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Masters of Communication

You cannot train a Teaching Dog. A Teaching Dog is born a Teaching Dog. It is dependent on their life's experiences and living environment as to whether they develop to their full potential. Different Teaching Dogs have different teaching skills and different preferred roles. It is essential to recognise the role each particular Teaching Dog prefers. It is the Teaching Dog’s character, temperament and natural way of interacting with dogs that determines the role in which they choose to play.   


There are five fundamental Teaching Dog roles: Mentor, Monitor, Nanny, Constant and Clown

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Role:                                              Establish ground rules 

                                                        Oversee interaction

                                                        Support other Teaching Dogs


Character:                                    Confident, quietly assertive


Response to other dogs:         Passively assertive 


Responses from other dogs:   Respectful,subservient

A Mentor is quietly assertive by nature. They rarely play, unless flirting with the opposite sex. However, they generally build deep bonds with strong dogs of the same sex.


As a Teaching Dog, they are passively assertive. They always approach and interact a dog confidently, but never in a confrontational manner.

If working in a group, they watch from the edge of the group, and only become involved if absolutely necessary. Mentors are, by nature, quite lazy. They will support other Teaching Dogs where needed, and show by example how to manage difficult situations.


Other dog’s reaction to Mentors varies. Some dogs take great confidence in a Mentor and whilst not necessarily subservient towards them, they are very respectful. And some find a Mentor intimidating and will avoid making contact with them. 



Role:                                             Establish ground rules

                                                       Actively supervise interaction

                                                       Support other Teaching Dogs


Character:                                   Confident, expressively assertive


Response to other dogs:        Assertive


Responses from other dogs: Subservient, challenging

A Monitor is naturally assertive and are generally more expressive than a Mentor. Monitors will actively seek interaction within a few minutes of meeting a new dog. This does not necessarily mean that they invite interaction. If they feel the dog is not ready for that level of interaction, they will converse with them in a more subtle manner. 

Monitors normally interrupt unacceptable behaviour by physically placing themselves between the dogs and will remain there until the tension has diminished. They can stand firm and openly display assertiveness if they need to.


Once in 'control' of the situation has been achieved, a Monitorwill generally incite social games.  Often, games of a predatory nature with their intention is to demonstrate that they are happy to play games with the other dog, but they have control of the interaction.  Predatory games such as ‘catch me if you can’ are often invited. When the other dog interacts with less exuberance, the Monitor will usually walk away and watch them from a distance.   


Another dog's reaction to a Monitor is either respectful or challenging. Most dogs recognise a Monitor as a strong dog and usually respect them. Once dogs have learned how to communicate and engage in social games without challenge, they will usually then settle and look to the Monitor for guidance in future situations.



Role:                                               Maintain harmony


Character:                                   Assertive, gentle


Response to other dogs:         Gentle, playful 


Responses from other dogs:  Relaxed, playful


For me, the Nanny is the most amazing of all the Teaching Dogs. They work very differently to any other Teaching Dog and can often play any role needed in a situation. Although their preferred choice is always to work only as a Nanny. They are extremely generous dogs and are at their happiest when everyone else is happy.​

Being happier working on a one to one basis or in a group, is down to each dog's personal preference. Although, of all the Teaching Dogs, Nannies are the more likely to be equally happy in either situation.


When meeting a new dog, they will observe from a distance before making a thoughtful approach. They tend to assess a dog in more depth before approaching than the other Teaching Dogs. This means they often take longer in their approach. 


If a dog is confrontational with them, they will remain strong in their attitude but will incite play, particularly chase games. The game of chase can be a challenge, like the 'Chase me Charlie' game children play. Nannys tend to use chase games to help the dog feel more at ease, as movement in itself will reduce tension in a dog.

When other dogs meet a Nanny, if they are confident in communicating with other dogs, will greet a Nanny in friendly. A Nanny's first response to a dog displaying aggression is to increase the distance between them. But they do not turn their back on the other dog. This would show vulnerability. They will move away at an angle and stand sideways on to the other dog. This indicates to the other dog that whilst they do not feel threatened, they are not intimidated. Initially, this can be most confusing for the other dog. This confusion slows the dog physically, which gives Nanny the opportunity to communicate to them that their intention is simply to guide and support.

In a group situation, they actively approach each dog individually throughout the session and check that they're feeling comfortable. This gives the other dogs confidence, as they know the Nanny is there for support, should they need it. 


Once they have checked on every group member, they will then focus on the dogs that feel the most uncomfortable.This is often a dog who becomes withdrawn. Sometimes they will just follow and walk alongside a dog who is not comfortable and other times they may invite play. It totally depends on the other dog and how, at that moment, they are feeling.


The Nanny will resolve conflict by approaching in a calmer manner than a Monitor when interrupting unsociable behaviour. Nannys naturally choose a more jovial approach. They may bark and then play bow and/or literally pat them on the shoulder to attract their attention. A strong confident Nanny will separate dogs if they need to, but prefer to resolve any conflict by mediation. 



Role:                                              Incite movement, encourage play 


Character:                                   Confident, exuberant 


Response to other dogs:        Enthusiastic approach and interaction


Responses from other dogs:  Overwhelmed, relaxed after movement

As the name suggests, a Clown enjoys life and demonstrates this by exuberant interaction.  Rarely using physical contact but just acting in a playful manner around other dogs.  

Clowns are experts in judging how much energy to use when interacting with another dog. If the other dog becomes too excited, they calm their play. If the dog loses interest and/or lacks confidence they raise the energy.


Dogs, who are withdrawn, become more active and will follow the Clown.  Unsociable dogs can become agitated and will focus on trying to them away. In either case, the Clown will encourage playful interaction, responding accordingly to the other dog’s sociability.


Other dogs are often overwhelmed on meeting a Clown. An experienced Clown can control their level of exuberance, but even for them, this can be difficult.



Role:                                             Calm and stability 


Character:                                   Confident, Calm


Response to other dogs:       Calm, non-interactive 


Responses from other dogs: Respectful, calm

A Constant chooses to disregard the presence of another dog.  They are happy to meet and greet but that is where their interest ends. They would not choose to converse with impolite dogs and are assertive in communicating this.


Whilst they are able to show assertiveness, it would not be out of choice therefore they should never be put in this position.

Other dogs generally react to a Constant Teacher in a thoughtful manner.  Respecting them but at the same time, feeling comfortable around them.


A Constant is an invaluable member of a Communication Class, giving calm and stability, to even the most active of groups.  Their presence alone has a calming effect in both an individual and group situation. 

The Dog Partnership runs in-depth courses onTeaching Dogs.

Please refer to our Events page for further details.

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