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Seminar dog? Or not.

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This past weekend I had the pleasure of teaching at a dog training conference with seven instructors over four days. By the end everyone was pretty well exhausted.  Happy, but exhausted.

We all experienced a lack of sleep and routine, erratic eating hours, unusually cold temperatures, and reliance on translators to get our information across. In addition, there was a tremendous amount of information and learning to digest. It was exhausting for both the auditors and the presenters.

And the dogs?

Over the course of the weekend, reactive dogs became more reactive and in some cases, non-reactive dogs began to act out; growling and avoiding, whereas at the start of the weekend they had been calm and tolerant. Instead of sleeping more as the days progressed, some dogs appeared to be unable to sleep at all – constantly awake and attentive to the activities around them.

I was glad I didn’t have a dog with me.  The fact is, seminars can be incredibly stressful for dogs, and not all dogs are cut out for a multi-day event.  The first day might be great but by day four?  You need the right kind of dog to succeed in these circumstances.

What should you do with your dog that is agitated no matter what you do for them?  Cannot relax or sleep?  Becomes reactive or behaves in a distressed fashion?  Or simply shuts down and avoids the whole thing?  What can you do for those dogs?

Ask yourself this question:  Is THIS dogs suitable for THIS event?  Or might THIS dog be better off at home while you attend on your own – gathering as much information as possible and bringing it home to practice in the comfort of your dog’s familiar environment?

I understand that you might want a specific person to see and interact with your dog; maybe to help you gain insight into some long-standing challenge.  But if your dog is struggling and not acting normally then the value of that advice is going to be minimal because the dog isn’t behaving in his normal fashion.  I can’t help you with your precision heeling if your dog is too stressed to eat.  I can’t progress your personal play skills if your dog is still staring at the dog standing near the door.

And it can get worse.  In addition to not benefitting from the conference itself, your dog may end worse off than when you arrived.  Your non-reactive dog may become sensitized as a result of the cumulative stress and lack of sleep, becoming more and more uncomfortable with this environment that closely mimics the dog show. Anyone who has followed my blog over the past few years is well aware that I put a lot of value on working towards a dog that is emotionally confident and secure in the dog show environment; don’t ruin that!

Auditing at seminars is highly underrated, which is unfortunate.  Auditing allows you to listen carefully and quietly without worrying about your dog.  It allows you to consider the advice that you are given without the pressure of actually applying it, and if anything makes you uncomfortable you won’t feel pressured to try it. Auditing allows you to relax and socialize; when you get home you can try anything you want!

People tell me that they learn better when they can apply the skills, so they only attend events if they can work. That’s fine, but in the dog sports, there ar two of you, and both of your interests need to be considered. If your dog is struggling but you brought him so that you could practice, is it possible that you’ll end up frustrated with your dog, because you’re not getting what you want? Over the long run, will that support or erode your progress? Maybe your dog can tolerate a half day or a single day, but not a weekend. Start there.

On the other hand, if you have a dog that can rest anywhere, remains reasonably comfortable over multiple days, and handles long days well, then working your dog with a trusted instructor can be quite valuable.

But until you have that dog, consider leaving your dog at home and coming to your learning event alone.

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.

15 responses »

  1. I am soon glad you wrote this, I know a lot of dogs that are glad also
    I have never felt I had a more then 2 day seminar dog , and I usually only took her if we could go and return home and not take her on the second, a 4 day dog WOW to me that would be a miracle,,,, when I think of how I get at a seminar by the end, I can only imagine what my dog feels like
    being a responsible dog owner I think we should really think on that one.
    so thank you for addressing it,,,
    that was beyond perfect

  2. Elaine Ableidinger

    Yes!!! My girl will not be working at Fenzi Camp. I wish we could buy that venue would be unfair to her. I will audit and bring home much knowledge to inform our training.

  3. I try to instruct everyone about “spoon theory” with their dogs. Realize how many more ” spoons” they use in a day at these events.

