“YOU CAN’T DO THAT IN THE RING – THE JUDGE WILL DISQUALIFY YOU FOR IT. DON’T SAY ANYTHING TO YOUR DOG EXCEPT ACCEPTED COMMANDS. NEVER PRAISE EXCEPT BETWEEN EXERCISES – YOU’LL NEVER GET 195 THAT WAY. YOU SHOULD GET ANOTHER DOG – YOUR BREED WILL NEVER BE HIGH- SCORING. STUDY THE AKC RULES AND REGULATIONS FOR YOUR TEST NEXT WEEK.”
Does this sound like your Beginners Training Class? What’s wrong with it? Perhaps nothing, but if you are having a high drop-out rate, this could be part of the problem. Remember, this is a beginners class and most of these people did not join class with the idea of showing their dogs – they just want to know how to have a well trained dog at home and show talk about high scores and the rule book may scare them right out the door. Over the years we have tried all sorts of ways to encourage people to continue with their training, and not be a “drop-out”, with varying degrees of success. Right now it seems that our percentage rate of continuing on is greater than ever before and I would like to share some of our ideas with you. I won’t guarantee that you won’t lose some handlers, but it has improved our class and you may want to give them a try.
First of all, we keep our classes small enough so that each dog and handler receives personal attention and they never feel just like one in a crowd. The first night we all sit down (in our class, on the floor so we are closer to our dogs) and have a gab session in addition to our first lesson. The instructor explains what obedience is all about – communication and better understanding between dog and handler. This makes for a well-trained, happier dog and certainly a happier handler and family. Then, we have a trained dog and handler go through some of the exercises and explain the purpose and practical meaning of each exercise. We then ask each class member to study the background of his particular breed and be prepared on the second week to tell the rest of the class its origin, what it was used for, how he thinks it will do in obedience in comparison to other dogs, what exercise he feels will be the easiest and what he thinks will be more difficult for his type of dog. Handlers must understand that there is no ironclad rule for any breed or individual dog and that their dogs are not machines. We hope this encourages them to think and understand their dogs and not be discouraged when they have problems. We impress upon them that all breeds can be trained and that theirs is not more stupid nor intelligent than any other, but it may require different handling and a change of method at times to get the desired effect. Our class members have taken great interest in this part of their homework.
In our class you will frequently hear the word “WHY?” Whenever a dog has a noticeable reaction (be it good or bad) to a certain command or signal, we ask the handler and sometimes the class as a whole “Why?” There is a reason: before anyone can be a good handler, he must understand why his dog does as it does. Was it something the handler did; was it an outside distraction; was it an inherited trait, etc. etc. How does this encourage the beginning handler? It makes the handler study his dog, learn how it thinks and why it behaves as it does. Thus . . . understanding and communication, which is what it is all about. If a class member finds that he cannot continue the training course, we ask that he call and tell us. If it is a case of discouragement or lack of interest, then we must do what we can to change the picture and hopefully rescue the “would be drop-outs” before it is too late. You may be the most brilliant instructor in the world, but the people who drop out because they are discouraged you have not helped at all.
On our last class night we have Graduation exercises. It is made clear that graduation does NOT determine whether or not a dog can receive a diploma and proceed to the next class because this is determined by weekly progress. Graduation is a FUN night where the class can observe each other and often laugh WITH each other (not AT each other) and not a night to be taken seriously! In short, this is their introduction to Obedience Trials. Awards are given for the best working dogs and the AKC rule book is now given to each member. Now is the time to mention advanced classes and upcoming matches or obedience trials where they may want to go as an observer.
Speaking of advanced classes – here is where we use another bit of inducement to continue. As a dog advances to another class or in some cases repeats a class, the price is reduced. For instance, if the original price is $15.00, the fee is reduced to $10.00 for the second time around and then $5.00 for the third time and remains at $5.00 for each time thereafter. Remember that those of us who have been in obedience longer and know what training can really mean to dog and handler, may feel that $15.00 several times a year is not too much, but for the newcomer, this is a sizable amount and he usually feels that one course is enough for him. He thinks he can continue to practice at home and need not spend the money. But who doesn’t love a bargain? After all, this is a reduction in price for a full course. This way we have more handlers and dogs continue their training.
These are just some ideas that some might want to try, but we must use our imagination to make obedience training interesting to dog and handler. All in all, the instructor is the real key to success in any training class.
©1973 J. Jones