I titled this post "Picking a good IPO Club" because I would like to share my own experience and give some tips on finding a good club.
After this last trial in October I was feeling really down. We had a really bad training experience prior to the trial and then the trial itself was just an absolute mess. The judge barely passed us, I think he passed us because he knew that we were new and wanted to support us. I appreciate that but I don't feel like we earned our title at all.
I have been in an IPO club for a year. I waited three years training only in protection to join this club. The reason I wanted to join this particular club is that I know the people who run it and I thought it was going to be a really good opportunity. I did not know how the club was run. I do have experience with IPO clubs, I have worked with two in the past.
My general thoughts on how an IPO club is run based off of my prior experience:
- Tracking: everyone lays a track. If you are new a trainer or club member will help you lay your track. Depending on the dogs the tracks will age and then each member will track their dog one at a time, the rest of the club can watch from a distance but most club members choose to follow the person tracking because you can learn a lot watching other dogs track/watching how other people handle their dogs.
- Obedience: Everyone works their dog one at a time. One dog goes on a long down while another dog works OB, the training director of the club helps with OB, or another member of the club helps with OB. You work on whatever you need to work on.
- Protection: Everyone works their dog one at a time, there may or may not be a training director helping with protection - depends on the experience level of the helper.
So given the above you can understand what I was expecting from the club I was joining. Unfortunately the club I joined had no organization whatsoever. Everyone lays their track, lets it age, and tracks their dog with or without other people watching and then they leave! In obedience, one dog went on a down, another dog worked. There was no trainer available for help. Every week I watched people do the same thing - heeling patterns ending with retrieves. I myself even did the same thing because I was just doing what everyone else was doing. As the year progressed one member did stand up to try to help the rest of us out. She is not a dog trainer but she has an IPO 3 dog and was willing to watch [those of us who wanted her to] us track and even helped some on our obedience. We did not do protection most of the year because our helper was unreliable. The helper thing is a major party foul but I was okay with it because we were getting private protection lessons so it didn't really effect us.
Anyway, when we had this really awful training experience before our trial I was wanting to completely give up. I talked to a few friends who meant well, but they said that maybe my dog was only a club trial/at home field dog, that maybe that is just what we would have to do. I get that, I was starting to believe that myself, but that is not what I want. That isn't the kind of dog I want to have. I am not unrealistic about my dog. I know we aren't going to show at regional/national/championship level, I am fine with that. However, I am not okay with only being able to trial at home because that is where my dog is most comfortable. When I talked this over with a fellow IPO friend who was in another club she offered me so much more than "I guess you'll have to settle." Instead, my friend told me that maybe we just needed more experience, she told me that my dog would likely improve as he gained more experience and that he might not be perfect but that in our club we were not getting the experience that we needed. Another friend weighed in pointing out that another club would have either a.) told me right away my dog wasn't cut out for this or b.) would likely have helped to give us more experience so my dog would be better prepared. I liked these answers a lot better than "I guess you just have to deal."
So, that being said, I made an executive decision and quit the IPO club I was in. It was a hard thing to do because I didn't want anyone to take it personally. I have nothing against anyone in the club but the club is just not a helpful or educational environment to be in.
I thought I would share some things to think about and look for when choosing an IPO club, obviously I did not really know what I was signing up for when I joined the first club. I think these things can be applied to any sort of dog club or group training situation, hopefully this is helpful.
- Is the club competitive? Initially I thought I did not want to be in a very competitive club because I didn't want to be pressured, but if no one in the club is striving towards bettering themselves then you can expect you probably will not be receiving much help.
- Is there an active training director? Again, in the beginning it was nice not having someone on the training field telling me everything I was doing wrong. Unfortunately, without someone watching us we cannot grow and improve.
- What sort of training methods does the club use? I think this is a very important one for IPO. There are some very heavy handed people in this sport and if you are looking for PR only training it can be really hard to find. It's a good idea to feel out the training director and other members to see if they train in a way you would be okay training.
- Do the other club members appear to be successful? It's important to look at the people who will be your fellow club members, do they look like they are having a good time? Do they have goals? Are they actively trying to train their dogs?
- Does the club have meetings? Does the club vote things in? If you are actually joining a club it is important to learn how it runs as a club. The first club I joined never had a single meeting and because of it we missed out on hosting a fall trial. They also made a big deal about membership, "you are here because we want you here" and then they[the powers that be?] randomly allowed new people to join without asking for input. Which wouldn't be such a big deal if the club had an active training director.
- Ask to come to training a few times. This allows you to see how the club is run every week and allows you to see how the members interact and train. Most clubs should allow you to do this before joining, in fact, they should encourage it to see if they even want you joining their club.
I am very anxious and hopeful to see where things go with Seppel and I. I hope to take him as far as he can go in the sport and I feel very fortunate that if I get another dog [not any time soon!] this club will be great support in helping me raise my first bred-for-the-sport IPO dog.