Im guilty of it also, perhaps not like I was almost 20 years ago. But when I first got into dog training my dreams were to become a decoy or helper. I imagined myself in some cool outfit or bite suit being the hero and catching dogs in a trial or stadium and having the crowd cheer me and or the dog on. Silly I know. Almost 20 years later, I still work dogs. Like the great George Jones once said, "I don’t need you're rocking chair, your Geritol or your medicare" but a little Advil PM don’t hurt lol.
Probably one of the most popular requests I get for seminars is a helper or decoy seminar. I get emails and requests weekly from people new in the sport wanting to become helpers, and or decoys. But I have to explain something about that. A two day or even a week long seminar does not make a decoy or helper. There are two kinds of decoys/helpers. There is the trial decoy and there is a training decoy. Both are extremely important. On occasion I will come across a helper that is great at both. But the reality is they are two different things. A trial helper must be physically strong, know the rules and exercises and be safe. They do not need to understand the training of the animal. Of course we all need a good trial helper for training at some point, but a good training helper is needed every day. What makes a good training helper? Im glad you asked. After the initial period of being exposed to working dogs in protection work, the novelty quickly wore off for me. I honestly did not care if I ever did it again. I wanted to train and handle dogs, at high level. But, do to necessity, I had to learn to work dogs. Good dogs, bad dogs, and everything in between. The reality is for many, many years I was working up to 100 dogs per week. Some in private lessons, some in seminars and some in my club when I had one. I was the one in charge of getting dogs to pass and get titled. Just the shear number of dogs gained me experience I could never buy. At certain points of my career I even trained and worked my own dogs in protection. I still do. The reality is, to become a good helper requires massive experience, watching, listening and doing practical work. It takes years... and usually by the time you are good, really good, your body has paid for it lol. Sometimes I see young people get discouraged at clubs because they are not allowed to work dogs right away. But it's not something that you can just jump in and do. Its normal for someone to have to watch for several months or a year before being allowed to work a dog. Lets face it, I wont let an in experienced person work my top level dog. Too many things can go wrong. But in todays day and age the common mentality is "I want it now and I don’t want to wait”. For me its as important to be able to train obedience with a dog, and good obedience. That type of feeling and skill is needed when working a dog in protection work. I have a saying that many people disagree with, but I stand by it. "Before a helper can crack a whip at my dog, I want to see his or her own dog heel”. That will tell me a lot about the skill as a trainer that person possess or does not.