Ever wonder what’s expected of you during training? Or how to interact with your helper? Or what's customary conduct for IPO sport? Within the context of Schutzhund, the expected etiquette contains a unique blend of everyday social graces and sports-specific behaviors. Here’s how to avoid a potential faux pas at the IPO club!
Oops! Meagan Karnes' dog "Eli" breaks in a young helper. This is acceptable with suit work, but would be a major faux pas if the helper only had the sleeve! Photo by: Tamandra Michaels.
Some of the social expectations specific to the sport have been discussed previously (See “Are You a Good IPO Club Member” and "Your First Visit"). However, standard social etiquette for mixed company works wonderfully in just about any club situation. This includes:
Saying please and thank you
Being polite and respectful
Refraining from coarse, crude, lewd, derogatory, or profane language
Being kind, helpful, and encouraging
Refraining from gossip and slanderous speech
Handling disagreements respectfully, debating the issue at hand and not turning it into a personal attack
A large part of Schutzhund is interacting with people and developing relationships. We should make our best efforts to get along, and at least be civil (polite) to those with whom we don’t. Let's face it; we won't like everyone we meet, but we can at least be courteous!
The following expectations are fairly standard across most clubs:
Clean up after your dog, and don't let your dog potty on the training field.
Crate your dog when he is not being worked; keep him on-leash when off the field.
Refrain from letting your dog freely “socialize” with other dogs at the club.
Leash your dog going on and off the field.
Keep your dog under control on the field, and don't let him interfere with other dogs. Keep him on a line (at least in OB) if his control is still "iffy".
Don't show off. It rarely ends well, and people are here to train dogs, not marvel at your skills.
Treat your dog appropriately and humanely. He's your partner in this sport!
Pay attention to your dog! Not paying attention to your dog can result in serious consequences, such as injuries, dog fights, and dog bites.
Handler – Helper Etiquette
There are many nuances to this relationship that make it more complicated than the others. This relationship combines friendship, mentorship, coaching, teaching, and necessity into one role. Of all the relationships, this one needs to be handled with special care.
7 tips for HANDLERS on how to best work with your Helper:
Develop a relationship built on trust and cooperation, and do not violate that trust. Broken trust leads to bitterness and hard feelings. Violating a helper's trust can happen when handlers gossip about or verbally bash the helper to others (see #4), or sneak around to train with someone else behind that helper's back (see #6).
Develop clear communication. Learn how to best communicate with your helper, and do so often. Discuss your training boundaries and comfort level, your goals, whether you are also training elsewhere (or plan to), etc.
Be respectful and appreciative; treat your helper with the same respect you give a close teammate and coach. Let him (or her) know that you appreciate them. Value the time and effort they put into training your dog.
Don’t play the blame game, where you blame the helper for everything that’s wrong with your dog. Most of the time, it’s NOT the helper’s fault, yet they are the first ones to get blamed!
Don’t openly challenge or argue with your helper in the middle of training. If you have questions, find the appropriate time and place to ask them. If you don’t understand what they are asking, then respectfully say: “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand what you want me to do.” However, if you feel uncomfortable, speak up respectfully (see#2). And if you feel that your dog is in danger out there, then be your dog's advocate and stop the training.
Acknowledge, respect, and protect the hard work they put into you and your dog. Don’t let another helper or trainer mess up everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve with your regular helper, and don't make your helper feel like he's wasting his time and effort in working with you.
Be forgiving. Everyone makes mistakes, including the helper. Commit to working through it together.
IPO engages handlers from all walks of life, making for relationships between handlers and helpers that are rich and varied. Tamandra Michaels with "Justice". Photo by Frank Wisneski.
7 tips for HELPERS on how to best work with handlers:
Earn their trust, and do not violate that trust. When a handler feels that the helper has broken trust (such as through working the dog in an inappropriate manner during training), it makes the relationship extremely strained, sometimes to the point it can never recover. Handler and helper then bitterly part ways, with hard feelings on both sides.
Communicate as clearly as you can, especially in the trust-building stages. Don’t leave handlers guessing, and don't expect them to just blindly follow you. Let the other half of the training team (the handler) know what the plan is!
Be patient with people (especially the novices!), and help them learn how to handle the dog. In the long run, this will make it easier and safer for you out there.
Be patient with questions; questions usually aren’t a “challenge” to your authority, but indicate a genuine desire to understand or know more. Don't be afraid to answer them, even if you must say "Let's discuss this later." You may hate having to explain yourself, but sometimes it's necessary to help a handler learn and grow.
Respect each handler, their preferences, and their comfort level. Meet people where they are at, just like you do with their dogs. However, respectfully delineate your boundaries as well, especially if a handler is asking you to do something you aren't comfortable with.
Be honest. If you make a mistake, be honest about it. This is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of authenticity. Acknowledge and accept the mistake, and then indicate the proper action with confidence. If you have to apologize to a handler, then do so.
Be forgiving. Handlers are going to make mistakes; it's part of the learning process. Commit to working through it together.
Hopefully both handlers and helpers alike feel better equipped to take on the social complexity of Schutzhund training. Will we always maintain appropriate etiquette? No. We all make mistakes. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't make the effort, and be forgiving of each other's mistakes. We are in this together, and that's what makes Schutzhund/IPO so wonderful.