When I began working on this article, I asked the members from the Santa Cruz Dog Training Club (the team I participate with) what they valued about being part of a demo team. Their answers varied, but one universal theme rose from the group as a whole: Being part of the team was an incredible socialization opportunity for all of our dogs.
One important note: Not all of our dogs are the easygoing sort! Some have had trouble with other dogs, some with new people, and some with new environments. Working together has helped all of them relax and enjoy each other’s company, and it has also helped their social skills in other areas. A big element in this is simply the trust that developed from working with the group (or the “pack” as my teammates call it).
Cathy Leavitt says the best part for her Dutch Shepherd Lacey is socializing with her “pack.” “Seeing her expression when she arrives and sees the same dogs each week and gets to work with them tells it all,” says Leavitt.
Another member echoes her sentiment. “It has been great for Chloe to have a pack,” says Debra Seltzer of her American Eskimo Dog. “She is so much more comfortable around most dogs now out in the world.”
While a big part of the social-skill benefit is simply working around their teammates, the overall structure of the routines can help too. To help further the dogs’ comfort with each other and the bigger world, we have done some of the following:
-Paired dogs who are most comfortable with each other.
-Early on, we kept the same dogs next to each other throughout the routines.
-Gave a little extra space between teams (even a foot or two can make a big difference).
-Kept some very consistent elements in our routines and our movements to help build confidence.
Plus, we celebrate when our dogs anticipated the next part of the routine or did other things that showed their confidence was growing.
As time has gone on, and the dogs have grown more accustomed to working together, even our least confident dogs have blossomed and will now work comfortably with any of the other dogs in the group. In addition, when new dogs come into the group, the “core dogs” seem to show them the ropes and help them relax much more quickly. The confidence-building element of working as a team is evident.