Consider this model…..
FORMULA FOR EFFECTIVE DOG TRAINING INSTRUCTORS
Knowledge + Transfer Skills = Enrichment
Dog training is really about knowledge transfer, or “dog owner education.” Effective instructors need to possess an in-depth knowledge of various dog-related topics. They ALSO need to be able to educate owners (transfer skills) and effectively share their knowledge. Effective transfer occurs when instructors possess inherent teaching dispositions AND demonstrate appropriate teaching pedagogies. Effectively combining one’s knowledge with the ability to demonstrate transfer skills sets the stage for enrichment, or learning; aren’t these the goals of all dog training instructors?
CHARACTERISTICS & DISPOSITIONS SHARED BY EFFECTIVE DOG TRAINING INSTRUCTORS
- Noun. A person’s inherent qualities of mind and character.
- Synonyms: temperament, nature, character, constitution, make-up, mentality.
PATIENCE—Some people/owners encountered in classes are slow to understand directions. People and dogs learn at different rates.
SENSE OF HUMOR—Keep classes light-hearted; don’t show frustration. Sometimes, the dog’s behavior is just “off.”
CREATIVITY—Be able to adjust tasks for owners and dogs (intratask variation) in order for them to be successful. Good instructors think on their feet. Set the stage so both owners and dogs can be successful.
FLEXIBILITY—Learn to pick your battles. If owner insists on walking the dog on the right (and it can be done safely), let him/her do so. If owner insists on walking the dog with an “overly ordained bling of a harness” (and it’s not harming the dog or others), let him/her do so. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
CONFIDENCE—Have faith in your abilities. Share this faith with others.
HUMILITY—“Always stay humble and kind.” Don’t take on dogs or owners that are “over your head” (e.g., aggression). Teach within your abilities. Make referrals when necessary.
OPEN MIND—As an instructor, you can learn from everyone: both owners and dogs. Take advanced classes from other trainers. Develop a “cross-over” mindset.
DIPLOMACY & ABILITY TO COMMUNICATE—Instructors need to be nonjudgmental and impartial. Most dog behavioral issues are caused by people. Be careful of words used and maintain a positive mindset. Use tact and know when to talk to owner one-on-one.
TOLERANCE FOR BEING DIRTY, BRUISED, STAMINA—If you can’t handle slobber, dog hair, stinky dogs, having clothes “autographed;” or, the occasional bruise or toenail scratch, perhaps you are in the wrong profession. Physical stamina and smiles required.
DESIRE TO HELP PEOPLE—Instructors must possess an inherent desire to help/teach people and remediate dogs. Instructors have to sincerely care about the feelings and emotions of owners and dogs. Owners know if you have this.
PASSION/LOVE FOR DOGS—Instructors need to be open to different breeds, “designer dogs” included. This can be tough. Dogs know if you don’t like them.
POSITIVE ATTITUDE/MIND SET/MINDFULNESS—Instructors (owners, too) need to be upbeat, enthusiastic, welcoming. “Be” where your feet are. Always praise and thank owners for coming.
SENSE OF CALMNESS—Display a relaxed, unhurried nature. Move about the room calmly and anticipate when it’s necessary to step in between (interrupt) a stare down between two dogs. “Spread” this calmness to owners.
ABILITY TO PROBLEM SOLVE—Embrace problem solving as an opportunity to learn. Don’t pretend to have all solutions for all problems for all dogs. Oftentimes, an owner simply has a “timing” problem; that is, rewards are not quick enough to “mark” desired behavior resulting in the owner inadvertently rewarding an inappropriate behavior. This inconsistency confuses the dog and can cause continuous problems for the dog and owner in learning new exercises. Finally, it’s okay to say, “That’s a great question. I don’t have the immediate solution, but I will find out!”
- What dispositional characteristics do I possess that enhance my teaching?
- What characteristics can I improve upon?
- What characteristics can I develop that will enhance my teaching?
Ellen Drewes-Stoen, NADOI #920, SPOT#7345, CGC 100059
Ellen spent 40 years as a college professor in education methods and student teacher supervision in the public schools, and is always excited to implement educational research into teaching dog classes. She is an Instructor at Good Dog Center in Decorah, Iowa.