Photo credit: Louise Jollyman/Brimwylf
Wanted: Outdoorsy person willing to brave any kind of weather for the love of a good working dog. Must be available to meet regardless of time and current conditions. Desirable traits include being patient, driven, encouraging, observant, objective, able to tell it like it is without offending too much. Must be willing to tolerate rookie handler mistakes, overly exuberant dogs, smelly hot dog pieces, slimy balls on ropes, tangled long lines, and the occasional profanity. Experience in training and titling in Schutzhund/IPO is preferred, but will take any living, breathing human willing to put in long hours on the training and tracking fields in exchange for the occasional beer/cocktail/glass of wine.
WHY A TRAINING BUDDY?
While the above “ad” for a Schutzhund training buddy may seem humorous, the need for a consistent training partner is very real! There is much that we can train individually, but we eventually need another pair of eyes on our handling and on our dogs. Having a good training buddy can be helpful not only for moral support, but for providing:
It’s tempting to postpone training for the day. “Oh, it’s raining outside; I’ll just train tomorrow.” “I’m tired from work; I’ll just train later.” But when you have a date and time set for training with your training buddy, it makes it more difficult to cancel on a whim or when you just don’t feel like training. You can motivate each other, and can even provide positive reinforcement for meeting up to train, such as going out for brunch after a morning tracking session, or grabbing drinks after evening obedience. Handlers need rewards too, right?
The importance of a spotter cannot be overstated. A spotter can watch both you and the dog during training. They are invaluable during motion exercises, heeling, the long down, recalls, the retrieves, tracking, running blinds…well, doing just about anything in Schutzhund/IPO! They can look for proper position, whether the dog performed the requested exercise correctly, if the dog is moving when it shouldn’t be, if he looked in the blinds on his way around, etc. They can also alert you to handler help or body language, such as poor posture, a dropped shoulder, an unconscious and repetitive hand cue, etc.
One of the benefits of having a training buddy is that they can give instant feedback. They can give an immediate “Nope, no sit!” on the sit out of motion, for example. Or a “Dog’s creeping!” during your long down. They can tell you that you need to adjust your hand position or body position as it happens, or that your dog is crabbing out to the side while heeling down the field. This allows you to make immediate adjustments instead of continuing the incorrect behavior. Additionally, your training buddy can video your training sessions for you, to help you see what’s going on later at your convenience.
Additional Presence on the Field
Your training buddy can serve as your dog/handler partner in obedience, but they can also be the ‘judge’ on the field, a distraction, a group member, and more. This additional presence on the field can help us keep our emotions in check during training; we are less likely to express our anger or frustration with someone else watching us. Having someone watch you also provides a bit of pressure, which can help you prepare for trial nerves. It becomes a normal part of the scenery to always have someone out on the field with you, which is invaluable come trial day.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Training buddies come in all shapes and sizes. It is important to develop that training relationship with someone you trust, who has a good eye and good powers of observation, and whose feedback you value. Often you will have similar training styles, but not always! As long as there is mutual respect, then this shouldn’t matter too much, unless you are wanting specific training advice and not just a spotter. There are, however, several key characteristics to look for in a good training partner:
Experience in IPO
Experience in IPO
While people can and do have training partners from other disciplines, it really helps to have someone who is somewhat experienced in IPO. They have an understanding of the different exercises, of what the finished exercise should look like, and of how to get to this final product. Your current needs in your training will dictate how experienced of a training partner you need. Do you need training advice or handling advice? Then you want someone who is experienced in successfully training and titling their dogs, and whose training and handling you admire. Do you want someone who can just spot you during training, looking for specific criteria that you give them? Then you can use just about anyone at any experience level.
This is essential in a training buddy in order to avoid confusion, disagreements, and hurt feelings. Can you both communicate clearly and respectfully with each other? Are you able to convey what you want them to look for, and do they clearly explain what they saw? Can you have productive conversations, or is it mostly one-sided ‘training dissertations’? Both of you should feel comfortable discussing the training and what you want to get from each session. It also helps to have clear cues for when you are working on the field. Work all this out beforehand so you don’t have to grind to halt mid-session to clear up confusion.
Your training buddy should be reasonably concerned with safety: safety of your dog, of their dog, and of you as handlers. They shouldn’t be “loose cannons” out there on the field who can’t control their dogs and who put everyone else at risk in their training excursions or methods, or who disregard everyone else but themselves. Choose your training partner wisely; avoid a training buddy who advocates something unsafe and dangerous for your dog. A good training buddy is going to tell you that your dog has probably had enough in the heat, even when you are pushing for ‘just one more rep’. They should alert and help protect you and your dog when a stranger’s loose dog comes flying across the field at the park. We often need that extra pair of eyes out there to watch over us and our dogs, and a good training buddy does just that.
While we may occasionally use less dog-savvy family members and friends at times as spotters, it helps to have someone who understands dogs and can read them well. The dog-savvy training buddy can tell you when your dog looks overly stressed, pressured, confused, or overly excited and unable to learn. They are also more likely to understand your dog’s exuberance, drive, and little quirks, compared to those who seem slightly shocked and horrified at how “over the top” your working dog may seem. Finally, dog-savvy training buddies are going to be relaxed and comfortable out there on the field with your dog. Having a stressed, nervous, or fearful person out there with you can create stress and heightened anxiety in your dog, particularly in a dog that is sensitive to people’s emotional states (as many of working dogs are). As an added bonus, dog-savvy training buddies usually enjoy your dog-related and training conversations!
A good training buddy is worth their weight in gold. Not only will you help each other with the training, but you also help each other out emotionally and mentally. How encouraging it is to have someone there to support you, give you a kind word or even that ‘tough love’ motivational speech as needed? Training for IPO isn’t all roses, and it is relationships like these that often keep us going. So look for that great training buddy, and don’t forget to be a great training buddy as well.