Just back from a weekend of teaching, and as always I feel so fortunate and privileged to have been asked.
However this weekend was a bit unique.
See the club I was asked to teach for, was Lichfield Dog Training Club.
For those that don’t partake in competitive Obedience, you may not be aware of ‘who’ Lichfield club is…. so let me give you a little insight into why this was such a privilege.
Quite simply put, Lichfield would be to dog training what Motown would be to music.
A club steeped in history and accolade, they probably hold the British record for the number of Obedience Champions, Ticket winners, Crufts judges and Crufts winners, within the dog sport of competition obedience. Thats some résumé.
I suspect the only club with a record to rival Lichfield would be the infamous South London DTC. If Lichfield was Motown, South London was Arista records. It was truly an honour to share the same space of so many greats, before me.
You can tell I’m somewhat of an obedience anorak and make no apologies for that. I have trawled the internet, magazines and wider publications educating myself on the history of the sport. In doing so, I have a huge respect and understanding for those that came before me (the Lichfield patrons for example), but I also can see turning points in the sports history.
Knowing the history of your sport is a worthwhile endeavour, as it is where the roots and foundation on which you now stand, are laid.
It is a balance between looking back and moving forward, and knowing the path we’ve worn will tell us the route to take.
Whilst teaching, I am often entertained and dined, and this was no exception. It was a chance to take a trip down memory lane and reminisce about years gone by, to break bread with people I wouldn’t usually have the chance to do so with.
Having been involved in training dogs for nearly 30yrs, there was quite a lot to talk about!
The conversation prompted this blog and many thoughts relating to the past and present. And in fact ‘our’ sport as a whole.
I make no secret of being passionate about all things ‘dog’, and sports are top of that list, and specifically competitive Obedience. Its been a part of my life for more years then not.
Obedience can get bad press, for being ‘boring’ or ‘serious’, but for those that partake in it, it the canine equivalent of dressage. I appreciate that it may be an acquired taste, however it is anything but boring when done well.
The contrast between intricate precise movements and exuberance and energy, are what make the sport both challenging and appealing.
I have partaken in it for all of my career and I still find the sight of seeing a ‘team’ working in total unison, a thing of absolute beauty and joy.
Often dog related matters, certainly within sports, can cause a tribal mentality to methods, views and perspectives, diet, equipment and all that relates. This is not unique to dogs, but a trait of human nature. We only have to look to politics to see this in full glory.
We draw lines in the sand, pistol at dawn, loaded and ready to be fires.
To me it is an asset that we have diversity and a broad range of opinions. It makes it interesting and topical.
However, the irony is that we have more in common then differences. This is the ultimate human story. We are far more alike than different.
Our conversation was a group of people, who may differ on some views, but our commonality is that we all are deeply passionate about the ‘game’. We want to see it prosper, it has given us all more then we could ever quantify.
The landscape of dog sports has greatly changed since many of us started, and the variety of activities available has had an adverse affect on obedience specifically. Obedience is a sport that requires a long term investment in contrast to other sports with more instant gratification. This reflects the world we live in now, where the changes in how we live mean that we are often conditioned to seek out instant solutions.
The infrastructure of clubs and classes primarily oriented to competitive dog sports has largely altered, people attend classes on a short term basis to complete a course for 8wks, with a certificate at the end. In years gone by, you worked your way up the relevant classes, and the ‘top’ class was a goal to aspire to.
You often had several key members who attended and contributed who were actively competing, which then influenced the classes, content and direction of methods. So the ‘bug’ was passed on.
However this is largely a rarity now. You may have clubs and societies that have some competitive entity, but this is becoming more and more uncommon.
Private trainers and groups serve this clientele.
This has often been a aspect to apportion ‘blame’ to…. and there may be some truth in it.
However seeking to place blame on a single factor will merely prevent us at looking at the greater picture.
Another factor is nurturing the new blood, and making the sport accessible and attainable.
The bottom line is that people want to have reinforcement. Just like our dogs, there has to be something in it for them.
Having a competition based on qualifying vs winning, at the preliminary levels would encourage people to persist.
Having a system where entry to shows was contingent on ‘giving’ back.
Having an annual inter-club competition, where members had to be ‘active’ within the club itself, would feed into the registered club system, provide help and support for shows and events.
Allow those that won a certain amount of ‘reserve’ championship certificates to qualify for our major championship would increase numbers and give supporters something to watch and a wider cross section of people, dogs and competitors.
These are just some of the ideas, that all came about from breaking bread. There were at least another dozen more.
However a large reason why the majority will never gain momentum, is the main contributing factor to the current issues we have.
Politics, misunderstanding and misconceptions. These are the greatest adversary of the sport succeeding and prospering. We could substitute ‘obedience’, for any dog sport, or fishing or knitting, or kayaking or…. well you get the idea.
We often second guess what our ‘opposition’ is thinking, yet we share more then which divides us.
Put down your sword, baton and guns… stop and listen. Be willing to do that much. You don’t have to agree, but you might hear your similarities. And there in lies prosperity and growth.