  4. Great post Denise! I totally second this advice! I carefully evaluate the experience for my dog(s) before anything else. How long will the experience be? What other factors need to be prepared for (overnight in a motel, long distance travel, density of dogs, staying in a crate or Xpen, being able to relax near other dogs for long periods etc.) How much flexibility do I have to remove my dog (to my car, to home) during the seminar. How comfortable am I in the environment? How much information is available about the facility so I know what we are going to? When my dog gets stressed, I get stressed and end up focussing on them instead of the learning. Then I get less out of the seminar. Most times, I leave my dogs at home and we all have a better experience. They get to learn from me when I come home.

  5. Thank you for this blog post! My very best agility dog Zip would get worn out at the end of an agility trial and could “act out.” He was an introvert; he LOVED to show off on course, but other than than he wanted to be left alone to sleep in his crate until his next run! On the other hand, my wire fox terrier Clever Trevor, who embarrassed me more than once leaving the agility ring was super at a seminar! He was curious, enjoyed shorter sequences and truly was more extroverted and liked dogs and people. And I recognize now that I am so distracted that auditing seminars has been a win-win for me.

  6. Love your posts. Yesterday tried to purchase one of your books on a fb site but couldn’t complete I think because I am in Canada. What site can I purchase from Canada no have delivered to Canada?

    I have Shelties, working on my 4th Cdn. OTCH at the moment with my 4 yr. old. She is very focused on what benefits her, very aware of everything in her environment. Her work is very correct when she is focused, at this point usually because I have the reward, food or ball.

    She is totally focused in agility and connected, need that in obedience.

    Let me know which site for Canadians please.


    Sent from my iPad


  7. Kathy and Kaleb, Manny, CoCo & Lady

    It depends on the kind of seminar too. My oldest IPO dog will do just fine and have fun working at an outdoor IPO seminar, but his stress level will grow from day 1 to day 2 at an indoor OB seminar.

  8. Just love these posts, so informed and one the leading edge of the dog training community

  9. I too will be attending your camp in Albany without my dog….too much too soon for her.

  10. THankyou for this. The last weekend for the first time I’ve seen my dog shutting down at a two days event. Usually she hold up quite well but this time she was totally stressed by long days and total lack of sleep due to hot, noisy and bad hotel.
    “Sadly” the event was not a seminar but a DogDance trial. The first day she was a little slow but great (we won second) but the second day she refused to exit from the car and when we had to compete she shut down.

    Ps: thanks for your books, they are really useful and helping me. It’s amazing that you directly address even the dogs like mine, a Bernese, classic couch potato.

  11. Excellent article! Some of my best learning moments have been as an auditor at herding clinics. Herding is an extremely complicated dog sport, counter-intuitive in many respects, and demands reading stock in addition to directing your dog. This venue demands calm dog behavior to do well. My instructor has clearly taught one should not overwork your dog. Your dog stops learning at that point and quickly goes downhill wiping out any positives. Some handlers do not realize the point their dog becomes stressed, and continue to demand perfection (unobtainable in my view) which can ruin the dog on working. I think this can apply to any venue of dog training.

  12. This was so interesting to me. I used to attend horse related seminars with my gelding. Day one was a mess. Horses stressed…owners stressed. But by day 3 or 4, horses (including my gelding) are usually calmer, more comfortable/confident with their environment and more able to learn. The owners, including me, were exhausted by day 3 or 4, but usually grateful that the horse is able to focus thereby the owner is more able to focus and relax. I suppose the type of seminar is also a factor. Highly stressful seminars that do not focus on relaxation and cooperation in horses result in stressed horses. I found it so interesting that dogs can be the opposite. I have not yet attended a multi-day seminar with my pup…but will be interested to find out if he will be more like my gelding and be calmer as time goes on or be more stressed. Guess it depends on the dog, the seminar…and the owner to a large degree. I would imagine that a dog would pick up on the stress level of the owner. Very interesting topic!!

  13. So I guess if you haven’t done this and don’t know how your dog will react in that type of situation, you go to one with dog, and then make your decision.


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