Every now and then I clearly recall the very first dog obedience class I taught. I think that’s good for it serves to remind me that no matter how much I think I know, I still have a long way to go.
Two lessons from that first go around were indelibly imprinted on my lil’ brain. I learned the importance of flexibility and the need to garner as much knowledge of human psychology as possible. Now to help you understand how these lessons were brought to the forefront. I have to go back about… well, let’s say a lotta years.
Down deep I just knew I was a performer looking for a stage. Instructing a dog class was, in my mind, as good a stage to start on as any. I was confident, I knew the course material. I was “Miss Cool” no problem. Until, that is, I hit my fist tiny little obstacle. I could not remember the steps in instructing the first exercise, the sit!
Before this aspiring “star” turned into a black hole, I recovered my brain and spewed out detailed instructions. Convinced I had recouped brilliantly, I asked the class to sit their dogs.
Patty Pettalot said her precious punkin’ didn’t want to sit. Malcolm Macho pounced on his unsuspecting critter like a runaway freight train. The others just stood there repeating the command to sit nine or twenty times. My perception of the obvious alerted me to the fact that something had gone amiss.
Sure I can chuckle, now, about that first class. No doubt you, too, can smile about yours. But do you ever think about the lesson or lessons you may have learned from it? I said I learned about flexibility and the need to have some understanding of human psychology. Let’s go back again to my introductory class.
Look at Patty. She wasn’t about to put any pressure on her dog’s collar because she believed it would choke her dainty darlin’. The hand on the rump was okay, particularly since the lightness of Patty’s touch wouldn’t have disturbed a butterfly. I needed flexibility to employ a technique that was more in line with Patty’s psyche. And what about Malcolm? He was physically big and strong enough to put an elephant in a sit. But he didn’t own an elephant, he owned a sheltie. Retrieving the tad bit of knowledge I’d gleaned from college psychology courses, I managed to avoid bruising Malcolm’s ego while I practiced training flexibility, again, by having him use a training approach more appropriate for his breed of dog. As for the rest of the class, I had many challenges! Some I successfully handled. Some I just wasn’t prepared to deal with. Back then, however, my ‘bag of tricks’ wasn’t as full as it is now, and I’ve learned a whole lot more about the creature we call human.
The performer part of me is still very much with me, and I’m happy with the stage I occupy. I strive to make each new class better than the last through on going education. One of the ways in which I continue to grow as an instructor is through the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (NADOI.) As a member of NADOI, I am able to share experiences and problems with instructors throughout the country. Together we are always working to improve dog obedience training and instructing.
©1990 Marty Martin