The Right Fit: Finding Your IPO Club
Searching for a training club is like sampling a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get! They all may be IPO clubs on the outside, but on the inside each club’s group dynamic is different. Some are sweet. Some require more effort to bite into. Others might be full of nuts. Finding the right club means you have to sample a few before you find the one that's the right fit for you!
What Is A Training Club?
Training clubs are groups of people organized around the common purpose of training and titling dogs in IPO. Established clubs usually consist of the following:
an elected Board of Directors
a Training Director
an active membership
Clubs can vary greatly in size, from groups of five members to several dozen members or more. Also, not all clubs have an established Helper, and may have to rely on outside Helpers to train in protection.
Why a Training Club?
Becoming a member of a thriving IPO club provides the handler with a network of support and instruction. Additional benefits include:
Access to consistent training
Access to club trials
Support network of people with common goals and interests
Help with raising, training, and titling your dog
Access to a regular helper and/or trainer who can train both dog and handler
Lower cost than traveling to different clubs and paying visitor fees
What To Look For In A Club
Training Director - Does the TD have a good reputation and IPO experience? Have they successfully trained and titled dogs in IPO? Do they seem like a good and capable coach?
Helper - Does the club have a reliable and safe training helper? What is the helper like, and how much experience does he have? Does he understand dogs, read them well, and work them in a safe and consistent manner?
Members - Are club members successfully titling their dogs in IPO? Do they get along with one another? Do they have a good relationship with their Helper and TD? The best clubs function as a team, and are supportive of one another.
Club Goals - What are the club's training goals, and do they match up with yours? If you want to trial at a regional or national level, does the club have experience and drive for reaching these levels? If you want to just train and have fun, does the club have a goal of supporting handlers no matter what their objective is?
Overall Atmosphere - What's this club like? Are they welcoming and encouraging (whether it's right away, or eventually)? Are they more serious? Or are they relaxed and jovial? You should visit a club several times to gain an accurate feel for the underlying club dynamic.
Club Training and Membership Training clubs are social clubs, not dog training businesses. For many clubs, their members are like family (see Brian Aghajani's wonderful blog and video on Weston Kester for a glimpse of this dynamic in action.). Peaceful harmony is highly valued, so clubs may be selective about adding new members. Additionally, club resources are limited. The Helper and TD can only work with so many dogs and handlers at one time. As a result, many clubs maintain a small, close-knit group of people, and look for handlers that will fit with their dynamic and be a true team player.
Clubs are run as non-profit organizations, but this does not mean that they are free. Clubs have membership dues and training fees, which are used to fund the club's operating and event costs. Each club is different with their fees and membership requirements, so it is best to ask once you visit. Most clubs have a vetting period for potential and new members, and this will vary with each training club.
How Do I Find a Club?
Check out my previous blog, How Do I Get Involved in Schutzhund?, to get started! When you find the clubs in your area:
Make contact. Email the club contact listed on the organization or club website. Express your interest in starting IPO and visiting their club, and provide a little information about yourself and your dog, if you have one. Please do not just say "I'm Joe, and I want to join your club."
Visit. Ask about visiting. Express interest in attending training or helping out at a club trial or event. Politely inquire about club rules that should be observed. When you arrive, introduce yourself and don't be shy!
Ask questions. Bravely mingle and ask questions about the training you observe. Use these conversations to connect with the people you may be training with. However, also observe the training, and do not just chatter the whole time!
Evaluate. Watch the handlers, dogs, and helpers as they work. Look for the answers to the questions listed in the "What To Look For In A Club" section above. Try to gain a feel for the overall atmosphere of the club.
How Do I Know It's the Right Club?
The right club will click with you, and you with it. The overall dynamic, club goals, purpose, and training should match closely with what you desire. While it won't be perfect, the club should be an enjoyable place to be. This is incredibly important for when the going gets tough (and it will!), because your club is your support and encouragement.
The right club may not always be the closest club to you. But take the time to find your IPO team; it's worth it!
What if there is no club near you, or the local clubs aren't accepting new members? Then join me for a future blog: No Club! Now What?
Is there something else you'd like to know about clubs? Then please leave me a comment below. It may not show up right away, but it will be there eventually!