Dog Training and Mentors.
In dog training it is difficult to both observe and simultaneously to train the dog. What “feels” right to us might look very different to the onlooker. When we feel that our dog is in the correct heelwork position, for instance, perhaps we might be surprised to be told that our posture is anything but helpful and that we are in fact putting the dog wide, forward or behind us. It can be hard to tell just by looking down at the creature.
Step forward the Mentor.
What is a Mentor? Someone who listens to you and offers you informed guidance and help?
A Mentor, in short, is someone who knows a bit about the thing. And someone who has your best interests at heart.
You can find lots of the former…those who know plenty. The latter? Not so much.
Some people have plenty of knowledge. But they do not care whether you have it or not. I have known people who started out as good teachers of others. Until the people they were teaching became the competition. Then the teacher stopped teaching. Not a teacher who had the best interests of the student at heart. The mark of a true teacher is one who feels genuine joy at being outshone by his own student. Because then he knows that his teaching has been successful.
Early on in my dog training life I was fortunate to fall under the influence of Kathryn Gillard. Kathryn needs no introduction to anyone who has been a competitor in Canine Obedience in the British Isles in the last thirty years. Gifted with the ability to train her own dogs to the highest standards (she won the Dog Obedience Championship at Crufts in 1999, for example) she also could observe someone else’s work, identify what was wrong and then suggest a suitable “fix”. She was a good teacher.
I have had other mentors since Kathryn but I credit her with introducing me to the challenge of Obedience.
I have also had the pleasure subsequently of helping other people with training their dogs.
Firstly, if we have a Mentor then we should treat the teaching they give us with respect. This means several things.
It is not up to us, for instance, to bandy our mentor’s teaching about to all and sundry. Some people put in many years developing their ideas and honing their techniques. If they share them with us, we should value them. Our mentor may not appreciate our becoming an expert overnight on what is, after all, someone else’s hard won experience. Added to this is the possibility that we will fall short in our explanations of someone else’s ideas. Misunderstandings can occur and things get watered down and adjusted. Furthermore the instruction from a good mentor is individualised and does not always transfer to another dog and handler. Then a method is open to doubt and to ridicule when it doesn’t work in adopted hands.
If we have a Mentor we should expect that other people too should respect him or her. This means that we do not accept advice from people who have not earned the right to offer it. If someone is made aware that we already attend a trainer then it is disrespectful of them to effectively attempt to undermine our belief in our own trainer. It is a sign of a professional in any field that he gives due respect to all members of his profession.
These are people who do not know us and who have no interest in our progress. What may seem like an instant fix given by someone who does not know us or our dog may prove very much the wrong thing to do. We might pay dearly for our experiment afterwards.
I once took a lesson in an element of horse riding from an allegedly experienced teacher. Her charging towards my horse, mid lesson, without warning and grabbing my foot in the stirrup caused my usually quiet mare to panic. The mare reared… and I ended up flat on the ground unconscious. The good lady had taken no time in getting to know either myself or the animal she was going to work with. She just acted without forethought. I was the one who paid for it though. I had a very painful back for many months afterwards and a permanently damaged hand.
Knowing the person we are mentoring is essential for effective teaching. Knowing the animal is too. Taking advice from a stranger who knows neither is dangerous. Yet, I constantly witness judges in the Obedience rings giving unasked for, and inexpert, advice to competitors at the completion of their rounds. Why? They do not know either the person or the dog and are thus expert on the training of neither. And it is the ultimate insult to the competitor’s own mentor.
Of course, a person cannot be rude unless they know they are being rude. All else is simple lack of thought.
But we should think.
If we are the Judge we ought to think things like …
“I am here to judge, not to teach these people”
”Unasked for advice is unwanted advice” .
If when judging we are perchance asked for advice, the proper response is, “I think you would be better to ask your trainer about that…since your trainer is the one who knows you and your dog.”
If we are the Competitor we should think things like…
“Why on earth would I expect this person to advise me since he doesn’t know me or my Fido here from Adam?”
“Why would I disrespect my own trainer by asking advice from someone else?”
“If I want this person’s advice then maybe I should make an appointment later with him and pay for the teaching”
“Why am I so selfish that I stand in the ring keeping other people waiting while I ply the judge with questions?”
It has happened to us all at some point. You get your dog ready to go into the ring and compete. You warm him up, get to the ring entrance, only to have to stand and wait while the Judge vomits volumes of helpful “Advices” over the previous competitor…who may or may not have invited the “help”.
“Get out!!!” You want to scream, “You have paid for your turn to compete here…not for a training session!”
Many people make an income nowadays from sharing their dog training expertise with others. If you need advice there is no shortage of trainers out there who will be happy to oblige. It is your job to find a good one. Do your research. How somebody competes in the ring themselves is one good indicator. Their track record (how many dogs, how many breeds, how many disciplines, how many wins) is another. Consider their personality and their attitude. How do they relate to other people? (Remember it is you, not your dog that they will be teaching!).
And don’t be fooled. Just because someone is a competitor does not make them a teacher. Some people don’t want to share their knowledge. Some pretend to share their knowledge …but keep much to themselves.
And some can’t share their knowledge. They can’t teach.
Oh, they can seem like they’re teaching. They can look like it too. They want to be generous with what they know. But they just do not have the skill of observing the miniscule elements of an exercise, reflecting on what they see, isolating a problem and thinking up, out of their experience, a suggestion. And then successfully communicating that suggestion to you.
If you want to pick a good trainer for yourself and your dog I suggest the following…
Step 1 Ask the person if they offer classes or private training sessions. If they do, proceed to Step 2…
Step 2 Ask them for directions to somewhere, say, the nearest airport.
If they leave you confused and uncertain about moving your car along the roads then don’t let them give you directions on how you should move your dog.
They just ain’t got it. They can’t communicate. Can’t teach.
Step 3 Find someone who can.
Step 4 Listen to them. And treat them and what they share with you with respect.
So research with care and choose your Mentor wisely. It’s a competitive world out there. And remember that ninety five per cent of those you meet around the Obedience rings really do not care what problems you have with your dog. The other five per cent are probably delighted you have them!