Dog Trainer's Survey ~ Interpretation of Results

Friday, February 01, 2019 8:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

INTRODUCTION

During the week of November 12th through the 19th, 2018, Front & Finish presented a survey to the dog training community.  The survey was opened to gain insight into current exhibitor participation and feelings about recent changes affecting the sports of obedience and rally.  While information about a variety of registries was collected one primary focus of the study centered on the American Kennel Club.

A total of 1510 respondents completed the questionnaire, which was the largest response we have ever received in such a study.  Since some queries in the survey were dependent on responses to prior questions, the number of respondents answering some of the questions varied.  We also introduced some questions to help us integrity of the data.  Although surveys are not standardized assessments, larger sample sizes tend to offer more reliable information that those receiving little participation.  For a frame of reference we received 1285 completed questionnaires in 2014, 451 in 2009, 455 in 2007, and 430 in 2005.  We are very pleased with the response and wish to extend our gratitude to those who participated.

To review the specific statistics of each question, please visit http://bit.ly/2018FFDTS using your web browser.  My interpretation of the data follows.

DEMOGRAPHICS

A review of general demographic information shows that participation of women in the sport outnumber males by 94%.  A whopping 84% make up the body of participants over 50 years of age.  Sixty-seven percent are between the ages of 50 and 69.  Due to the body of individuals F&F serves it’s not surprising that 98% of respondents come from the United States, and the geographic distribution within was relatively equal.

Information pertaining to dogs owned suggests that 55% of respondents owned two dogs and 71% owned three.  Almost 16% of exhibitors have five or more dogs, although they may not (and likely don’t), actively compete with all of them.  Fifty-eight percent of the respondents currently compete with two or more dogs and about 39% are currently competing with one.  Most of the dogs in competition fall into the Sporting and Herding groups (Sporting Group 37% and Herding Group 41%).  Not surprisingly, most dogs are competing in AKC events by a substantial margin.  

Seventy percent of respondents estimate they spent $3000 or more on the upkeep of their dogs over the past year.  Thirty-six percent estimate they spent over $5000.  Considering entry fees expenditures over the past year 21% of respondents indicate they spent less than one thousand dollars.  Thirty percent report they spent one to two thousand, and 27% spent three to four thousand. 

A review of exhibitor experience as measured through the number of dogs trained to titles indicates that about 55% have trained four or more dogs to a CD,  34% trained four of more dogs to a CDX, and 18% trained four or more dogs to a UD or higher.  Approximately 7% of handlers have achieved a UDX on four or more dogs, and only 4% report obtaining and OTCh on four or more dogs.  On a positive note about 81% of exhibitors indicate they have achieved an OTCh on one dog.  Some of this doesn’t appear remarkable as it would be normal for fewer and fewer individuals to achieve higher and higher accomplishments.  What we find concerning is that fewer and fewer individuals appear to be earning basic obedience titles.  For example when considering those earning basic AKC CD titles, 45% of competitors have trained three of fewer dogs to a CD, and only 11% have obtained a CD on one dog.  We worry this supports the observations by many that Novice classes are negligible in size and there really aren’t many new exhibitors entering obedience.  It does not bode well for obedience when fewer new participants are entering the sport, and the majority of current exhibitors are growing older and leaving.  In short those leaving the sport are not being replaced by new competitors.

Dog Training Activities & Practices

As was suggested from demographic information, exhibitors report most of their participation is under the umbrella of American Kennel Club (AKC) events.  Approximately 35% participate in United Kennel Club (UKC) events and 18% report participation with Canadian Kennel Club (CKC).

Experience in obedience (as measured by number of years in the sport) reveals that 77% have  participated 10 or more years!  Only four percent indicate participation of one to two years.  Again, more evidence of declining newcomers to support the future of obedience.  

Comparing obedience to rally, similar but not as drastic trends are seen.  Here 53% of participants have been involved in rally six or more years, and about 13% report participation from one to two years.  Interestingly, our study suggests that rally participation seems to be more similar to agility.  In Agility, 14% have participated one to two years and approximately 40% have participated 6 or more years.

Dog trainers like to communicate about their needs and experiences.  Our survey indicates that 63% do so through social media (specifically Facebook).  Dog trainers don’t appear to be as receptive to Twitter with 68% not even having a Twitter account.

Geographically speaking most exhibitors have been able to find trials close to their homes.  Over the past year 57% say they have found trials as close as 25 miles and 23% have found trials within a 50 to 75 mile range of their homes.  As “die-hard exhibitors” are more likely to drive further distances we see that almost 22% were willing to travel 400 miles or further to show their dogs (during the past year).  Twenty-eight percent stuck to distances, 100 miles or less, and 23% traveled up to 200 miles.

