Hey, Teacher! Leave Those Dogs Alone!

It is a fairly common practice among dog trainers who teach group classes to “borrow” one of their student’s dogs to demonstrate a training technique or learning concept. Opinions of this practice vary. Proponents say that it helps owners to observe their own dog being handled by an instructor or responding to someone else, while opponents argue that it can appear as instructor grandstanding, may embarrass the owner, and can confuse or even frighten the dog.  First, make note that this is not an issue that I feel so strongly about that I would march on Washington about it or wear a sandwich board in protest on a busy street corner. (Although I can come up with a few catchy sign phrases, were I so inclined).


“Hey Teacher! Leave Those Dogs Alone!”

However, I do place myself firmly in the “don’t take my students’ dogs to demo” camp. My reasons are not as much to do with embarrassing the owner (which admittedly can happen), as they are concerned with the dog’s welfare and comfort level and with  being consistent regarding my own personal beliefs about our relationships with dogs.

Here is what I mean: When out and about with my own dogs, I neither enjoy nor tolerate a stranger approaching us to say hello to my dogs, and then instead of greeting them politely and spending some time getting to know them through petting and chit-chat with me, the person instead barks out some command. Although these commands are usually benign (sit or “shake” seem to be  popular), they grate on me and annoy my dogs.  And of course, if my dogs do not instantly snap-to and comply, the person barks again, more loudly. Fun times.

Not only is such human behavior unpleasant to be around, I see no reason at all that my dogs should be arbitrarily required to listen to someone who they do not know and have absolutely no relationship with. Therefore, since I personally do not want other people deciding that my dogs are required to listen to them, why would I foist such a practice upon my own training school students and their dogs? Instead, the policy at my training school is for instructors to use our own dogs for demonstration purposes or if our dogs are not present for the class, we enlist the aid of the invisible dog, “Muffin” (who always listens).

What do the dogs think? I have not yet found any research that examines how dog owners feel about having someone else train, work with or command their dog. However, a study was recently published that asked how dogs feel about this (1).

The Study:  The researchers were interested in finding out if the presence or absence of a dog’s owner and the familiarity of a tester influences a dog’s behavior and performance during various types of cognitive testing. They were particularly interested in teasing out context-specific effects. In other words, do dogs react differently to familiar versus unfamiliar handlers depending on what you are asking of them or the situation in which they find themselves? Here is how they studied this:

  • Dogs and Handlers: A group of 20 adult, well socialized dogs and their owners participated in the study. In addition, each owner selected a friend or relative who their dog knew well (familiar person). The unfamiliar person was one of the female researchers, who had not previously met any of the dogs. (Because gender has been shown to have a significant effect upon behavior, this factor was controlled in this study by enrolling only female owners and friends).
  • Tests: A set of eight behavior tests was administered to each dog. Some of the tests measured the dog’s response to separation from the owner or other stressors, and others examined the dog’s response to obedience commands or handling (see the complete paper for details). In addition, two locations were used; an unfamiliar, indoor testing area and a familiar outdoor area. Each dog was tested by their owner, the familiar person, and the unfamiliar person. (Note: Because of several logistical constraints, this was not a completely balanced study design).

Results: Both the human handler’s familiarity and the context (type of test and setting) significantly influenced dogs’ behavior and response to commands. While the dogs consistently discriminated between their owner and the unfamiliar person and always preferred the owner, discrimination between the owner and the familiar person was affected by context. Here are the highlights:

  • Choice and confidence: Unsurprisingly, when allowed to choose between their owner and the other two handlers, dogs consistently showed clear preference for their owner. They also showed a greater tendency to interact with others when the owner was present, a phenomenon that has been observed in other studies and is referred to as the “secure base” effect. It appears that owners provide their dog with a feeling of security and enhanced confidence, which in turn encourages the dog to explore new situations and people. In the absence of the owner, dogs’ behaviors tended to be more inhibited.
  • Stressful situations: Dogs distinguished strongly between their owner and the other two testers (familiar and unfamiliar) in situations that were stressful, such as separation or the approach of a threatening human. Most compelling? The presence of the friend could not sufficiently substitute for the presence of the owner in any of these settings.
  • Play: Although most of the dogs would play with all three testers, they spent more time playing with their owner and orienting to the toy (ball) that the owner was holding than they did with either the familiar or unfamiliar tester. During play, the dogs did not show a preference for the familiar over the unfamiliar person, but reacted similarly to both.
  • Response to commands: Overall, dogs responded most consistently to the owner rather than the other testers for basic commands of come, sit and down. However, the average time that it took for dogs to respond to commands (called latency) was not different between owners and the familiar person. In contrast, dogs took significantly longer to respond to commands if they were given by the unfamiliar person.
Comfort Base

