“As we prepare to drive to Parham Park in Suffolk to spend a weekend with Countryman Fairs, it crossed my mind that I might share some of the thoughts and considerations that a country show demonstrator should consider before taking to the stage.
As dog trainers, we are in our element when in a quiet corner of our favourite training ground. Classroom choice is essential if we are to maximise the learning, too many distractions and the dog will loose concentration. Not enough to challenge the eager pupil and once again, he will loose concentration. But you know that; it’s bread and butter stuff for us and we always ensure that we choose the correct environment in which to train!
That’s easy then; right up until some bright spark asks you to give a dog training demonstration at the village fete. Crikey, that’s going to be tricky; a public address system, speakers in all four corners of your arena (probably a bit optimistic for a village fete but if you don’t ask, you don’t get), loose children, loose dogs, loose cattle, sheep and pigs and if I’m really lucky loose women (that last one was really just for me)!
Now we have started the list of hazards and distractions, we had better do a proper job and do the demonstrator’s equivalent of a risk assessment. Best to ask for a hands free microphone, you know the type - it makes you feel like Madonna. No matter how many requests, telephone calls and post it notes that you offer the organiser, the PA system will be your biggest distraction. “I’m fairly sure that John has arranged a hands free mike,” is fete organiser speak for, “I’ve got far more important things to organise than your microphone, young man.” I was once given a handheld megaphone to deliver a demonstration in an outdoor arena the size of a football pitch. It goes without saying that the demo really relied on the visual performance and it was not our best.
Feedback, batteries giving up, power cuts, a wireless free headset with a range of ten feet and of course the hands free mike that is connected by a cable to its box of tricks. Marvellous, and all we’ve done so far is turn on the blooming sound system.
No matter how good a dog trainer you are at home, to walk, talk, organise and maintain control of a team of dogs while in an arena the size of postage stamp means there’s a need for you to be on form once you make your entrance.
By the way, making an entrance is not always as easy as you’d think. The world and his wife are desperate to talk to, stroke and feed ice creams and beef burgers to the canine demo team as you force your way through the aisles towards the arena.
Finally you arrive, but there isn’t a gate on the side you arrive. No problem, lift the dogs over; Apollo first and he waits like a gentleman, Henry next but he takes the opportunity while you’re busy to shoot off around the arena, Otter hates being lifted up (he thinks he’s at the vets), and by the time you get the sixth dog over, your microphone has got tangled up in Jasper’s great long legs and ripped out the jack plug.
No worries, at least we are in the arena now; regroup, remain calm and encourage Henry back from the other side of the arena. Now for your big moment; rather disappointingly the arena commentator introduces you either by the wrong name or occasionally as a falconry display. Cut the man some slack, nobody told him they’d rearranged the arena programme. The great news is that from here on in you are now master of your own destiny, you’ve made it into the arena nothing else can go wrong and you’ve spent weeks practicing this demo.
Horse muck and fox hounds in the arena at some point before you are the small detail you had overlooked, pardon the phrase but you are now right ‘in the s--t.’ The lure of a tasty mouthful of horse muck or the slightest whiff of the fox hound bitch that was on heat very quickly start to show the cracks in any training regime and that heelwork demo just does not look as impressive with your star dog’s nose glued to the ground while you whine out a commentary of excuses.
Get it right and you’ll get a real buzz from that much deserved applause. Get it wrong and believe me the audience will remember you forever, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.”