Sometimes it’s the way you say something that makes it a little clearer to someone. One thing that makes a good instructor is knowing how to communicate with people. We can explain how to teach an exercise, but if we use terms that someone not associated with dogs is unable to understand, we get nowhere. In addition, the way we phrase something can often influence a person’s receptiveness to what we are trying to explain. For example, much of the basic behavioral work was done with animals. This information was then used to explain why people do what they do and, especially in conditioning, principles now used with children were developed using animals. However, it is much more tactful to say that training a dog is much like training children than saying training a child is just like training a dog. If we use the latter example, some people object to our suggesting that their children are not much better than animals. Although I might add that some parents do ask us if we can do the same thing with children.
It also helps to have some idea of the handler’s other areas of interest in order to try to develop a common ground of communication. Someone with a background in psychology could understand and relate to a technical explanation of conditioning while a service station owner may not.
Find out what other animals the owner has worked with. It has been our observation that those who have worked with horses generally do a better job with their dogs. Whether it is simply having worked with another animal or a horse in particular we don’t know.
Another area of communication is learning to anticipate what types of questions will come up and when. Paying attention to this can help you prepare a class presentation so that you create and anticipate your students’ questions, then follow them with an answer.
As you prepare for a class, put yourself in the students’ place. This means you must ask yourself this question, “If I knew nothing about dog training would this be clear?” If the answer is no, back up and make it simpler, clearer, or use terms that are not a part of the dog training jargon.
An obedience class instructor must not only know how to communicate with dogs, but more importantly, with people. The dog, usually is the easier of the two to work with, while the owner, who appears to speak our language, presents the real challenge.
©1976 W. H. Morrison, III