You stand in the ring with your dog, waiting for someone else to take a turn in class…or worse yet, waiting for multiple people to take their turn. Meanwhile, your dog is wandering around at the end of their lead, sniffing the ground or trying to reach the dog next to them. You are watching the team working, so you are ignoring your dog until the instructor calls your name. You hasten to the starting point and tell your dog to “heel”. But, instead, your dog starts off lagging, giving you minimal effort. You give your dog a quick pop, telling him to “Get up here!”
Who is at fault? Your dog isn’t tired, he’s been standing around for 10 minutes waiting his turn! Unfortunately, even if your dog had been adequately warmed up prior to class starting, you have let him become completely disengaged and disinterested in training. This is one of the main reasons I dislike group obedience classes.
Every time you train your dog when he is not completely engaged and in drive, you are telling him it is acceptable to not give you 100% effort. YOU are telling him it is okay.
Say, for example, the group class is doing dumbbell retrieves. You throw your dumbbell and the dog trots out to get it, picks it up and trots a little slower coming back. “He’s stressed” the instructor says, “give him a cookie for trying so hard”. Really? You are going to reward a slow retrieve? Remember, what you reward, you reinforce. If your dog was not ready to do a FAST, CONFIDENT retrieve in a group environment, you should not have done the retrieve in the first place.
So, what do you do, if you need a group class for your dog. Research how the instructor handles their class. Are all dogs handled the same? Are you allowed to put your dog in his crate between exercises? At minimum, train your dog how to relax on a mat and how to reengage with you coming OFF of his mat. This is a skill taught in practice, not in class. Be ready and get your dog engaged with you before it is your turn. Pay attention! Do not start an exercise until your dog is completely engaged with you. If an exercise is too difficult for your dog to do it in drive, modify the exercise for your dog. In the dumbbell example, maybe instead of doing a full length retrieve, you will do a short dumbbell recall instead. Or, maybe a very short pickup, allowing the dog to jump up on you to receive their reward.
Always keep the end picture of the exercise in your mind. Stop making excuses for your dog’s performance. Because, really, you are making excuses for your training. Advocate for your dog to help him be successful. Classes can be wonderful for proofing, but done correctly, this should bring a dog’s confidence UP, not down. Errors are fine, lack of engagement and effort are not.
So, again, every time you train your dog when he is not completely engaged and in drive, you are telling him it is acceptable to not give you 100% effort. YOU are telling him it is okay.
Train hard. Play harder.