Lorrie’s Agility Dog Blog

Musings on Dogs, Agility, and Being an Instructor

Standing Up For Your Dog

It’s always disturbing to me when I hear about damaging things instructors have “made” students do.  Disturbing not only because an instructor is telling a student to do whatever it is, but also because students are blindly obeying, even when they think it is not the right thing for their dog.  At times, students don’t fully understand why an instructor is doing something, but when in doubt, ask!  It is your job as an owner/partner/teammate to protect your dog from being hurt either physically or mentally.

From an instructor’s standpoint, I hate the word “can’t”.  I don’t accept “My dog can’t do that” or “I can’t perform that cross” as an answer.  My job is to push students to stretch their abilities, to help them and their dogs gain skills to make them better, and to teach them how to do things they never thought they would be able to do.  To me, “can’t” is almost always a substitute for “I haven’t learned that yet” and can be changed.  However, I am not perfect, or all-knowing.  I encourage my students to speak up if they have a concern or don’t understand something.  While I am very careful not to introduce things too fast, and to avoid doing anything that could give the dog a negative association with agility, I am not the one who lives with the dog every day and knows them the best.  Occasionally, there is a valid reason for a student not to do something I am asking them to do.  In that case, we find an alternative method to teach the same thing without it being detrimental to the dog.

Unfortunately, not all students are bold enough to question an instructor or seminar presenter, or confident enough to disagree with something they are told to do.  Not all instructors are open to being questioned about what they think are the best methods.  I’ve heard of people being told to drag their soft dog by the collar into the contact zone if the dog wasn’t getting there fast enough, to let their shy puppy participate in a play group with rambunctious, rough-playing dogs, to use a shock collar to reinforce stays, and dozens of other things that the student *knew* they shouldn’t do with their dog, but weren’t confident enough to say no to.

So, today’s “message” is to believe in yourself and stand up for your dog.  If there is something you are worried about doing with your dog, say so!  Ask your instructor why you are doing it and let them know what your concerns are.  Maybe their explanation will allay your fears, or they will reconsider and agree that your dog shouldn’t do it.  If they aren’t willing to listen and explain, go somewhere else, or if it is a seminar, skip that exercise.  There are so many methods to teach each skill that an alternative can always be found.  You know your dog best and that makes it your job to ensure that training is a fun and rewarding game, not something to be dreaded.


May 15, 2009 - Posted by | Agility, Teaching Agility, Training | , , , ,


  1. I haven’t started agility yet, but I do show my dog in conformation and have taken handling classes. I completely agree with this post. I have a very soft young dog and the handling class is taught by a gentleman who has shown more robust breeds. To make a long story short, one class exercise involved leaving the puppy with the teacher to stack while going down the line and touching the other stacked dogs. It took over a month of subsequent classes for me to countercondition my dog to this instructor.

    When you know your dog, don’t let anyone make either of you uncomfortable! Learning something new is not the same as doing something you feel you really shouldn’t do (or allow anyone else to do) with your dog.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    Comment by Dana H | January 5, 2010 | Reply

  2. I am relating to this post, having had a variety of instructors who were either rude, impatient, abrupt, played favorites, or couldn’t keep their classes organized. Most lately, I recently enrolled my 2nd agility dog into a Beginners class, and after 1 session the instructor blurted “Lucky will NEVER be an agility dog.” Now I’m hell bent to prove her wrong.

    Comment by Michele Fry | August 23, 2010 | Reply

    • I’m really sorry this happened to you. I can’t imagine ever discouraging anyone like this. There are very few dogs that can’t do agility in some format. Granted, not all dogs will turn out to be champions, but not every competitor is looking for that either. Many people are interested in the relationship-building and social aspects of agility, and every dog I’ve come across is able to learn enough agility to satisfy those desires. I wish you LOTS of luck in proving to your instructor that your dog CAN be an agility dog.

      Comment by lorriemaxx | August 25, 2010 | Reply

  3. This is such good advice. Not only do you know your dog better than anyone else, but you are also uniquely invested his or her well being. I hope all who read this take your advice to heart.
    Nice blog!

    Comment by Kim | November 29, 2010 | Reply

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