We are our dog’s comfort base

Take Away for Dog Folks: Given these results, let’s return to the question of whether or not it is helpful for an instructor to take a student’s dog from them to demonstrate a technique or to help them to train their dog. Certainly in many cases, an instructor becomes well-known to the dogs in his or her class and is recognized by most of the dogs as a friend. (This is especially true if the instructor regularly carries yummy treats in her training pouch and is very generous with those treats). Still, even knowing this, the results of this study suggest that dogs perform best when they have their owner close at hand to act as their secure base. When a bit stressed (as group classes can often be), it really does not matter if the person who takes the dog is familiar or not (or is a better trainer than the owner). Dogs still prefer to be with and respond best to their owner. So, if you are in the habit of taking others’ dogs from them to demonstrate or train, keep in mind that even if you are more skilled, even if you can train the behavior faster, and even if the dog performs well for you, this may not be the dog’s preference. And if we are in the business of building strong bonds between dogs and their people, this may be something to consider. 

Reference: Kerepesi A, Doka A, Miklosi A. Dogs and their human companions: The effect of familiarity on dog-human interactions. Behavioural Processes 2015; 110:27-36.

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45 thoughts on “Hey, Teacher! Leave Those Dogs Alone!

  1. Pingback: Teasing is Bad. | The Science Dog

  2. 8 years later — what it boils down to is how much to you trust your instructor!!
    I have had two very distressing cases when an ‘instuctor;[ (or judge) tooks my dog from me to
    1. Demonstrate the proper way to deliver a ‘check’! On poor gently little old Sammy who had dome nothing wrong 😦
    2. The instructor who without a with you leave of by your leave took my dog from me and tried to helicopter her — on a head halter!!! I had to take my dog back by force. The man was ignorant and worse.


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  5. I am a Dog Obedience Instructor. I specialize in Behavior Training, and Obedience Training. Our basic course teach students how to work and train their dogs both on and off leash. I make it a practice to demonstrate with my students dogs. Students regularly ask me to show them how to do an exercise with their dog. By me working with the student’s dog, they can see what their dog is capable of, and how to achieve the same results. Since dogs have a pack mentality, it is not stressful to have a skilled trainer communicate to the dog what the owner is not quite getting. This hands on approach benefits the dog and the owner.


    • Hi Jean, Sure, your first comment is valid; some owners do appreciate seeing their dog handled by the trainer, a point that I made in the essay. However, regardless of whether or not one agrees with the existence of “pack mentality”, I am not sure how having such a “mentality” (if it exists) leads to a statement that dogs are never stressed when handled by an unfamiliar person. Indeed, this study suggests the opposite – that dogs are stressed by unfamiliarity, react differently to unfamiliar versus familiar people, and generally prefer their owner, especially when in potentially stressful settings. Regardless, the point of the study was to ask what the preferences of the dogs may be and since the results suggest that dogs prefer their owners and use their owners as a secure base, one might consider that some dogs, some of the time, may prefer to stay with their owner and not be used as a demo dog. No absolutes here – just something to consider, that’s all.

      Liked by 1 person

    • The trouble is that this rarely work. I had another Instructor who took my dog to show me how to get him to heel ‘briskly’,. Alright for her but when I got him back he decided he would just lie flat on the ground, So following said instructor’s ‘advice’ I just continued running, dragging the poor dog behind me. Sent the instructor off her head — But I peeled off, and dog and I want back to our car, He was happy and that was last class he ever went to.
      So NO, instructor need to find out WHAT the handler is having a problem, I suspect in Ghenghis’ case it was bad hips,


  6. Hello Linda! You’ve got a very compelling article here. I maybe called a control freak once in a while but I don’t mind. I don’t let strangers tell my dogs any commands. It might confuse my dogs that all strangers can be their masters and I don’t want that to happen. Thanks for sharing!


    Liked by 1 person

    • I have just one problem with this.

      And that is, what will happen to your dog IF he/she gets lost? Or you die?

