food money!
Remember that using your own dog as a demo dog puts the pressure on him (and you) to look good all the time. If you anticipate your dog having to hold a down stay while you work a student’s dog, be sure that he won’t “come to your assistance,” for example. Do you have a spot to safely tether your dog in the event of a real emergency, or is it convenient to bring a crate to every class? How is your dog going to be around rowdy beginner dogs? Is he always tolerant of unknown dogs, some of which may be handled by owners who haven’t a clue about controlling their own dogs? Is he social to all dogs, or do you have to be a little extra careful around intact males, for example? Just make sure that, should you want to use your own dog as a demo, you think about all the possible things that can, and do happen in group classes, and anticipate what you would do and what your dog would do. Sometimes a good solution is to ask an assistant to bring their trained dog to class. You are then free to instruct your class without keeping an eye on your dog, and your assistant can be asked to crate or tether their dog if you need them to assist a student.
Many instructors like using untrained dogs from the class as demo dogs. There are some advantages to this choice. You always have a demo dog at hand, for one thing. And, many students learn better if they can see an exercise demonstrated on a dog that is not already proficient. Each step in the command’s progression can be shown, and since the dog is still learning as you go, corrections and adjustments can be shown easily. You, as the instructor, may gain some respect in the eyes of your students, because you can handle and train their “wild” dogs.
Do keep a few rules in mind should you pick your demo dog from your beginner class. First, always ask permission to take the student’s dog. Explain what you will do, and make sure that they understand that they do not have to hand their dog over. Most students will gladly offer the lead, and joke “please…take my dog!” My standard reply is to tell my assistant, “lock the door so this woman can’t leave!” Be very observant of your class before you pick the dog you want to use as your demo, and go over your registration forms care-fully beforehand, looking for “red flags.” In general, puppies and young dogs are the best choices. Do not take an adult dog of a breed known to be one-person dogs, or any dog that you note to be joined-at-the-hip to his owner unless you are confident you can pull it off. You may be taking a risk if you take the shy or fearful dog; not that they will necessarily be a danger, but simply because they will spend their time trying to get back to the handler, or freeze up because they are with a new person. Remember the reason you are doing the demo. You want to look good, and be quickly successful in showing the students how to accomplish the exercise. If you feel like you will be doing corrective or remedial work, you may be better off doing it in private (unless, of course, you inform the whole class that this is the goal of the demo).
If you take a student’s dog, be sure to instruct the student what to do while you have their dog. If you don’t, they may follow you around and you won’t ever get attention from the dog. Standing quietly out of the way is usually a good place for the owner to be.
Most owners really like it when the instructor picks “their” dog for a demo. Many will offer their dogs over and over. Do try to “spread it around” a little if you use this option, so that the class members don’t feel as if you are playing favorites. If, after picking a dog, you realize that you made a mistake, don’t continue to struggle and make matters worse. Laugh it off, and choose another candidate. And whatever you do, don’t choose an adult male GSD with a woman handler…you will lose every time!