Last month we covered a few basic communication skills for us to practice as instructors. Lets continue on. . . .
Give each trainer some personal attention throughout the course. Remember what it was like training your first dog? Do the words “worst,” “impossible,” “stubborn,” or “dumb” kindle any memories? As an instructor you have tools of experience and knowledge to alleviate many doubts and frustrations felt by your trainers. An encouraging word from you can reduce “monumental obstacles” to temporary barriers requiring a little extra work. Your ability to motivate, instill confidence and, in some cases, make the difference between a trainer dropping out or graduating can depend, my friend, on the communicative rapport you have with your handlers.
Don’t overlook your outstanding trainers. Maybe some trainers do well from the start. They still need you. Let them know that you noticed how well they’ve been doing. Success can be empty without recognition. (Need I say more?)
Be positive even when you have to criticize. The automatic sit of Timid Tony’s dog is deplorable! First tell Tony how well, for example, his dog is heeling. Then recommend that more attention be given to practicing the auto sit. That’s effective communication and constructive criticism, kiddo.
Bring common problems out into the open. How many times has a trainer pulled you aside to tell you that is/her dog does so well at home, but at class he’s awful? (Go ahead, count the times.) This is your chance to talk with your class and let them know that some problems are shared by many or all of them. You’ve let them know that they have more in common than they possibly realize (which promotes comradery,) and that together you’ll work out these problems. (Cuz you’re sympathetic to their problems, right?)
Never embarrass a trainer in front of the class! This is a sure fire way of cutting off every communicative inroad you’ve achieved with that trainer! (I know, you probably already knew this, but it never hurts to refresh one’s memory.)
Bring In The Clowns
A little humor goes a long way. It serves to lighten up and relax a class. A little humor now and then contributes to a trainer’s enjoyment of training which, in turn, makes the experience more pleasant for the dog, too. Who can deny that a positive attitude facilitates the learning process? And even if a sense of humor isn’t one of your strong points, you can elicit a chuckle or two by drawing on and exaggerating your own foibles (are you game or gasping?), and/or tossing in something ridiculous. Need a little help? You got it.
“I’m such a klutz that my first dog learned the exercises before I did.” “At one point, I thought it would be a whole lot easier just to buy a windup dog.” (No one said you had to be absolutely truthful!) “Tonight’s review includes a stand for exam, down from heel, and three pirouettes.” “Next week will be much easier. You only have 83 exercises to learn.” Try a little humor. It’s another way of saying that you enjoy what you’re doing, and you want your students to enjoy training too.
Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice
Have your trainers introduce themselves and their dogs. This is a subtle way of helping you learn names, and one way for getting your trainers acquainted with one another. You can also ask them to identify their breeds (yes, Virginia, not everyone is familiar with all the breeds of dogs.) The idea, of course, is to encourage communication between the handlers. By taking the time for introductions, there’s a very good chance you’ll see your trainers motivating one another, and encouraging one another to continue. (Now aren’t you the smart one!)
That’s All Folks
There you have it. Hopefully I’ve effectively communicated the basic practices for helping you polish or improve your communicative skills. Perhaps we can get together again to share and explore other avenues of communication. If we do, we both stand to broaden our talents as instructors, right?
©1991 Marty Martin