      There was a sad story I heard here of a man who Schutzhund trained his own dog, and to ONLY work with HIS commands. When the man had a heart attack, they had to shoot the dog for the ambulance to get to the man.

      I have also seen the behaviours which get dogs an automtic destruction order if they end up at the pound. So yes, I train my dogs using standard ‘cues’ (commands) so htat they CAN be handled by other people.

      That doesn’t mean that I allow anyone or everyone to handle my dogs, but my current serious worry is one of my current dogs who will NOT work with others 😦


  7. Thanks very much for this article! I have been looking into this recently as I have some friends who opted for “in board training” at their dog boarding facility while they were out of town. They left the dog for 10 days and while they were gone paid to have the dog trained, expecting to come home to a perfectly trained dog. As you might imagine in this scenerio it did not end exactly as they were hoping. While different than a trainer taking a dog to demonstrate, it still speaks to the issue of having your dog trained to listen to someone who, until they met on the first day of training, they do not have an established relationship with.

    Would like to link to this article in my own blog if you don’t mind.


    • Hi Stacey – Thanks for your note – I am glad that you liked the article and found it helpful! You are more than welcome to include a link to it on your blog (BTW – What is the name/address of your blog? I would love to follow it!). Best, Linda


  8. Reblogged this on Furry Sidekicks and commented:
    This is an interesting post…while our puppy kindergarten trainer didn’t use our dog for demo purposes for the whole class she did take the leash from us to show us how to get our dog to heel “properly”. Yanking someone’s dog around in order to “teach” them seems a bit backward not to mention not fun for the dogs.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great article! I also hate those random people who keep barking commands at my dog. First of all, my dog is very moody. Even I cannot make him follow at times! I do not want anyone to get harmed in public, and shouting commands to his face is not helping at all! – Maria

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Very interesting!
    I remember back when we were in classes with Moses and Alma – I was always happy to let them be the demo dog. First, they’re both confident enough to be okay being handled by a stranger – the trainers were always good about picking well-socialized dogs for demos. Second, I think sometimes helps to see a student dog – or your dog – perform. Some people just have that need-to-see-it-to-believe-it mental block. People really frustrated with their dogs often come to class with a lot of “I can’ts” or “he’ll never” attitudes. It’s nice to see those broken down. Also, they’d take dogs (with consent) when a client is overwhelmed – this is just good for the client (and the dog, probably) to get a little breather and calm some frustrations. Dog training is for and about the dogs, but client perceptions and attitudes are the bulk of the success rate. If there’s an easy going dog to demo with and it benefits clients, I say it’s a useful thing to show.

    And I don’t like demos with instructor dogs. I mean, they’re a nice ‘you could be here someday’ example, but that really is just showing off.

    BUT, your points are all 100% and I agree completely – dog selection has to be informed; not all dogs should be demo dogs. And all demos should come with the caveat that the trainer is well practiced and has no history with the dog, so students aren’t intimidated or frustrated when their dog doesn’t perform as well for them.


  11. One thing that wasn’t mentioned that annoys me is the “dog trainer magic” effect. In my experience, people don’t seem to respond as though the instructor is deliberately grandstanding or showing off, but a few seem to get frustrated and/or disappointed that the trainer is doing a better job than they are and making it look so easy. However, instead of attributing it to the fact that this is their profession and they’ve spent years studying and practicing, it’s “oh, this person’s some natural ~dog whisperer~” and they give up on improving their own skills.


