In the past few years there has been an increase in the number of seminars and clinics where one can learn new or different approaches to training a dog. The individuals presenting these seminars are knowledgeable, entertaining, and, above all, successful. It is little wonder after attending a weekend clinic, that one is all fired up to try out some of this newly acquired knowledge on old Rover. Unfortunately Rover may not have been taking notes, and probably gives his owner a ‘‘What’s going on here?!’’ look. In some cases the new approach may work, in most others it may initially be a flop. After fifteen minutes of frustration, Rover is back sleeping by the fire, and the owner begins to wonder if the seminar speaker knew what he was talking about after all. This sequence is what I call the Seminar Snydrome.
Let’s examine what has happened. The person giving the seminar or clinic is demonstrating methods with which he is thoroughly familiar and techniques with which he is comfortable. His timing, required to achieve success, is excellent, and he understands the limitations of the approach. Unfortunately, time schedules often make it difficult to give proper emphasis to ground work and the time required to establish this foundation. In many cases a trained dog is used for demonstrations, so the dog is already familiar with the techniques and timing employed. He may also be familiar with the personality of the trainer. With all these factors in favor of the speaker, the dog responds predictably. A similar amount of success may also be achieved with a dog from the audience if the dog is not one of extremes in temperament. However, in many cases, success at the hands of the speaker may be short-lived in the hands of the owner.
On returning home and attempting to try out what was just learned, the owner asks the dog to face an attitude he has never seen before. Possibly the owner’s entire attitude toward training has changed; an instant response may now be expected just as it was witnessed at the clinic. In addition, a lack of familiarity with the technique and timing needed for success may produce uncertainty in the handler which is transferred to the dog. The net result is all too often a confused dog and frustrated handler.
Much of the Seminar Syndrome can be avoided by remembering that a clinic or seminar is a learning experience where material is presented from which we can pick and choose to suit our own individual training style. New approaches should be incorporated in such a way that they are natural to the person actually doing the training and not as an imitation of the speaker.
A dog needs a consistent leader figure; inconsistencies tend to reduce the dog’s trust in the owner. Thus any drastic change in the training approach should be carried out as gradually as possible so the dog can adjust.
The next time you attend a weekend clinic or seminar and come back home all fired up over new ideas – – sit back and cool it for a week. Think about the material that was presented and decide how you can adjust that approach so that it is more a part of you. Study the timing needed, then pull out Rover and see if he doesn’t react a little better.
©1980 W.H. Morrison, III