Taking a look at those who are willing to chair a trial we see that about 35% have done so in the past.  A positive indicator for stewards is noted.  We see that 84% of respondents report volunteering as stewards.  It is roughly split 60% to 40% in favor of those who’ve held “non-stewarding” trial committee positions (trophy chair, judging panel committee, set-up, etc.), over those who haven’t.  We find these numbers encouraging, especially for a sport that relies on volunteers.  Kudos to all of you who’ve offered your services!

Regarding concerns for the sport a huge majority of exhibitors indicated that they would be interested in attending seminars to discuss obedience trends and topics.  

Information from our survey suggests that only 62% of trainers belong to an obedience training club that is affiliated with the AKC.  Within this group 44% consider themselves highly active members and 37% rank themselves as moderately active.  Taking into account all club affiliations, 43% of respondents estimate that the number of total club members in their organizations ranges from 26 to 75 individuals.  Nineteen percent report club membership from 100 to150.  Within these organizations approximately 40% of respondents estimate that 10 to 25 percent of members are active obedience and rally  participants.  Approximately 20% of respondents suggest there are less than 10% of members actively engaged in obedience and rally activities.

Considering club training activities, about 43% of respondents indicate they have instructed basic household obedience classes and about 52% have instructed basic to advanced obedience classes.  Only 24% of respondents indicate running rally training classes.

Our survey investigated participation in training with entities outside of the “club” paradigm.  Respondents indicated that about 12% own some sort of private training facility, 3.5% own a boarding establishment, and about 3% operate grooming services.  Responses suggest that 56% of handlers frequently participate in training lessons with private (non-club) instructors.  Most of these individuals appear to stick with one establishment (57%), and 46% of these individuals consider themselves highly active participants.  However, compared to club-based organizations, about half actually run private training classes ( Household Obedience 23%, Basic to Advanced Obedience 25%, and Basic to Advanced Rally 17%).  We feel this makes sense since independent organizations would be expected to operate from a centralized administration compared to clubs which would operate more according to parliamentary procedures.

Training frequency is always an interesting statistic and in this survey respondents report that 12% train two or more times per day, 36% train at least once a day, 40% train train three to four times per week, 10% train about once or twice per week, and about 1% train intermittently thought a given month.  We just had to ask…  about 10% of respondents report they have trained their dogs at PetSmart stores.

It’s not only frequency of training that’s important.  Time spent training in each session is also key.  About 1% report training 90 minutes or longer per session.  4% suggest training intervals of an hour to hour and a half.  The actual norm appear to be under an hour with 30% training 30 to 60 minutes and 66% training 30 minutes or less.

Handlers appear to strongly prefer trainings techniques relating to Food, Traditional, and Clicker methodologies.  Food training was utilized by most handlers (71%), traditional methods involving compulsion and praise are utilized by half of trainers, and clicker training ranks favor with approximately 44%.

The AKC

As it goes with all endeavors managed by a governing body, opinions thrive!  Due to a number of factors affecting our sport we asked some “weighty” questions to gauge the feeling exhibitors have toward our governing body, the AKC.  We were very encouraged to observe that respondents appear to express rational opinions about the relationship between our sport and the AKC.  They do not seem to be pointing “blaming fingers” but are expressing sincere concern.  While there are a number of significant and emotionally charged issues at hand, exhibitors are also expressing regard for the job the AKC is doing.  Let’s see what exhibitors are thinking…

Without question, most exhibitors believe the number of exhibitors at AKC Obedience trials is diminishing (82%).  Few see any signs of stability.  In keeping, there are an equal number of respondents who believe that the AKC should be doing more to promote dog obedience “training”, AND promote dog obedience “competition” to the general public (82%).

Respondent expectations for growth in the sport over the next ten years is troubling.  Less than one percent believe there is any chance for substantial growth in obedience and only 7% anticipate slight growth.  Sixty-three percent of those completing our questionnaire indicate concerns of decreasing involvement, and the remaining thirty percent hold expectations for continued existence as is.

Expectations for the future of rally appears to be more positive than those for obedience.  With rally, 24% believe participation in competitive events is growing smaller, 32% believe it is remaining stable, and 19% see growth.  As with obedience, an overwhelming number of participants believe the AKC should be doing more to promote rally competition to the general public (62%).  Predictions for future growth in rally over the next ten years suggests that 40% of respondents believe rally will continue to grow.  Thirty-six percent of respondents feel it will remain stable and only 24% suggest diminishing participation.