  12. Excellent comments from Eileenanddogs and Rise VanFleet. My main issue with the rather broad statement that we shouldn’t borrow dogs is that using a class dog to demo a new behavior is not analogous to asking a dog to perform a learned cue. Generally in a class setting when we use a dog as a demo dog, we’re building a new behavior and (at least operating from the perspective of someone who is using reward-based training) you move through shaping, luring, etc. the behavior at the dog’s pace and throughout the process the dog is getting rewarded frequently. I also feel demoing with a dog that doesn’t already know the behavior goes a long way toward helping the owners understand how to teach their own dogs. And my experience is that owners are almost across the board thrilled to have the instructor use their dog as a demo dog. Usually when I or another instructor says “Do you mind if I borrow your dog to demo this” the owner says, “Yes please!” with much enthusiasm. Obviously that doesn’t speak to how the dog feels and I do think there’s a good message here to consider whether the dog is showing signs of stress and to not use that dog (and explain why so the owner doesn’t feel slighted) or accommodate the dog by staying close to the owner for instance, but in general my experience is that the dogs are often thrilled to learn a behavior from someone who communicates clearly with them and paces the training so that they are set up to be successful (which is often not as true of their less skilled owner).
    Working with a dog when the owners are practicing teaching their dog the behavior is a separate issue. This to me provides more opportunity for showboating and for owners to be left feeling inadequate or embarrassed so I think it’s important to gauge how the owner feels about you stepping in. Again, my experience is that often the owner is happy to have you just get the behavior for them and then it’s easier for them to move forward with getting the dog to do it for them, but I have certainly also worked with students who would prefer to just work with their dogs themselves. Some students also learn better by watching you elicit the behavior, while others really need to be coached step by step, sometimes even while the dog just sits to the side so the owner can get the physical cuing down themselves.
    Bottom line – there are various factors and it’s worth considering each and every time we want to borrow a dog whether it’s in the best interest of the dog, the dog’s owners and the rest of the students, but for me personally I can’t imagine teaching a class where I never demo the techniques using a dog that doesn’t already know the behavior.


  13. Very interesting article. It seems second nature for me to use a class dog for a demo and this article opened my eyes to some potential problems. The times I have done it usually fall into one of two catagories – either to demonstrate a new lesson or to intervene if there are issues between dog and owner (the owner is getting very frustrated by the dogs behavior or lack thereof). In the latter, I want to try to make sure both dog and owner are having a positive experience and maintain a good relationship with each other. I like the idea of using an “invisible” dog to demonstrate instead.


    • I find that a lot of handlers struggle to follow what I am doing with an invisible dog – they can’t see what I am doing in relation to the dog. It is very handy for a quick reminder though.

      I had one class where none of them could resist the temptation to just drag their dog around on the end of a short tight lead all the time – so I tied a brick to the end of a lead and showed them that my brick could do everything that they were teaching their dogs to do.


      • >so I tied a brick to the end of a lead and showed them that my brick could do everything that they were teaching their dogs to do.>

        Now THAT demo is one I really like!!!!! I will bear it in mind and pass-it-on 🙂 Thank you 🙂


    • Hi Chris,
      Have you ever tried to use a human as the demo dog? Sometimes this can work very well. (Works especially well to demonstrate WHY one shouldn’t fumble-fumble-fumble with the primary reinforcer.)

      Other than that I have seen people using “stuffed dogs” as models.

      After initially doing this, I no longer ever use my own dog to demonstrate. My own dogs are ‘trained’ so respond fluently and so nothing is demonstrated to the owner. As well as this, if your own dog is present them you can give neither it or your students the attention they need,


  14. In many cases the trainer will choose one of the dogs that have participated in the class for a while and has performed well throughout the class. In this case they are usually demonstrating for the owner, not the dog. A lot of the fault falls on the performance of the owner on why the dog might not be necessarily obeying the command.


  15. As always, I enjoyed your blog. Even when I might take issue with a few points here and there, I appreciate your thoughtful writing and ability to share information about the research. I do agree very much with your central point that the dog’s feelings about demos should be taken into account just as much as the humans’ feelings. It’s an important reminder that we need to be thinking about the dogs’ perspectives in everything we do as trainers or behavior consultants.

    I think that this issue isn’t really a yea or nay one, though, as you and others have noted in the comments. Here are some of my own thoughts… First, I think that a testing situation most likely would be a very different social situation than a class or home consult would be. With testing, the dog might be removed but without fanfare, in order to keep the protocol “clean,” so to speak (I haven’t read the original study, so not sure of this particular one). A demo within class or at home would/should have other components to it that would help dogs feel at ease. I’m just not sure that this study of a testing situation can really be generalized very much into training situations.

    As long as the dog’s point of view and feelings are considered, then I think such a demo can work beautifully for several reasons and with some clear caveats. The way I use demos, I don’t actually remove the dogs from their family – I simply do the demo right there with the family. The leash might get handed over (in the home setting, we often don’t have the dog on leash), but the family is still present and nearby. Second, a dog should not be used for a demo of any training if the dog is uncomfortable as indicated in body language (either before or as you approach the demo). In this case, the “demo” would be of how to be respectful of the dog’s point of view – how to watch body language and then respond in kind. To me, that’s actually a demonstration of empathy for the dog, and perhaps one of the most important demonstrations a trainer could make. I would also be explaining to the family or the class why i was making the decisions I was making as well. Almost always, I demonstrate and want clients, including children, to learn how to meet and greet dogs safely and respectfully, so my first interaction with any dog would also include a demonstration of this. I wouldn’t take a dog cold and just start doing a demo. I think that’s one area where this would differ from a testing situation.

