What is a handler? Most of my clients could tell you.That is how I refer to them when they have been training with me for some time, largely out of respect for their new role, and commitment with their dog.
A handler is a coach, trainer, manager, or supervisor. If you have a dog, and choose to learn more, do more, and see ownership as a relationship in motion, you raise the bar for yourself, and in fact fulfill all of these roles.
What sets a handler apart from a person who owns a dog? It is so varied. And this is where I would like to open up this discussion. I believe if dog owners knew more, they could do more. And it really isn’t about sit, down, stay or come. It’s moving to the next level of understanding.
One of the aspects of being involved in the canine working/sporting world, is getting to observe, listen, and discuss dogs, at great lengths, with other handlers. Learning about dogs in theory, and critical thinking is important, especially in my world as a trainer. But in all honesty, if you aren’t getting the field experience, and you’re not involved in the larger dog world, it isn’t going to help much.
So I am starting a list that describes a great handler. What would set them apart from a dog owner? I would like this to be kind, educational, and hopefully inspiring to a dog owner and beyond. Please post your responses on this blog (not FB or private e-mail please) that way someone can read it in it’s entirety.
Learn as much as possible, have fun, do more! The list beings…
- A handler buys videos and books on various dog topics. From disc dog training to behavioral concerns. Always curious, and always wanting to learn more.
- Working with their dog, not against their dog. Training is teaching and it takes both the handler and dog.
- Handlers involve themselves in the dog world to some degree.
- A great handler knows they have much to learn, and every dog will teach them something new.
- Handlers learn about behavior, they rarely take advice from the dog park. Attending conferences, reading books, watching videos, etc. With on line conferences it has become even easier!
- A handler understands their responsibility with their dog. At home, on a trail, in public, at an event, etc. They know they are their dogs advocate, their voice in the human world, and the go to person with anything concerning their dog.
- A handler understands that there is more to life than a dog park, and a dog park may simply not be the right place for their dog anyway.
- A handler understands rewards, how they vary, the value, and how to use them appropriately.
- A handler knows they have entered a partnership, a team, and relationship. Most handlers take the good with the bad, and work together to move forward.
- A handler understands space, when to give space, or when to take space. Space is critical in trust, appropriate social cues, advanced training, sports, and just plain good manners. The more skilled the handler the more accurate response to space without conflict or caution.
- A handler has amazing timing. Marking, capturing or shaping a behavior requires skilled timing.
- A handler does not distract easily. When a handler is working with their dog their attention is on the task at hand. They tend not to drift, think of other things, or watch the larger environment. They understand if they want their dogs attention, they must be willing to give the same. Their dog is the focus, everything else is scenery.
- A handler practices skills all of the time. Always learning, always challenging themselves as their dogs handler.