Given that the obedience representatives are the sport’s primary liaisons to the AKC, it is appropriate to inquire how the sport is viewing their services.  Seventy-seven percent of respondents to our survey indicated that they are aware  of the presence of AKC Obedience Reps at obedience and rally trials.  Since those unaware of reps at trials would likely have less accurate perceptions, the following results were collected ONLY from those indicating awareness of reps at trials.  Furthermore, as typical interactions between reps and judges, and typical interactions between reps and exhibitors is likely different, we have broken these results down according to 1) judges who officiate over obedience and rally classes; 2) judges who only officiate over rally classes; and 3) non-judging exhibitors who participate in both.

Perceptions of AKC Reps as Viewed by Participants Judging both Obedience & Rally Classes.

Within the group of individuals who are judging both rally and obedience, 58% believe AKC Reps are very attentive to the needs of exhibitors.  25% feel they appear indifferent.  Fifty-eight percent of judges in this group also believe the reps need to reach out more to welcome and interact with new exhibitors.

Among individuals in this group of respondents, 69% believe AKC Reps do contribute to more effective judging procedures in the ring.  Twenty-one percent suggest that representative influence is negligible.  Considering equitable scoring across all judges, 51% of respondents judging both obedience and rally believe the reps contribute positively.  37% suggest that reps have little effect and practically nobody suggested any negative effects on scoring at all.

To sum it all up, a significant number of those who are judging both obedience & rally classes do believe support from the AKC Reps has made them a better judge.  Here we find 73% of these individuals responding positively with twelve percent opposed.

Beyond specific questions about the representatives, this group of individuals was also asked about the recent AKC Obedience Advisory Committee and subsequent regulations changes which occurred on May 1, 2018.  Responding to whether the AKC adequately sought input from obedience & rally judges regarding these regulation changes, an overwhelming 80% felt the AKC did not.  Additionally, 81% felt they should have been consulted.

Perceptions of AKC Reps as Viewed by Participants who are Only Judging Rally Classes.

Among the group of individuals who are only judging rally, 50% suggest AKC Reps are acting as advocates for exhibitors at rally and obedience trials.  Interestingly 20% felt reps were acting indifferently and 20% felt the reps are having a negative effect on exhibitors.  A substantial number of individuals in this group (80%) feel AKC reps should be doing more to meet and encourage new exhibitors.

Data from individuals in this group of respondents report that 70% feel the AKC Reps contribute positively to more effective judging procedures in the ring.  Thirty percent suggest a reps have little to no influence on their judging practices.  Forty-five percent of this group suggest that reps improve equitable scoring across judges while 55% say the effect is small, if any.  Again, as with the other group of judges, no one really suggested that the reps have a negative effect on scoring.

With 10% offering no opinion, rally only judges were split about 1 to 2 on whether the AKC reps have helped to make them better judges.  60% report they did, 30% said they didn’t.

Perceptions of AKC Reps as Viewed by Participants who are Non-Judging Exhibitors.

The largest number of individuals choosing not to respond to these questions came from exhibitors who do not judge.  We were impressed by these numbers because we feel it reflects the integrity exhibitors had in reporting their honest opinions.  In other words, exhibitors appeared resistive to report opinions for which they felt they had no practical knowledge or understanding.

Among exhibitors who do not judge, 36% believe that AKC Reps do advocate for exhibitors.  Twenty-four percent feel they appear indifferent.  Only 3% see the reps influence as being detrimental.  Considering that an AKC Reps position naturally puts them in situations of dispute, we considered this a complimentary result.

Like the other two groups before, exhibitors believe that AKC Reps need to extend themselves more in their hospitality toward new exhibitors.  Sixty-two percent of exhibitors view this as a significant need while14% feel they are doing the best they can to interact with newcomers.

Considering improved judging procedures and equitable scoring, 42% of exhibitors believe reps have a positive influence on judging procedures in the ring, but only 25% believe they improve equitable scoring across judges.  Twenty-five percent of exhibitors report they feel reps have little to no effect on judging practices in the ring and 38% feel they have no effect in promoting fairer scoring across judges.

Like those who are obedience and rally judges, we asked non-judging exhibitors about the recent AKC Obedience Advisory Committee and subsequent regulations changes that occurred on May 1, 2018.  Opinion was similar to, but not as significant as that of the judges.  Among exhibitors, 30% felt that the AKC appropriately obtained exhibitor opinion regarding these regulation changes.  Fifty-one percent felt they did not.  Also like those who are judges, 74% of non-judging exhibitors felt that more should have been done to acquire input from the fancy.  Only about 6% felt the AKC did not have an obligation to obtain such opinion from exhibitors.

