“Every time you teach your dog what to do, you are teaching your dog how to feel.” – Dr. Amy Cook.
We then often ask the question: How does it feel to be trained by you? Generally, we’re speaking about dogs here. Both in these concepts and here in my blog specifically. However, these things are equally true of your human students. If you’re a dog trainer, you’re not only teaching them tools to use in training their canine partner but you’re also influencing how they feel about dog training itself and you as an instructor! How do your students feel to be trained by you?
I think it’s important to always consider that our students are doing their best. They may have other things going on in their lives affecting how their training is going. It’s possible they simply don’t realize there is a different way. Or they may be trying to break an old habit and struggling to do so. (We can all relate to how hard habits are to break!) Perhaps the student doesn’t recognize what they’re doing is a problem. We, as instructors, need to be cognizant of all of these possibilities when working with our learners. Remember, they love their dogs or they wouldn’t be in your class!
Many times, it’s not what you say but how you say it. Your message is important but it will fail to reach the learner if you aren’t presenting it properly. Your advice could be lost in hurt feelings even if you didn’t mean to upset them. Much like in dog training, you can’t always be certain of how your message will be received! How it’s said is often more important than what is said.
If your student is failing to get the correct message, you need to ask yourself “Why?” Even if you cannot manage to pinpoint the exact reason, there is always a plan you can put in place. Make a training plan for you to train your student if you need to. 🙂 This is far more helpful for you (avoiding frustration with your student) and the student as well because it gives them something that is actionable. We often speak of Susan Garrett’s living in “Do Land.” How much easier it is for your dog to behave when you tell them what TO DO rather than telling them what not to do. Even humans can struggle with the abstract concept of “Don’t.” It is far easier to lay out a plan of what your student should be doing rather than offering vague concepts like “Don’t do this.”
The process of shaping can also be a crucial tool to use if you have a student struggling to reach a particular goal. Rather than forcing them to stop what they’re doing completely, you can slowly work them towards that goal. Small steps seem much easier to attain and are less of a departure from their usual way of doing things. This can help a student succeed in actually attaining success. I know, whenever I decide I need to cut back on junk food, I always shape my way there. I know I could never give it up completely (especially with the holidays fast approaching!) but I take small steps to cut back on it. My usual step is “only two things with added sugar.” That’s my daily maximum goal but there are definitely days I don’t have any. It’s still much easier for me to have just one or two things after going through a binge than trying to avoid it all together right away.
It’s also important to be constructive in your criticism. Simply picking apart everything they’re doing wrong won’t help and will likely lead to negative associations. You may not agree with what they’re doing but you are there to help. So offer suggestions on how they can improve rather than pointing out where they’re continuing to err. You’ll get a lot more buy-in from your students this way.
We should also remember that, sometimes, students need to come to a specific realization on their own. We can beat them over the head with it all we want but, until they’re ready to receive that information, it won’t happen. Ideally, we’d like to present it in such a way that it is more likely to sink it by being kind and thoughtful in the presentation of the information. Sometimes, though, it just takes time. Much like my prong collar example in my last post. I didn’t stop using it until I was ready to. I had to change my beliefs about what I was doing to reach a point where I felt I was going to have better success with my dog without that tool before I could give it up.
As positive reinforcement-based trainers, we strive to make sure the dogs are getting the best information we can give them. Sometimes, however, we need to be reminded of just how important the other end of the leash is as well. <3