Newsletter Banner

Teaching Classes & Helping One Another

Teaching Obedience Classes and Helping One Another
Connie Cleveland

In December of 2018, I completed 32-years instructing obedience classes. I love teaching, and for years taught 12-14 classes every week. I also teach 10-12 seminars each year. Over three decades I have become very intentional about my mission as an instructor, the goals I have for my classes, and the teaching techniques that best work in the classroom. I am blessed to be surrounded by other enthusiastic instructors. Together, we understand that our mission in three-fold. 

I. Cast a Vision 
Whether dealing with Beginners or Utility students, our first goal is to give the student a vision of what a trained dog will look like. Beginners may have never seen or experienced a well-trained dog. They are amazed that a dog can stay on a bed and even more amazed by a dog that will ignore a distraction and come when called. Likewise, a new Utility student may not understand why it’s important to teach the Signal Exercise without allowing the dog to move forward, or the importance of a tight turn and sit at the end of the go-out exercise.  Giving a new student a vision is important to their success.  

II. Teach Principles
Dog training principles are the truths I know about how dogs learn. The principles we teach at DTW are outlined in the article “How Dogs Learn”. Each class is structured to teach a principle, or point out the principle at work when teaching a new skill. Students who understand principles will not be slaves to the techniques we teach, but can adjust when difficulties are encountered. 

III. Teach Techniques
Whatever the course curriculum, we choose techniques that will work for the majority of the students. Additionally, we must be flexible enough to change techniques for the students that are struggling. The techniques we use should address the most common problems that might arise on an exercise. For example, we know that the most common problems on the Broad Jump are cutting the corner and stepping in the middle of the jump. That is why we introduce the Broad Jump with a cone at the end, and only use two boards and a bar. From the beginning, we want to prevent the most common problems.  

Understanding Learning Styles

The instructors at DTW are committed to casting a vision, introducing principles, and teaching techniques. However, we realize that the success of our classes also depends on being an intentional teacher and understanding learning styles.  

Many of you are training together. As you try to help one another, consider these tips that we use when teaching. 

All of us learn visually (by watching), auditorily (by hearing) and kinesthetically (by doing). However, many of us have a primary mode of learning. 

Approximately 30% of the population is made up of auditory learners. That means if you only give verbal instructions to someone, you only have a 30% chance that they will fully absorb what you are teaching. 

65% of the population are visual learners. A visual learner wants to see a demonstration. Don’t forget the kinesthetic learners. They learn by doing, trying it themselves, or even putting your hands on theirs and showing them exactly how you want them to proceed. Do you know what learning style appeals to you? Do you know the learning style of your training partner? 

Problems start when we assume the person we are helping learns in the same way we do. For example, I am an auditory learner. I like to hear instruction, so the most natural way for me to teach is to tell my students what to do (after all, it works for me!) However, when instructing, I must be intentional to connect with all learning styles. I give verbal instructions for the auditory learners, demonstrate for the visual learners, and then help each student try the new skill. Practicing is essential for the kinesthetic learners.

The words we choose are also directed at specific learning styles. For example, when an instructor says, “Do you see what I mean?” the visual learners (65% of the people) do, in fact, visualize what they are being told. They “See what I mean.” 

At the conclusion of every puppy and beginner class, we describe what a practice session will look like (auditory). As we describe it, we walk a dog through as many of the skills as possible (visual). We intentionally ask the question, “Can everyone picture where you will practice and what it is going to look like?” The words “picture,” and “look,” appeal to the visual learner. The statement, “Can everyone imagine yourself doing this at home?” gives the visual folks time to form a picture and helps the kinesthetic people imagine themselves practicing.  

In addition to approaching everything we are teaching from a visual, auditory and kinesthetic point of view, we try to teach using the following guidelines. As you read through these, think about your own training partners. When you are helping one another, consider using these guidelines as well:

1. Always Assume that a Lack of Compliance is a Lack of Understanding
There are times when we feel as if the person we are trying to help is ignoring us or not following instructions. However, it is more likely that the student does not understand the instructions. We assume that a lack of compliance is due to our inability to communicate well and try to find an alternative way to explain a technique. 

2. Avoid Repeating an Instruction Unless You Rephrase the Instruction 
“Put more slack in your leash” can also be stated as, “Loosen your leash,” or “Lower your left hand so that there is a loop in the leash between you and your dog.” 

3. Delete “Don’t” from All Instructions
Change “Don’t hold your leash so tight,” to “Put more slack in your leash.” It’s much easier for a student to do what he hears than to figure out what to do because you said “Don’t do what you are doing.”

4. Techniques Change, Goals Don’t! 
If someone is struggling with a technique, or simply does not like the technique we have selected, it will not get practiced. it is our job to suggest an alternative technique. 

5. Praise Loudly and Correct Softly 
We all love to be told we are doing something well. Shouting encouragement and praise is well received. However, if we have any correction or criticism, stand close by and  share that information quietly. 

6. Listen! Respond to the Most Immediate Concern First
It is extremely frustrating to be teaching one subject, and find that someone wants to talk about a different issue. Stop and respond to the immediate concern. When the student is not distracted by that pressing issue, he will hear how you want him to proceed on other issues. 

7. Ask Them “How it feels,” 
Ever tried to get someone to stop looking back at their dog while practicing heeling? If you say, “You’re looking back,” you will rarely change their body position. However, if you ask “How does your back feel?” the response will be “Twisted.” A student can easily fix what he feels is awkward. He will rarely change in response to your description of what he looks like.  

If you have found this information helpful, mark your calendar! 

On August 7, 2019, at 7 pm, I will be conducting a webinar to discuss Teaching Obedience Classes. I will discuss; 

  • How to organize Beginner & Puppy Classes
  • Teaching Advanced Classes: Dividing into Small Groups
  • Aggression: a demonstration to show you how I teach owners to gain control of aggressive behavior

If you cannot attend the webinar live, you will receive a recording of the event.
You can register for the webinar here