Obedience & Rally Judges

Reviewing exhibitor input regarding obedience and rally judges, most do feel that judges score all exhibitors impartially (60%).  There is a large body of handlers who do feel that some judges are showing favoritism toward some exhibitors (29%).  Similar results were obtained when considering equitable scoring across different breeds.  Here 58% of respondents feel judges score different breeds equally while 30% do not.

Much is often said about the quality of judging panels and how this affects entry rates.  In our survey 55% of exhibitors reveal that they consider who is judging before entering a trial.  Forty percent of handlers enter trials irrespective of who’s judging.  Fifty-nine percent of exhibitors report that there are one or two judges under whom they will not enter.  Fifteen percent of handlers report that there are several judges under whom they will not enter.  Eighteen percent report they would enter under any judge.

AKC Exercises

As substantial changes have been made to AKC Obedience Regulations in recent months, we asked a few questions about participant favorability toward these and other exercises.

Stays

A whopping 98% of competing exhibitors report that teaching dogs to stay is an important skill for dogs to know.  Thirty-nine percent of exhibitors believe that recent changes, which reduce the difficulty of group exercises, will lead to more behavioral problems occurring between dogs outside the ring.  Fifty percent of exhibitors do not appear to feel that the easier stay exercises will lead to these aggression problems.  Overall, at this time, 64% of exhibitors are not highly concerned their dog might end up in a fight at a trial.  With that said, about a third of exhibitors are concerned about dog-on-dog aggression at trials (33%).

Novice Class

Among those competing in Novice classes, 55% reported no concern that the Novice Group exercises were a risk to their dog’s safety.  Thirty-nine percent did.  Regarding recent regulation changes to the novice group exercises feelings were mixed.  Thirty-three percent of handlers did not feel the AKC should have made changes to this exercise.  Sixteen percent of exhibitors did feel changes were necessary, but these individuals also report being unhappy with the amendments that were made.  Thirty-seven percent of handlers report satisfaction with the changes as they have been made.

Open Class

Among Open class exhibitors, 55% report they felt the Open Group exercise was a risk to their dogs safety.  Thirty-six percent reported no concerns.  Looking at the recent regulation changes to the open group exercises 19% of handlers did not feel the AKC should have made any rule changes.  Thirty-six percent did feel changes were necessary but they were not pleased with the amendments that were made.  Thirty percent of open exhibitors report satisfaction with the changes that were made.

Looking at the new Command Discrimination exercise in the Open class, handlers were asked to identify the statement best representing their feelings.  Here’s what we found…

22% strongly favor the Command Discrimination exercise and want it to continue "as is”.

12% like the Command Discrimination exercise but believe it needs further modification.  Given the scope of this study we did not ask respondents what modifications they suggested.

33% feel neutral about the new Command Discrimination exercise and can take it or leave it.

9% do not like the new Command Discrimination exercise and feel it needs to be modified substantially.  Given the scope of this study we did not ask respondents what modifications they suggested.

9% strongly dislike the new Command Discrimination exercise and believe it needs to be eliminated.

15% offered no opinion.

In some circles exhibitors are discussing concerns that the dog’s landing and turn on the Broad Jump exercise places undue stress on the its shoulders and joints.  In our survey 42% of handlers do feel this is a concern and 45% do not.  In respect to possible changes to this exercise 41% of exhibitors believe the exercise should not be changed, 38% believe the exercise should be changed to make it less stressful, and 5% suggest eliminating the exercise entirely.

Utility Class

In December 2015, the AKC altered the judging procedures and scoring of the Utility class scent discrimination exercise.  Exhibitors were asked whether they felt this was an effective change.  In our study only 10% of exhibitors indicated a need to make these modifications.  Fifty-one percent of participants reported dissatisfaction with the policy.

Summary

While not standardized assessments, surveys are controlled studies that can provide evidence-based data about the opinions of large groups of individuals.  Over they years Front & Finish has conducted a number of surveys to give exhibitors more information about opinions within our sport.  Reviewing this data, participants can gauge how their feelings compare to those of the larger group.  We realize this year’s survey was exceptional in scope and lengthy to complete.  This makes us feel especially indebted to those who were willing to answer all of the questions.  Thank you!  We sincerely hope this provides you with beneficial food for thought as we progress into the coming years.

