In the beginning there was a human and a canine who attended an obedience class for the first lesson. Others much like themselves were there, too. Those who appeared to be the leaders began to speak, and at first it was in a language familiar to the human, but then a strange thing happened. All at once the leader began to speak in a language that was completely foreign to the human. It was if the entire room and the whole classfull of students and their dogs had been transported to another country! The humans were expected to understand and carry out instructions that they couldn’t possibly comprehend, and everything moved way too fast for them to stay up with what the leader was telling them. Finally, the class was over and the human and the canine were allowed to leave.
Later that day when the human and the canine had returned to their dwelling, the human tried very hard to remember all that he had been told, but it was impossible. When he tried to show the canine what the leader had instructed him, he couldn’t remember the strange language, and so he did many things wrong. Laying his hand on his canine’s head, the human said, “I don’t think we will go back to that obedience class, for the language they speak there is not our language. Maybe sometime later, after we have had time to get to know these new beings, we will return and perhaps then we will understand all that is said.”
The moral of this story is never to forget your beginnings. If you are just starting out as an instructor, or if you have taught thousands of human/dog teams, the lesson is the same. Always remember what it is like for the new student! Try to recall that first obedience class with your unruly dog. Were you confused, and did you feel uncoordinated? Did you struggle to hear what was said and see all of the demonstrations? Were you embarrassed that you dog was “acting out,” barking, or causing you to get unwelcome attention from the others there? When you tried to practice at home what your instructor showed you in class, could you remember all the steps? Were you frustrated when your commands to your dog didn’t bring success, and did you wonder what to try next? Was there ever a time that you felt as if your instructor was speaking a different language? If you can remember those feelings, then you have a good chance of becoming a good instructor of beginning students.
As instructors, we must always seek to explain things in the simplest way. When we demonstrate an exercise, we should slow it down, and make sure to repeat many times. Our students will often take what we say quite literally, and while the experienced student may be able to string steps together easily in their minds, the new student will most likely not be able to do that. For example, we may instruct the down by showing the student how to lure the dog into position. What we may forget to instruct is that the dog should be sitting first, before you begin to instruct the down. A very simple part of the exercise, but all too often skipped over because we assume that the new student will “know” that part. They don’t!