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 | , , , , | 4 Comments