Looking at the admirable number of responses we received during this survey, gives us a positive feeling about the level of interest in our sport.  It is also suggestive of an appreciable level of concern participants are feeling .  Elevated concern is not always bad because it also indicates higher levels of interest in, and motivation towards our sport.  We believe this survey shows that participants continue to carry a sincere love of the sport, a genuine respect for the sport, and a deep desire to see it carry on.  

Training dogs today doesn’t seem to “fit” with society in a lot of ways.  In our world today gratification often comes quickly and without much effort.  In an instant we click buttons and tap icons to get our needs met.  An infinite array of devices make us cooler in summer, warm us in winter, move us farther and faster, help us find what we need to know, and even tell us things we didn’t know we needed to know.  It makes one wonder where it will all end.  Just last night I installed a device in my house that will help me wake up, soothe me with music, light my mood, give me the news, comfort my air, and open my doors.  All just because I say “Hey Siri, Good Morning”.  Heck… I don’t even have to tap icons anymore…  

Yes… sadly our sport struggles to stay in sync with the times.  Dog training takes energy, effort, thought, trial-n-error, and… a lot of time and patience.  As dog trainers we all know the reward at the end of the trip is worth the undertaking.  Unfortunately, we worry that those who don’t know our sport and don’t know us, may never appreciate and realize what we know.  Not everyone is going to like a dog and not everyone that likes dogs will want to train one.  We all know it would be ludicrous to expect so.  However, we all also know there are participants out there who would enjoy and benefit from the camaraderie our sport offers.  

So what should we take away from this survey?  The interpretations above are of my opinion, and for me, the bottom line is NOT to point fingers…  Solutions take precedence over blame which offers little constructive benefit.  Most participants in our sport desire transparency and structured opportunities to provide input.

Considering the way that respondents approached this study I’m convinced most others feel the same.  I sincerely believe “most” participants in our sport represent the best qualities human beings have to offer.  Even though we come from vastly different backgrounds, abilities, and potential; we all are willing to put individual differences aside and accept that which benefits the entire sport..  All too often we fail to see the big picture because the details get in the way.  Our opinions aren’t all going to match but most are in synchrony towards the greater cause.  We love our dogs with vigor and we protect them as partners at the most intimate level of our lives.  It’s a wonderful avocation and all individuals deserve the utmost in respect, simply for showing an interest in what we do.

While debate prevails over particulars, most participants seem to believe the AKC is supporting the sport.   In general, participants appear receptive to changes in the governing regulations.  However, it’s also suggested that individuals believe such changes should be made with caution and input from the fancy.  Results suggest notable concerns that the AKC should be seeking more data from the fancy before making substantial changes to the regulations.  In concert with these feelings, participants indicate that the AKC should also be doing more to enlighten and encourage participation from new exhibitors.  Respondents in our survey indicate significant concerns about future growth in our sport.  Some indicate serious concerns that participation is dwindling.

Most judges and exhibitors appear to retain favorable impressions for the influence that AKC Reps have on the sport.  However these individuals also suggest it beneficial for reps to increase their efforts in welcoming and interacting with newcomers.  An AKC Representatives position can introduce them into difficult situations.  Although suggestions for improvement exist, we were encouraged by the positive opinions regarding the work that the reps are doing.

Results regarding the level of volunteerism in our sport was very encouraging.  About one-third of respondents indicated that they have acted as a trial chairperson.  Eighty-four percent indicated that they have volunteered as stewards and 60% report holding other non-stewarding committee positions.  While we realize that these groups of individuals overlap, we still contend that this indicates a healthy level of support for our sports.

Survey results overwhelmingly indicate that trainers believe teaching dogs to stay is a necessary skill for dogs to know.  However, most exhibitors don’t believe the recent regulation changes adequately appraise this skill.  Changes to the Utility Scent Discrimination exercise was felt unnecessary by most, but data regarding the other exercises was mixed.  While some exhibitors appear steadfast, most seem willing to consider and accept regulations changes made with fidelity 

The Data

For those wishing to review the data associated with each question in our survey, please visit http://bit.ly/2018FFDTS.  This link will take you to our Google Results page where the results were tabulated and display with visual graphs .  As this survey was extensive in scope, please allow extra time for the results to load in your web browser!  

We published individual comments from respondents in the November issue of Front & Finish.  These comments are also included at the end of our Google Results page, but you will need to scroll the inset window to read all of them.  Please note that results from this survey will not likely print satisfactorily.  Google informed us that this due to difficulties getting an HTML pages with SVG images to insert line breaks correctly.


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