    Third,demonstrations can be an extremely effective learning process for people. They need not be show-off, and I think one’s voice intonation and demeanor make all the difference (regardless of whether you are using client dogs or your own). A friendly, matter-of-fact approach that is clearly about demonstrating a skill can be very helpful. Clients get to see how their dog responds, and then they should immediately get a chance to try the behavior themselves (with ample praise for the things they do well, and “corrections” made in the form of what they could do to improve, not what they are doing wrong). Modeling (part of social learning theory) is a powerful tool for human learning. I know I learn much better seeing a model first, and then trying and getting feedback. The advantage of using client dogs for a demo is that clients can see exactly how the dog responds – and that is part of the learning process for them, too– knowing what to expect. I usually find this more of a motivator than not – they watch me and then as the lightbulbs go on, they want to try it themselves.

    Demos should be short and pleasant, with immediate skills practice afterward. That would also reduce potential stress on the dogs. But at any time a dog is fearful or distressed about my approach, I simply would back off, cancel my plans to demo with that dog, and illustrate what that dog needs at that moment under those circumstances. That’s part of the learning process, too. As with most things related to dog training, it’s more complex than we might like, with many considerations. Thanks for reminding us that the dog’s point of view is critically important as we make decisions about such things as demos!


  16. I train service dogs for a living and use one myself, so I have MANY reasons why my dogs must be able to respond to a perfect stranger and with confidence leave with one. If I am incapacitated the EMTs or police need to be able to harness, leash and walk my dog to the ambulance or patrol car for travel – end of statement.

    For any pet owner, a dog who cannot respond to a verbal or physical cue to come to them is in danger. I can’t tell you how many dogs I’ve seen that can’t come to me when I am calling them using basic puppy puppy call, tongue clicks or other non-name calls. These dogs have been on freeways, busy streets and in serious physical danger, and because they weren’t taught a solid recall, were not taught strangers can be safe people and were not secure with people approaching them remained in danger. My dogs, if loose by some freak accident, can and have been called to them by perfect strangers and caught up without placing themselves in further risk. This behavior of trusting a stranger wouldn’t harm them began in puppy class where they were selected for a 2 to 3 minute demo with the trainer.

    Personally, I find that a confident dog who can and does willingly go with a trusted adult stranger as a puppy gains a new level of socialization. A shy or fearful pup who sees the big stranger in the room didn’t harm the other puppy learns that the stranger wasn’t as scary as they thought. I have seen those shy puppies, who were not selected as demo puppies, start to move to the trainer because the fun is happening with them and they’ve seen the other puppies were not harmed and therefore gained a new level of personal confidence.

    Not all puppies can be used as a demo, true, but I find it beneficial for basic socialization, helping the puppies learn to approach strangers of they accidently do get free and for those of us as owner-trainers for service dogs the first lesson toward a working career where they may need to allow a perfect stranger walk them to a transport vehicle.

    I’ve also seen each of those demo puppies get more excited and happy to be selected again for a new demo, so have not witnessed undue stress or anxiety by the practice at our training center.

    Just my opinion, for what it is worth.


  17. The part I was interested in, both from your remarks and the study, was the issue of other people giving cues. I practice Sue Ailsby’s training levels, and one of the key steps in most behaviors, especially beginning ones, is to teach your dog to take cues from a person new to them (in certain controlled situations–not willy nilly from the jerks who run up and say SIT SIT SIT!!).

    Whether one wants their dogs to respond to strangers or not, the issue to me has always been one of generalization. Other people say the words differently, even when they try not to, and have different voices, body language, etc. My dogs often go “huh?” when someone they are crazy about gives them a cue. So I wondered about the idea that the latency of response to cues from a stranger. And indeed the study says there was need for more research on the topic whether that was a social issue or had to do with differences in the cuing.

