When I started teaching agility and obedience classes, it became clear early on whether someone was training their dog for life or not. Students who asked questions, practiced homework and came to every single class were hooked. If they’d had a tail, it would’ve been wagging!
The time they invested in their dog lead to quicker progress and more successes. Many of those "lifers" are still training with me today, five years later. They go to fun matches and shows together, and socialize outside of class.
At the other extreme (and yes, I do believe that those of us who compete in dog sports are extreme), the occasional student acted like he didn’t want to be there. Some were downright rude and disruptive, as if they thought they had signed up for a private lesson, not a group class.
One couple told me they preferred a different training philosophy, but I was the only one nearby who offered puppy classes. Despite my best efforts to engage them, they spent the six weeks ignoring my suggestions, and paying more attention to fellow students than their puppy. Sadly, it came as no surprise that I never saw them again.
Only once did I have to ask someone not to return; she was a family member of a student and argued with me so vehemently that I was concerned she might get physical. I rightly guessed her behavior had nothing to do with dog training and everything to do with a personal issue at home.
She called a few days later to apologize and explain. While I empathized with her, it was not fair to the other students and their dogs to share class time with someone who was not committed to making the most of it.
The people I couldn’t figure out were the ones who seemed to enjoy class with their dog. Perhaps they weren’t as passionate as the lifers, but they were good students. They might even complete a few sessions before dropping out.
In some cases, finances were an issue, and I would offer options to make classes more affordable. Some said work or family obligations made it impossible to attend regularly. Again, I would do my best to accommodate them, by offering a drop in option, private lessons or organizing the class of their choice on a day that best fit their schedule.
Others told me they accomplished their goals and were happy. Their dog no longer needed training. This answer floored me; how could you not want to continue? Your dog could do any number of activities or sports, from agility to nose work to rally. Would you and your dog really be more satisfied just going for walks and lounging on the couch?
This is when I would get “the look,” a reminder that I am extreme when it comes to dog training. For perspective, I asked my mom – who loves dogs, but doesn’t have one of her own - why people would successfully complete a six-week obedience course, thank me for being a good teacher, then never step foot in the classroom again.
She gave it a lot of thought and said that for her, once her dog successfully completed the class, she had done her part as a responsible dog owner.
I find this perspective so difficult to understand. Dog training is not a color by numbers exercise. It’s fluent, dynamic and creative. To me, a graduation diploma is a sign of what’s to come, not what’s done.