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.