Saturday, August 6, 2011

Local 4-H Dog Show

"My" 4-H kids showed today at our area fair.  We only had four kids (one dropped early in the year, another decided not to show at fair).   1 in obedience, 3 in rally, 4 in showmanship, 3 in "dog care."   Some of the judging was ... different ... than expected, but they all did well, each placed in at least one class and some of them did exceptionally well.

Most interesting, were some parent comments.  Our club is strictly a positive reinforcement type training group.  Most others in 4-H are not...    Our parents are not used to seeing dogs get corrected and some were quite amazed/distress by the way kids were treating dogs.

And they have a I said in a recent email exchange with a dog person...   "It's one thing to be using punishment, even doing it properly. It's another thing to be teaching kids to use punishment and to refine their technique."

Because...when it comes down to it, most of the people teaching 4-H classes are dog enthusiasts, not dog professionals. Many are parents who were thrown into the role.  Most don't have any sort of formal training or enthusiasm for continued education.  They're doing what they've always been doing, and for the most part, it works well enough.

I would argue, however, that it's not necessarily what we want kids to be learning.  We don't want kids to think about getting compliance through force.  We do want them thinking about how to motivate others (humans, dogs, etc!). We want our kids to have empathy for their learner ("He doesn't understand, let's make it easier"), not put inappropriate labels to the actions ("He is stubborn. He knows that we're at a show and he can get away with it.").   We want our kids to be good at problem solving and come up with many possible ways to get a behavior.

Not to mention we don't want the kids getting bit, escalating the force used, or being reinforced for the use of punishment ("It worked...I'll just pull on his collar next time!").

I've talked to quite a few people who don't like judging 4-H.  They say it's too hard, the kids are too unprepared, that the kids don't know what to do in the ring.  It's a very different event from other types of judging and for those who can remember the differences and for those that like working with kids, it can be a very good experience.

Now off to make a few notes in my file for next year....

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