One of the most frequently asked questions we get at NADOI is “how can I learn to be an obedience instructor?” Newbie trainers and exhibitors, some experienced ones, folks in other dog professions, returning veterans who handled military K-9s, and even those who simply say, “I love dogs,” are looking for ways to learn how to teach people to train. With internet schools everywhere, webinars, seminars and workshops, thousands of books, magazines, podcasts, TV shows, DVDs, and a few residence-based schools, they sure have more choices than I did when I started out in the mid-70s. Just knowing where to begin can be difficult.
Teaching people to train dogs, just like learning to train your own dog, is a hands-on skill. You just need to be there, and doing it. We learn what to do by watching someone really proficient, copying them the best we can, and repeating that over and over with many dogs and many handlers. Every single dog and handler team will teach us something we need to know. We’ll meet all kinds of folks, some with a lot of talent and many who have very little. Some people will be great students, watch and listen, and go home and do what we advise. They’ll be patient and have fun as they train their dogs. Some will find it harder to learn, will not be as motivated or give up in the middle, and you’ll encounter the downright inept as well. You’ll get all personalities in your students and certainly you will see many different temperaments and abilities in their dogs. The internet, books, DVDs and other media, and workshops are going to add to your knowledge, but nothing can take the place of just doing what you do!
So what IS the best way to develop a great instructor, and on the way to that, good assistants? If you are running classes, or even if you do only one-on-one instructing, you can produce a program that allows your helpers to methodically move through different levels of involvement and difficulty as they learn what to do. Creating a structured process for these helpers to follow can work with whatever training methods/instructing philosophy you utilize. Depending on how many dogs and handlers you see in a week, you may want to modify this system, but the basics are the same: newbies start at the first level and move up as they become experienced and confident. This is the program I used for many years, and it served me very well. Since I mainly ran classes, the program is based on that format. The actual booklet that assistants and apprentice instructors received from me is much longer and more detailed than the below, but this brief description will hopefully give you a good start. Based on your own preferences, you will want to list specific books and DVDs, for example, or recommend the presenters you think will help your assistants the most. You can require written reports, and encourage lots of questions, or just be available to help more informally. Those after-class discussions allow everyone to learn! I know this system works, as five of my assistants went on to become NADOI certified or provisional members.
Level 1 Assistant:
- Everyone starts here. Your assistants should have proven that they are good trainers, and have gone through at least two beginner classes and started novice, even better if they’ve gotten a CGC or started their own dog in competition. They should understand your curriculum, and have copies of everything that is passed out or available to the students. They should have week- to-week “cheat” cards so they’ll know what will happen in every class, in what order, and who will be instructing each part.
- Duties can include checking in students, checking equipment, directing traffic and maintaining order, passing out handouts, and they should learn students’ names and their dogs’ names so they can greet them as they arrive. They should observe the class carefully, being alert for problems in practicing the exercises, in the equipment, and in handling. They should watch for any safety issues such as dogs out on the end of leash and inattentive handlers. They should report to Level 2 and Level 3 Assistants or the Instructor. They may monitor the parking area and exercise area. They should read at least three books as assigned by the instructor, and the AKC Rulebook. They should join the NADOI Facebook page, and a good e-mail list like Obed-Teach. I always asked my Level 1 Assistants to read The Story of Dog Obedience by Blanche Saunders, and to attend at least one match/trial/show and go. Bring a question to the instructors/assistants that we may not know the answer to! They were required to wear the company shirt and have a nametag.
Level 2 Assistant:
- Duties may include checking equipment and adjusting if need be. They should instruct students on the proper way to put on/use equipment. They should observe for tight leashes, poor footwork, incorrect leash position, use of commands, timing, and assist students with what is needed. They should report to Level 3 Assistants/Instructor any problems with practicing an exercise, abusive treatment, or dogs not in control. Handlers of aggressive dogs should be asked to move out of the training area. Do not try to resolve an aggression issue yourself. Likewise, do not attempt to deal with an unhappy/frustrated handler yourself. They should read books as recommended by the instructor, watch DVDs or You-tubes that are suggested, continue to work their own dog in advanced class, and attend an AKC or UKC trial. They should report back to the instructor with a written or verbal report on whatever topic is requested. Good examples of questions might be to explain how different breeds can be helped to learn the exercises, or how handlers with differing abilities can teach their dogs the exercises. What might help a sight hound to learn the sit at your side? What techniques could a handler use to help focus a very small or short-legged dog in the heeling exercise? If a handler can’t get down on the floor, how can she teach from a chair?
Level 3 Assistant:
- Duties may include giving more training/problem assistance to students on their own direction. Demonstrating exercises for the class (make sure they know the exercise) can be a part of their job. They may continue to assist in fitting collars and changing out equipment as the need arises. They should respond to and handle problems reported by Level 1 and Level 2 Assistants. Aggression issues still should be dealt with by Instructor, as should any handler complaints. At this level the assistant is working more on his own initiative. They should continue to read, view DVDs, attend seminars, watch trials, work their own dog in advanced class, or compete with their own dog. They may call the class review on request of the instructor. These assistants should continue to follow the lead of the instructor, but also be receptive to learning about the many alternative ways to teach the exercises. They should be learning how to answer the questions on common behavior issues that students will ask. Always seek help from the instructor if you don’t know!
- Duties may include calling the class review, and begin instruction of exercises. They may direct assistants and assign duties. They should actively participate in development/changes in the course and be aware of good class management. They should be able to assist the handler with a typical adolescent dog that is rowdy, and know the difference between that dog and a truly aggressive dog or one that might endanger another dog the class. The Apprentice Instructor will work with students as an INSTRUCTOR. The class Instructor will always be present and available to assist. They should seek out reading and viewing material on their own, and be prepared to discuss with others on the teaching staff. They should attend advanced classes and trials and also compete with their own dog. They should attend workshops and seminars. They should apply to NADOI for Provisional Membership when they are ready.
- There is no time frame for moving through the assistant levels, working as an apprentice instructor, or advancing to a full-charge instructor. Smaller programs will require more time to get the required experience. Some assistants really love to assist, and have no desire to go farther or assume more duties and responsibilities. This is fine, and we love great assistants!
- Remember that you represent your training school at whatever level you are helping, and professionalism is expected in your attire, composure, preparation, and adherence to the club/company’s training philosophy and business model. Take your job, at whatever level, seriously. Be early and stay until the work is done. Ask questions! Share what you are seeing and learning, and be a good example to your students. And have fun!
- When the time and experience qualifications are met, application to NADOI for certified membership is encouraged.
This program for developing assistants and instructors is an example of an effective training process. It has produced excellent assistants and instructors. It provides for lots of hands-on experience, the guidance of an experienced mentor, many suggestions for out-of-class learning, and evaluation at every step of the way. As NADOI instructors, we should be creating the new instructors of the future. I hope you will try this system!
©2014 Helen Cariotis