Training Group Etiquetteby Amy Dahl, Ph.D.
Amy Dahl is also the co-author, with her husband, John, of The 10-Minute Retriever - How to Make an Obedient and Enthusiastic Sporting Dog in 10 Minutes a Day.
Working your retriever with a group of other trainers can be rewarding in several ways. Sharing the work involved in setting up tests, handling equipment, securing grounds, and throwing marks for each other's dogs keeps these tasks manageable. When the work is fairly divided, training sessions can progress smoothly, minimizing the likelihood of any participant being made to feel like a "workhorse."
Groups also offer the advantage of a learning experience for the participants, as they are able to compare methods and results. Members can assist with each other's dogs more effectively than when they are working alone, as the opportunity to demonstrate and to see the dog's response is a great aid to communication regarding training problems.
It is less likely that an owner will work his or her dog into the ground when training in a group, because time will not allow it. Sessions with each dog will be kept short rather than lengthy ordeals.
In a well-conducted training group, in which the essentials of etiquette are observed, a high level of efficiency and progress will develop, along with camaraderie within the group. If principles of consideration for the welfare and progress of everyone's dog are not judiciously maintained, the training group is likely to fall apart.
There are inherent challenges to training with a group which inevitably create problems unless addressed with careful planning. It is often difficult to coordinate time so that everyone can make it on a regular basis. It is better to have less-frequent sessions in which there is sufficient time for everyone's dog to have a good workout, than to meet every afternoon for such a short period that someone gets left out.
It takes more time to train in a group than it does to hire bird throwers and train on your own. For this reason, pros, with a large number of dogs, can rarely entertain guest trainers other than their own clients. It is best not to impose on professional trainers for help without the understanding that there will be a fee.
A danger with training groups is that the sessions will turn into competitions in which the members try to outdo each other's dogs. This is unfortunate as it is generally counterproductive in terms of training value, as well as contrary to the principle of group work designed for the improvement of all. A training group should not exist as a showcase for the supremacy of any individual dog or handler.
Since people vary greatly in energy and ability to do certain kinds of work, the tendency for the bulk of the hard labor to fall on certain individuals is always present. When this happens, those who feel they are being taken advantage of will become dissatisfied and may leave the group. The solution to this problem is, of course, for everyone to pitch in. Arriving on time, prepared to work, contributes to the effectiveness of the session and makes a good impression on your training partners as well.
Many training procedures require one or more people to help the dog handler. Simple activities such as training the dog to come when called or to be honest in the water, shooting birds, and throwing dummies are, while not impossible, difficult for the individual to accomplish without help. In a well-run training group it takes very little time to adjust the program to the particular needs of each dog.
Finding, and keeping, training grounds in this day of development of every scrap of land available has become one of the biggest obstacles to the retriever owner's success. Everyone in the group should share the responsibility of finding grounds and making them available for group functions. In this way, overworking any particular tract of land or water can be minimized. Some land owners are generous and will welcome a trainer to work on their property occasionally. If it becomes too frequent, most will tire of it and ask you not to come back.
For this reason, it is extremely bad form to return to training grounds provided by another member of your group without invitation. Don't even ask as it might put your friend in the awkward position of having to say no.
Every effort should be made to leave training grounds in precisely the condition they were in when you came--no trash, of course, but also no bad tire tracks. Stay on established roads and trails with vehicles, and should a mishap occur, such as getting stuck, repair the ruts to original condition with shovels and rakes. These tools should be included in your training kit.
When asking permission to use someone's land, we always assure the owner that we will pick up trash others have left and dispose of it. It is also important to show your appreciation for the use of land frequently with your thanks and possibly some token gift, if they have refused monetary payment.
In conducting marking and blind tests during a group session it is advisable to agree in advance how much repetition time will allow. The individual who continually requests repeats for his or her dogs at the expense of others' training time will quickly become unpopular.
Keep things moving. Excess conversation between dogs, long coffee or beer drinking breaks, and the like eat into everyone's training time. If necessary, take charge as an organizer, call dogs to the line, keep in touch with throwers and blind planter by two-way radio, and establish a rhythm and momentum in the session. Your efforts will be appreciated.