This weekend, I took Grace to an agility event called “Show and Go.” It’s a mock competition – designed as a way to introduce handlers and dogs to a competitive experience without being judged. We were in a new, outdoor area, with different equipment, surrounded by more people, lots of dogs. My goal was to introduce Grace to a fresh experience, not to seriously prepare for competition.
The event started with a general briefing given by two of the organizers from the hosting organization, CATS [Canine Agility Training Society, Inc]. The logistics of the day were shared and some of the announcements were topics that were so obvious that you could argue that they didn’t be to be stated.
For example, one of the topics was to let all attendees know that it’s your responsibility to clean up after dog. It was more than a passing comment; the importance and reasons were stressed in a playful, humorous manner. There were details about where the bags were located if you didn’t have any—no excuses, in other words! I can guarantee you that every person there already knew this. Yet, it was so wise to make it explicit. Everyone heard the same message. Every now knew the ground rules. Everyone knew everyone else heard it. There was going to be no way that any dog owner would have not cleaned up after that hearing that message. Establishing boundaries and expectations for behavior is the best way to ensure compliance and it was brilliant to state the obvious. No questions. No problems.
Often I’ll hear a manager say: “They should already know that.” Yes. Probably true. But sometimes opportunities present themselves to state the obvious, so take advantage of it! It’s always easier to support than to reprimand.
Another item announced during the opening session was a statement from the judge (who was technically a judge that would have kept the scoring in an official event, but on this day, she was there to support and guide as needed), who clearly stated that all interactions between the handler and the dog were to be based on positive reinforcement. Anyone that was punitive with their dog would be addressed, she said.
I’ve never been harsh with Grace and I imagine that most, if not all, others also were the kind of handlers that tended to gush over their dog versus scold them if they made a mistake on the course. But it immediately spoke volumes to me about the core philosophy of the group, it gave me a sense of their priorities and what’s important to them. Being positive with Grace was obvious to me, so what was the point in saying it? There was a very important point in putting it up front and center for everyone: It set a tenor for the day—a constructive, positive and valuable tone, giving us all a common base for how to conduct ourselves.
This type of communication isn’t just helpful in corralling a group of dog handlers. This is good practice at company informational meetings, department gatherings, project teams, and one-on-one conversations between managers and employees. Be clear about what you expect and you exponentially increase your odds of achieving it.
There were other things that happened that day that weren’t so obvious to me. My next post will share those revelations!