The C.L.A.S.S. evaluation is a great tool to see how far you and your dog have progressed in learning behaviors and relating to each other. This can be true of any of the levels of evaluation, but I think the most impressive is the very first level, the Bachelors (B.A.). At this level the experience level for both parties can be fresh and new. You may have just acquired your dog or they just graduated from a puppy class or even a dog you’ve known for years that hasn’t experienced learning all of these new skills.
The evaluation itself is challenging for many since there are valuable behaviors such as recall, polite greeting and wait at the door to name a few. Impulse control can be hard for dogs who love life and want to enjoy it to the fullest!
What is even more challenging for the human is not becoming stressed over taking the evaluation with your dog. It’s JUST an evaluation to see how far you’ve come, right? Yes, that’s exactly right! The evaluation isn’t a judgment of your behavior OR your dog’s behavior.
Here are some tips to try to help the human de-stress and for you both to enjoy the evaluation process.
First, look at it from your dog’s point of view. It’s just another day getting to work with their friend, you, and have some fun. They don’t care that they are being evaluated.
Second, visualize what a perfect performance would look like of each evaluation item. If you cannot see it in your mind’s eye or doubt that it’s possible you are probably right. This is a tip successful athletes would tell you works wonders!
Third, try to relax your mind and body. That might sound easier said than done, but your dog reads your body language. They will see your raised shoulders, tight lips and short breaths as a sign of your stress. Since they don’t understand the concept of a test they may react to your stress by disconnecting from you or becoming stressed themselves. If they see you relaxed with a loose body and normal breathing they will be more likely to feel at ease, too.
Last, but certainly not least…HAVE FUN!!!! Who cares if your dog breaks a stay and you’ll have to take the evaluation another time or two before you pass? Does your dog care? No. So spend time throughout the evaluation making fun a priority and no matter the scoring of your evaluation you will both leave happy.
So is it just an evaluation or is it an opportunity to spend quality time with your best buddy?
Paula Nowak is a C.L.A.S.S. Evaluator, K9 Nose Work® Certified Instructor, and Certified Trick Dog Instructor.