Imagine that you are taking a class with your dog. Some of the participants are very experienced, others have some experience, someone is completely new to the whole thing, have just begun this training and are new owners of a retrieving breed. Some know each other well, someone knows a great many of the other participants, someone else may just know one person, and yet another someone doesn’t know anyone. The way it might be in a class.

The person who’s new to the whole thing has been nervous before the class and considered cancelling. “I don’t know anything, nor does my dog”.

Another person, who is quite experienced but who has not been involved in this particular context for very long, is taking the class with his very energetic young dog, that he’s been struggling a bit with. He’s also a bit nervous. It would be great if the stuff that they’ve had to work hard on and that’s now beginning to work quite well at home, could function even in this challenging class environment.

The instructor is patient, friendly and adjusts each exercise to suit each individual team. This eases up on the nerves.

The very first exercise in the class is done individually, one at a time. As one of the new, rather inexperienced, persons step out to do the exercise with their dog, one of the experienced people who’s met the inexperienced person just once before, exclaims:

“Time to prove yourself!””

This is not meant to be rude or mean, of course. It never is. It’s just a joke!

If you happen to find yourself in that situation, you could ask the question “What do you mean? I’m here to learn, what do you think I should be proving?” But one rarely comes up with a comeback like that.

My thoughts: What kind of climate do you want to be in for your training to work in the best way? Does an ironic “rough but hearty” jargon work for you? Are you ok with feeling that the others aren’t really wishing you well, but are happy to put you down?

I need to feel safe in order to do my best. When those I train with are friendly, when they laugh WITH me, all that is said is said outright and not behind anyone’s back,, everyone is looking for good things to say about each other and each other’s dogs, the criticism is constructive and curious, when it is possible to reason, think together and find new solutions .I make sure to find that kind of training buddies, but you can’t always choose when taking a class.

The opposite to what I described above is when people are unfriendly, laughter is nasty (and that does exist), when people whisper and mumble together, shooting long glances. When feedback is served without being thought through and only taking into account the stuff, I’m bad at, when things are black and white, right and wrong. If you’re feeling very insecure in a situation, it may be such a climate that’s causing your insecurity.

Group psychology is interesting. To my knowledge, there is no research that supports that behaviors in the latter description make individuals or groups work optimally, on the contrary. It creates insecurity and then of course that will influence performance, regardless of what is supposed to be performed. The opposite however – it can make us brilliant!

In our classes there are always some exercises that the participants get to do with each other. We usually provide our participants with a little note, giving advice on how to help each other in the best way. The note holds the following:

  1. How did it feel? (The trainer says something about her experience of the training.)
  2. What did the rest of us see that was good? (Observers mention good things that they noticed.)
  3. What needs to be changed or improved in the next session? (Everyone helps to hatch smart ideas.)

Naturally, we try to teach in this fashion all the time, even if we naturally can fall short sometimes.

Which of the questions do you think people find the most challenging? Well, it’s number 2. Here, the observers normally want to head into what didn’t go well and not even always link that to suggestions on how to solve this. It’s no wonder. Most of us have been training to do it like that for a long time. But with a little training, everyone can improve and get quite skilled at that, and then something magical happens. The training will be awesome! Everyone feels good: The trainer, the dog, the helpers/observers.

So, what do you want to contribute to? A safe, generous atmosphere where everyone pitches in, perhaps? Just do it. Next time you’re in a class, try finding something good to say about everyone in the group. See what you get in return. My guess is that you’ll get better things in return, than if you’re the one exclaiming “TIME TO PROVE YOURSELF!”. 🙂


Retrieving for All Occasions - Foundations for Excellence in Gun Dog Training
Retrieving for All Occasions - Foundations for Excellence in Gun Dog Training

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