Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Care and Feeding of a Training Partner

What is a training partner? It is someone with whom you can get together regularly to train your dogs. It is someone with whom you can talk over training issues. It helps if your TP has a similar schedule to you, so it isn't too hard to find time to meet. Having similar long-term goals is helpful, though not critical. It will help you a lot if your TP is more experienced than you are, because you will be able to learn a lot from her. Those of us who have been doing this for a long time enjoy seeing new trainers getting hooked on the sport we have loved for so many years. But it doesn't have to be someone more experienced. I continue to learn from new trainers. Sometimes, because of no preconceived ideas, new trainers come up with fabulous 'think outside the box' solutions that experienced trainers don't.

Having dogs at similar levels is another benefit, because you'll need the same equipment for training, and you can each supply some. It means you can go to trials together and cheer each other on (or commiserate on the days it doesn't go so well). For many of us, the social aspect of dog competitions is a large part of the fun. Of course, even if you aren't at the same level, most trials have classes of many different levels going on, so you can still go to shows together.

Where should you look for a training partner? If you are taking a class somewhere, ask your classmates if they would be interested in meeting outside of class to practice together. It makes you more likely to do your homework and it simply makes it more fun. You can help each other by calling commands if the dogs are advanced enough; doing stand for exams; putting out scent articles; holding a young dog for recalls. Sometimes it is helpful to simply train alongside each other, but it is even better if you can take the time to play judge and provide distractions for each other for at least part of your time together. When I wrote The Art of ProofingI used different types of bullets to show what you could do by yourself, with one helper, and in a larger group. 

Another potential place to look is at a local dog club. Even if there isn't an obedience club, you might find someone interested in obedience training who belongs to an agility club or a conformation club. Attend nearby obedience trials and matches and watch people. Look for someone whose dog works like you wish yours would. If you are already competing with your dog for titles, find out where your fellow exhibitors live. Addresses are usually listed in the back of the trial catalog.

I am blessed to live in a highly active dog training community with many opportunities within a 2 hour radius of Ann Arbor. I once met a friend who lives outside of Chicago (which means we are 5 hours apart) at another friend's training building that is about 1/2 way between us.

In thinking back over the many training partners I've had over the 25+ years I've been training, I think fondly of the friendships, the hours and hours spent training and problem solving, and the thrill of victory, not just for myself but also for them.

If you don't already have one, I encourage you to find someone to train with. I don't think you'll be sorry.

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