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I recently taught a seminar where I asked a participant if I could handle her dog to demonstrate a specific technique.

She said no.  Nicely but…No.

I doubt this comes up more than a handful of times a year – that someone pays money to get my input, brings a dog to see me, and then chooses not to let me handle their dog.

That handler believed that her dog would not benefit or might be distressed by going with a stranger. So what did she do? She advocated for her dog.


If more people would do that – stand up to their friends, instructors, judges, presenters, and advocate for their dogs, then I would hear a lot less of the story that starts…

“He was fine until my instructor took him and ____”

You fill in the blank.

If you opt to own and train a dog, you are also opting to advocate for your dog.  It doesn’t matter how “nice” or “well-respected” or “force free” that presenter is – it’s your dog.  Your responsibility.    At the end of the day, will your dog still see you as an advocate or will you have become part of the problem?

That handler has the right – the responsibility – to do what she thinks is in the long term best interest of her dog.  I have enormous respect for her.  Honestly, I wish I saw that sort of advocacy more often.

If you’re not sure you can do it; stand up to a person in a position of authority, then that’s fine.  Leave your dog at home when you attend a seminar and then you won’t find yourself in that difficult position.  Don’t be naive.  Just because someone is well known doesn’t mean that they’ll behave in a way that is in the best interests of your dog.

And if it’s already happened?  You made that mistake?  Fine – put that in the past, learn from the experience, and do right by your dog as you go forwards.

Good luck.

About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

27 responses »

  1. Best post EVER!!! Ok all your posts are great but oh my does this strike a cord. My biggest regrets are when I not only handed my horse over to some expensive trainer, but didn’t butt in when I saw things going badly. Thanks for voicing this!!!

  2. THANK YOU. Many years and dogs ago, I attended a herding clinic for started dogs. Instructor got dogs into a round pen guiding them with a bull whip to change direction (no, NOT for hitting dogs!). All the same, the loud cracking noise was enough to shut my dog down for several years when it came to herding. I was new to dogs and figured a “pro” knew what they were doing. I learned a lot. When my Aussie recovered she was one of the best pen dogs we have ever owned.

  3. Melissa Bartlett

    Good for you, Denise! This is SO important. Sometime we want our dogs to be ‘fixed’ so badly that we don’t think it through or don’t open our mouth when we should.

  4. Amen! Happened to me in a herding clinic — I said OK, then realized what a mistake I made. Spent the whole run blocking the instructor from my (off lead) dog. She thought both I and my dog were incompetent idiots. But she never put any pressure on him. Learned my lesson, and appreciated how lucky I was. Thanks for sharing this thought!

  5. I have a rescued Rottie with anxiety. He’s not aggressive, but if people try to be friendly before he’s ready, he will snap at them. I know this. People ask to pet him, and I say no. “Oh, it’s okay…dogs LOVE me”. NO. If they ignore him and he can approach at his own pace, he will be fine. He may check them out, and then come to me and lie down. Many feel that him giving them a sniff means he’s ready for petting. NO. If you can’t respect my answer, you don’t need to be around my dog. Because you don’t respect him. And it’s my responsibility to protect him

    • I have an anxious dog too and many very similar experiences to this! I’ll often say ignore her and pet my boy dog (who loves it), but she’s curious and so will go over to sniff them too once they’ve ignored her and most people take this as the sign to now try and pet her too. People are terrible at following instructions!

  6. Only one time did an instructor ask to take my dog ( a known heavy handed instructor). I politely said no, she then told me to leave class and not come back. I gladly left without saying a word. Later, I found out that others in the class left, never to return. Best decision I made for myself and beloved pet! 😀 FYI Nobody before that had ever denied her, and always had regrets later. Great blog!

  7. My “rather soft” Agility dog Louie would never go with someone he doesn’t know. It would traumatize him, as he is very wary of strangers. I also do not allow strangers, friends or instructors to offer him treats or rewards unless I grant permission, as I believe this leads to the dog “begging” for food from strangers.

  8. Not sure why the instructor would WANT to handle a student/participant dog.

  9. ANY thinking instructor or presenter will be THRILLED to hear a polite “no” in this circumstance. If an instructor/presenter is NOT happy about it, you KNOW you made the right decision. “May I take your dog?” is NOT NOT NOT a rhetorical question!

  10. Awesome you are. As always. 🙂

  11. Bravo, Denise! Glad you shared this story and I hope more people heed your advice. I remember being told this when I first started in schutzhund in Connecticut back in the mid-90’s. Sage advice.

    Hope you are well!

    All my best, Suzanne

    Sent on the run…


  12. If off lead, it can be the dog’s choice. My anxious dog, will start to go off with our agility instructor when she calls him and then he turns back to ask me if its ok. I assure him “its ok” and he goes. But if he didn’t want to, it would be his decision.