    I love it that you are being an advocate for the dog in the issue of whether a teacher should “borrow” a dog, and some folks above have spoken very sensitively about that I think. If we make latency one of our benchmarks, it seems that lack of latency _might_ indicate the dog was fine with it. And latency _might_ indicate that the dog was socially uncomfortable, or just hadn’t generalized yet. Nice big fat gray areas, eh? But wonderful things to keep in mind.

    Enjoyed your summary, as usual. This is a wonderful service you perform, discussing and “translating” studies like you do.


    • Hi Eileen, Love hearing from you! I had actually never thought of this in strict behaviorist terms (i.e. generalization), and would probably argue that, in this particular case (an instructor taking a student’s untrained dog to demonstrate), generalization would not really apply. Still, you make a good point, and one I need to mull on a bit, I think. The reason is that my gut reaction to this as a practice (having someone unknown to the dog give him/her a cue to test for generalization) is that it ignores relationships and the importance of owner/dog communication. This type of “reductionist science” is a rather common complaint about behaviorism when practiced “purely). The reason that I need to mull on it is that I know your training (it is excellent and always, always kind) and how you treat your dogs and am certain that you never ignore relationships or do anything in training to bring emotional harm to your dogs. So, I am a bit stuck. 🙂 I personally don’t like the idea of having someone who my dog does not know giving them commands, but perhaps this is just a personal bias of mine and we should leave it at that. However, my biases aside, I do think that as I said above, this type of practice may (unintentionally) promote a very reductionist view of the dog – i.e. as an instrument to be trained, that will then be expected to respond to anyone who correctly emits the proper cue. I know that you have a very strong and loving relationship with your dogs, so therein lies the conflict for me (and the need to mull….). So, please do not think that I am criticizing your relationship with your dog in any way – I am just not sure that I can say that the need to generalize a cue would trump the relationship side of the training, at least for my own dogs. Like that you make me think, Eileen! Hope others will chime in on this one!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think that, like everything else, it ‘depends’.

        I love seeing other people handing my dogs — once I have them trained. But only those of my dogs who can cope with it. Silly Sally freaks out if any one other than me touches her lead. I do not mind people asking Sal to sit and then offering her a treat provided we know them and they have asked first. I will never let anyone who uses leash ‘corrections’ or even ‘works on a tight leash, touch any of my dogs.

        I have had, in the bad old days, some very very unpleasant experiences with
        instructors who take your dog from you either to ‘show you how to do it’ or demonstrate.

        Yes Genghis did as the instructor asked (I think her was afraid) so she thrust him back to me with her ‘advice’ to ‘be insistent’. However he then immediately shut down completely — in that class. “I’m lying down, flat on my side and there is nothing you can do to make me get up”. (Well yes there was, when he realised I was returning to my car, he got up and came.)

        Or Little Old Sammy — the delightful and willing Kelpie. The Judge’ wanted to demonstrate to the other competitors in the trial she had just judged, and took Sam from me — without asking — just grabbed him. THEN proceeded to demonstrate on my gentle little dog, who was sitting obediently and quietly at heel beside her, how to give a ‘proper check’!!

        Or the instructor who tried to grab Kelly from me (after a run in with another dog) to ‘helicopter ‘ her.

        I have on occasions ‘worked’ with a client’s dog. But only when I find that person is struggling and becoming stressed. It can be a salutary experience when you discover the wretched dog takes no notice of you either. Usually even in these cases, I do not take the dog’s lead.
        Because, to me, the lead is NOT a training tool. It is just a ‘dead man’s brake’. Or something to teach your dog to walk on so that you can take him/her out in public places


    • Eileen, working with many scared dogs I suspect response latency is more a function of anxiety and not really generalization. Which may come down to how well your dog accepts strangers and others. And of course that can work either direction, such as reducing latency and more immediately performing a familiar learned behavior to reduce anxiety.

      For a confident and social dog, I find that mine will often look at or sniff the stranger before deciding if he wants to respond. I see the generalization as perhaps more relative to the training approach, as my dog was trained to accept multiple common verbal and hand signals for common commands.

