For most dog owners, the obedience instructor is the only professional source from where they may develop a humane awareness of dogs. Veterinarians seen for yearly vaccinations have no time to enlighten the owner, and groomers as well as pet shop owners rarely offer information about humane ethics. The instructor, interacting with owners on a regular basis, is one of the few that can help the public develop feelings of compassion toward dogs, an understanding of the dog as a sentient creature with natural rights, and encourage handlers to view themselves as responsible guardians for their dogs.
Because the instructor is helping the owner achieve control s/he did not have prior to class, and the dog’s behavior reflects improvement, the instructor quickly builds credibility with the handler. It is essential that the instructor utilize this credibility as well as the prolonged exposure to influence the handler.
A powerful, influential tool is how the instructor physically handles the dog. Greeting a dog with a moment of affectionate patting and praise indicates a sincere in- terest in the dog. When teaching the down, the instructor that pauses to soothe a dog with gentle stroking and calm words demonstrates consideration for the dog’s feelings. The instructor who is unselfconsciously delighted to be with a dog creates a positive image for handlers to emulate.
When presenting new exercises, the instructor can highlight them with a few remarks regarding the dog’s right to humane training practices. If handlers are to respect and care for a dog, the instructor must actively cultivate this by stressing non-abusive methods. Inexperienced handlers readily absorb attitudes, and it is imperative the instructor point out and practice methods that consistently avoid force as the foundation for training.
Handlers need to be aware of the staggering dimensions of the pet overpopulation problem. As handlers practice a long stay, the instructor can briefly outline the lack of homes to absorb animals, the fate of abandoned animals and the euthanasia rate in the local shelter. Such information is readily available, and hearing that 250 dogs are destroyed on a daily basis helps the handler understand the dramatic problems caused from indiscriminate breeding. By making it apparent the instructor finds mass euthanasia sickening, the handler will be greatly influenced.
The instructor who cares about dogs must be willing to educate those that s/he comes in contact with beyond the teaching of command-responses. Since the instructor’s input may be the only educated view the handler will ever have, it is important that advice is always in the best interest of the dog. A dog cannot speak for its own welfare. Therefore, the instructor must always be willing to do so, even when it conflicts with the handler’s beliefs.
The plight of domestic dogs will only become more grave if the public is not properly educated. We cannot legislate kindness nor enforce compassion. To understand and enjoy a living creature is a deeply satisfying experience, and for many a pet dog is the only link to the natural world. The obedience instructor, through example, training methods, thoughts and challenges, can help the handler become more humane, and ultimately more human.
©1980 S. Myles