  13. That is the best piece of advice I’ve gotten since I’ve been training dogs. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  14. Jackie Phillips

    If the instructor plans to use students’ dogs in the class/seminar/demo, then they should set that up ahead of time and have students volunteer to be ready. I have only had one dog that wouldn’t like being with a stranger, but all my other dogs would love it. So, there are dogs that would be fine for demos. Those dogs should be picked out ahead of time.

  15. Excellent!
    It does take courage though. The worst mistake I made was when an Obedience judge asked m if she could “borrow’ my dog — and then proceeded to demonstrate on my perfectly well behaved dog, sitting politely beside her, how to give a “Check” on a check-chain. And no just the “correct” pop either, but an upward jerk that lifted his front legs off the ground 😦

  16. Many years ago, I enrolled with our first rescue GSD in a class run by a very traditional trainer. His first words: “If I ever ask you to do something that you’re not comfortable doing, don’t do it. That goes for any other trainer, too.”

  17. Glenda Russell

    Damned if I did not just do this with my fearful rescue with a Vet Tech and a new stand-in Vet. I explained he was fearful of new people especially men and to not grab him and she proceeded to man handle him and he flipped out (Poor dog). He is fine if I hold him gently for my usual Vet but this girl just grabbed the poor guy. This was a gigantic step back in our relationship…I am still super upset with myself for not being his best advocate. So ashamed I let this happen and lesson learned through many tears. Thanks for the reminder to be our dogs advocate no matter the circumstances.

    • One of my dogs had the perfect deterrent for vet and vet nurses who wanted to handle him ‘inappropriately’. All it took was a generous blast from his anal sac, and they forever let me handle him in any circumstance 🙂
      (The problem was their insistence on taking his temperature anally, when all he was in for was a booster vaccination. future visits they never tried that again! 🙂

  18. Hi

    Very nice article and correctly stated, however, I would like to say:

    I was not able to work my dogs for about 4 months due to a sciatica attack, one of the handlers that has attended most of our trainings for more than a year volunteered to handle my dog at some special training days that I really did not want to miss.

    I went to the training and let her walk the dog a bit and she seemed very comfortable and was not turning to run back to me.

    I was not able to go down the 4 sets of stairs to the search area. Raven went with her, worked both of the search areas and found all of the hides in both areas. She had no problem with my dog, the dog did not pull or try to dart back to me when they were coming back up the stairs.

    The instructor and handler said she did a great job, and great job and found all the hides.

    I know not all dogs would do that and I respect that handler for standing up for what might happen to her dog if a different person took her. I think the biggest thing was my dog knew this person and I believe that is why the dog was comfortable.


  19. Shirley Ann Redl

    Excellent comments. And if you are not comfortable with your dog doing a certain exercise then please feel free to excuse yourself. As experienced as I am I tried to complete an agility exercise with my young dog in a manner in which he was not trained following the presenter’s instructions. My very soft, very nervous dog absolutely shut down, and it broke my heart that I hadn’t told the presenter no. I have learned. It won’t happen again.

    • Unfortunately not all instructors will accept this. 😦
      I pulled out of an Agility training group because they insisted on two things —
      Firstly that I must run with my dog (sorry I cannot run — I came for distance handling advice).
      And secondly that I must use food rewards (sorry this dog does not accept food treats, even at home she is as likely to take her food treat and put it down somewhere and leave it. She will work well for fondling, praise and ball throws).

  20. Georgina Murray

    My deaf dog is normally more than happy to be handled by anyone, and in fact has been used as a trainer in flyball for new humans to learn how to “work” with their dogs – but if he shies away from someone that means “sorry, but no” to them handling him. It has only happened once – but both the trainer and myself respected his feelings.

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  22. In the 70’s I visited a club where the trainer I trusted as the club owners owned rough collies, as I did . The trainer asked to take my young calm puppy, and because she was not used to men she sat back and he yanked her the full length of a 6 ft training lead, she hit her chin on the floor and fear urinated.I took my puppy away and sat with her. The trainer making tea said ,oh, I had to do that with one of mine who was a bucking bronco! She still is in the dog world. Recently I took a 9 mth old gundog to an accredited trainer belonging to an organisation in the UK. I wanted recall off lead practice in a safe paddock. He was excited when he got out of the car, she took him from me, and as he walked through the gate she hit him on his skull with the flat of her hand. Ears back, whale eyed. He did super recalls with me, then she took him heel work through some cones.
    He stopped to sniff and she hit him again with the end of the rope lead, straight across the nose. I stopped the session. I am so disappointed that 40 years later these training methods still prevail. It will not happen again. No one takes my dogs from me.


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