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A personalised facility owned and under the personal supervision of
Beth Babbin.A.Dip.CBM(CL) UK

Advanced Diploma Canine Behavioural Management (with honours) Compass UK

The saying that the only constant in life is change is probably true – nothing stays the same forever. This brings me to the point that all change may not be for the good or make things better – change just for the sake of change seems to be pretty pointless. Whatever change is being considered it is of the greatest importance that this change be given much thought and be evaluated as to the actual merits or benefits.

When my husband and I came into the formal dog world in the early 1970’s, we bought our first Dobermann puppy and then did what many other newcomers to the dog fancy and sport did – we joined a breed specific club that also offered obedience training classes. Clubs for a wide variety of breeds, all offering similar facilities were to be found – Boxers, German Shepherds, Border Collies, Rottweillers etc. and in addition a number of all breed clubs and training facilities were to be found. The number of individuals who ran training classes was very limited and these most often were associated with tracking and protection work.

The breed club that we joined organised two conformation shows a year and in order to bolster the entries and support the club we all tended to enter, irrespective of our dogs appearances in relation to the breed standard. What was more important to most of us was the Monday night get together on a sports/parade ground for obedience training. In those good old days we only started training our dogs when they reached six months – before that we would take them to the training sessions and they were able to socialise with others of a similar age. Training classes were divided as to the dogs’ ability and the most senior and experienced trainers were in charge of the beginners and the highest level classes. This was where the knowledge and experience was most needed.

The training programme was based on the requirements of the Kennel Union of Southern Africa, the controlling body for organised dog sport and activity in this country. Obedience competitions were held by most clubs throughout the country and we all aimed at working our way through the format and obtaining the required qualifications in each of the classes – starting at ‘Beginners’ then Novice, followed by A, B, and C Class and ultimately the highly coveted obedience champion status. With this system as a basis, all training was similar and the greatest difference was the experience and ability of the individual voluntary trainers – most of who had achieved success with their own dogs. We all wanted to learn as much as possible and travelled the country competing with our dogs, watching and learning from other trainers and handlers.

Over the years and for a number of reasons training clubs disappeared and training became the domain of individuals. Whilst dog shows tended to set standards not only for the ability of the dog and handler they also set standards, no matter how informally, for the trainers. With the individual trainer now coming to the fore these standards have all but gone. So too have many of the trainers, who had not only experience but also ability and knowledge.

After this rather lengthy introduction I come to the point of this article – and that is, how does a first time dog owner make a hopefully informed decision as to which training facility should be chosen. Dog training and the industry, (unfortunately I am unable to refer to this as a profession), that has sprung up under the banner of animal behaviour are both totally unregulated. It was coincidental that whilst giving thought to this matter that I paged through a back issue of the English magazine – Your Dog – September 2012. Many of us, I believe, have an impression that the British dog scene must be far more organised and regulated than ours. This investigative article however indicates that this may not be so and based on the fact that “literally anyone can set up business today” referring to training and behaviour, the situation there is the same, but only on a much larger scale. They are fortunate in having a number of highly experienced and professional organisations that have come together under the banner of the ‘Animal Behaviour and Training Council’ in an effort to clarify the situation there.

In South Africa we have no such structure regarding dog training and with all the ‘new’ options, concepts, methods and philosophies that have come to the fore the picture becomes even more confusing. People with very little experience have become hooked on one method and proclaim this as the cure for all – they do not have the ability to understand not only the differences in the dogs but also the owners and handlers. To quote the chairman of the British Institute of Professional Dog Trainers (BIPDT) ‘Dog training is a practical subject – you need to know about people, dogs and how different combinations work together. It is very difficult to lay down strict rules for academic qualifications. This is why we run our instructing courses. We don’t teach a specific method but try to show people different ways of achieving results and our assessors are independent.’ Unfortunately nothing like this exists here. Another matter that I find of great concern relates to puppy training/socialising classes. An ever increasing number of facilities now offer courses that have a fixed duration – e.g. 6 weeks, but they will enrol new dogs into this course at ant time during its duration. This means that not only the age of the dogs can vary quite markedly but the basic principal of education is cast out – that of lessons being structured and following on in a meaningful sequence.

A further point raised is; ‘Many good trainers can help with some behavioural issues while good behaviourists should have extensive training and knowledge. Generally, a professional behaviourist should have more in-depth and specific knowledge about the underlying emotions and motivations of the animal and how these can be influenced.’

The situation regarding animal behaviour in South Africa is even more confusing – people and organisations who are selling a variety of courses, few of which would have international acceptance, are encouraging their students to go out and practice in this field. Two organisations apparently proclaim to be professional bodies but again the word profession must be viewed with circumspect. Recently, whilst taking a training class I was approached by a stranger who enquired if I would train her as she had completed the most basic animal behaviour course and now needed to recoup her not inconsiderable investment as soon as possible. The person concerned did not own a dog and had not trained one before. This serves to indicate that a ‘qualification’ is not a licence or an indication of knowledge and ability.

The article also asks the question ‘How to identify a good trainer or behaviourist.’ • Word of mouth – ask people who own dogs, particularly well adjusted ones who they train with or would recommend. • Qualifications – there are a lot of letters that trainers and behaviourists can potentially put after their names. Don’t automatically be impressed but check what they stand for and how they were earned. Also consider if the qualification was awarded by an independently recognised body and when. Being on radio, TV or quoted in a magazine is most certainly not proof of competence. The same applies to memberships. • Experience – ask any trainer or behaviourist you are considering using about their experience. Good ones won’t mind telling you what they have and probably more importantly have not achieved. Consider their experience in relation to what you need. • Check it out – if you are looking for a trainer, watch them teach – consider their methods and see whether the dogs and owners are enjoying themselves and most importantly learning. • Trust your instincts – always use your common sense, don’t be scared to question their actions. Remember that distance and cost may not be the most important factors in the long run.

As it is highly unlikely that many of you are going to aspire to entering your dog in formal obedience competitions it is important to understand that whilst you and your dog may be taught many of the formal exercises that these still form the basis of what develops your dog into becoming an integral part of your family and its lifestyle. A well behaved, socially acceptable and obedient dog is and will always be a pleasure to own.