      Now, your comment on “…certain controlled situations” does put another variable into this, and I have to wonder on your criteria there.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I think the key here is humility. People know when you’re showing off (either with your own dog or with theirs). I like to demonstrate in class first with my own dog and then give everyone a chance to do the technique with their own dogs. I only offer assistance if:

    1) They are clearly struggling
    2) They genuinely want me to step in and demonstrate with their dog
    3) I know their dog likes me and is comfortable with me (I never handle a dog showing any sighs of stress, even if the owners ask me to)

    I always explain exactly what I’m doing and why it’s important as I’m doing it. As soon as the dog starts to get the idea from me, I give it right back to the owners and let them try what I just did. The goal is to have the dog’s leash in my hand for as short a time as possible. Standing in the middle of the class with their dog talking is just rude and uncomfortable for everyone, especially the dog.

    I’m also a big fan of doing an exercise WITH the dog and handler. That is, they have their dog, and I stand next to them and guide them step by step through the technique. This seems to be the most effective because they literally follow my lead without relinquishing their dog to me, and I can offer advice right in the moment as they’re working with their dog.

    Also, people learn best when they do it themselves! The better you are at explaining a technique so the handlers can do it on their own without your assistance, the more effective you’ll be as a trainer. It’s more about teaching people than it is about teaching dogs.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I would certainly never just grab a dog from the class and use it as a demo model without knowing the dog’s likely reaction, and of course asking the owners permission – that’s just common good manners.

    Nevertheless, it can sometimes be an advantage to demonstrate with an untrained dog (which would not be likely to belong to the instructor), because it allows the class to see the process that they are about to embark on. A trained dog does not need the guidance and encouragement that the beginners are going to need to apply – its butt is on the grass at the first s of ssitt !.

    Some beginners readily convince themselves that the instructor’s trained dog has some special talent that their own dogs lack, which gives them low expectations about what their own dog can do. Showing them that their dog can also “get it” gives them positive expectations that the dog soon picks up on.

    Of all the ways that other people interact with my dogs, the one that drives me crazy the most is when I call my dog, and other people join in with a chorus of comes, here doggies, calling its name etc etc. Do they really think that they are helping, or what ?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Peter – Agree on all. (See my response to Pennies above). And, I would bet that there are many owners who would echo exactly what you are saying – that seeing an untrained dog learn something is helpful to them. My issue will be and continues to be, a concern for the tendency of this practice to objectify a dog and possibly to ignore the dogs individual needs. (Again, not saying at all that you do this – it is just my personal concern and so is why I think this paper was so interesting in that it provided some insight into the dog’s side of things). And, your last point about the annoying chorus of “Comes” from near-by helpers…….with ya all the way on that one! 🙂 Thanks for the thoughtful comments!

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Linda, you’re awesome! What a clear, concise summary of a great study. Thank you for all you do. I now have “Linda Case” file in my documents folder to keep all your articles. 🙂


  21. Great article. I also train horses and always try not to get on to show students “what they are doing wrong” I find it offensive and grandstanding but sometimes the riders are pleased to see me struggling to teach their horse the same concepts too-and often they like to see how the horse is doing from their viewpoint on the ground and get a better idea of why things are hard for their horse. So sometimes it can be very useful for them.
    I know this is about dogs, so when teaching people and their dogs I take the same approach-that it is offensive to “show off” but sometimes I have a new concept that I can’t quite explain without borrowing a dog, so sometimes it is unavoidable, but I always ask if I can borrow the dog to do a demo, as I don’t often have one of my dogs with me.
    But yes HATE people asking my dogs to do things like trick cyclists when I am out and about-they are on their free time, and not beholden to people to perform on cue. (I have greyhounds though so very often they can’t sit and give paws anyway-and I certainly don’t think it is a necessary life skill).
    I love your articles!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi “Pennies” – Very well put! And I agree completely. (The ambiguous nature of this practice is why I included the early disclaimer in the blog about my opinion not being strong on this one….and goodness knows, I have been known to put forward some strong opines now and again…. 🙂 ). I do think that many instructors can do this and do it well, but I also think taking someone’s dog from them should not be a general practice (with which I think you agree). And, this is not because I think it is not useful (it can be), but more because I think handing off dogs to different people can unintentionally promote an instrumental view of a dog as something to be commanded/trained/controlled, rather than as an individual being who has a unique relationship with his/her owner. I am not implying that you, or any of the other very thoughtful people who have commented, do this at all. I am just saying that this is why I am not comfortable with instructors taking their student’s dogs as a regular and accepted practice. Thanks for posting and reading – I am glad that this blog has stimulated some great discussions! Linda

      Liked by 3 people

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