A recent discussion with a friend about the difficulty of teaching a class with a demo dog got me thinking about the use of demo dogs in the dog training world.
I’ve taken a lot of classes with my dogs over the years and attended many seminars and clinics. Demonstrations have been part of many of these learning opportunities, but some demos have been more useful to me as a learner than others. As a dog training instructor, I have occasionally used a demo dog, but not for every class.
Below are 7 things I ask myself before using a demo dog in any given class or seminar.
1. Are the dogs in this class likely to react to my dog? Demo dogs are useful in environments where learner dogs are likely to be confident and well managed by their owners. I would not, for example, reccomend a demonstration dog for a ‘Reactive Rover’ type class.
2. Will the humans in this class be able to absorb the demonstration? I find that human students are better able to absorb demonstrations when they have the skills to keep their dogs calm AND watch the demonstration.
3. Do I have the right dog? A demo dog needs to be confident. They need to be able to work with the distraction of other people and dogs and they need to be able to wait when not demonstrating without disrupting the class.
4. Do I have a plan to use demos in my class? Having a plan for demonstation, allows you to make the best use of your short time with your students. Most people come to class to work their dogs, and they will likely want to work their dogs more than they watch yours. Having a plan that outlines when, where and how long you will use your demo dog will help you keep that working to watching ratio fair to your students.
5. Where will the dog be when not working? How will you ensure your dog’s comfort and safety while not demonstrating? Is this an easily accessible and reliable option?
6. Does the dog know the behavior I want to demonstrate? Again, depending on what you are demonstreating, this will matter more or less. If you want to demonstrate a complex agility handling sequence, you need a dog familiar with the obstacles AND the handling moves. If you are teaching a beginner tricks class, it may be helpful to demonstrdate how to train behaviors with a beginner dog, or with a dog that can demonstrate the more completed finished behaviour.
7. Is this helpful? Finally, ask yourself, how will the demo help your students learn? Are you using a demo dog to show off your dog’s skills? To show your students the finished behavior or to demonstrate how to teach a behavior? In my opinion, while it can be fun to show students your dog’s amazing skills, it doesn’t always advance their learning and learning should always be at the forefront of your mind when considering any new strategy for group classes.