Much of the work performed by a Dog Trainer is working directly with people. When starting a dog training career you must recognize that not all of your time is spent in the company of dogs. Much of your teaching and skill coaching will be with dog owners, the two legged member of the team. Effective dog trainers must be effective people trainers and they recognize that professional training requires planning and preparation and a presentation method that ensures what you are teaching is actually being learned.
When preparing for a training session you must consider the 5 ‘W’s:
1. What are you training?
2. Where are you training?
3. When are you training?
4. Why are you training and
5. Who are you training?
Before you begin the actual training session you need to fully understand what exactly you plan to teach. What are the individual skill elements in the course? Do you have a copy of the course curriculum? Are you qualified to teach the course? Do you have all the homework handouts and training equipment you will need? You not only need to know the skills you will be training but to what level. Are you teaching a ‘sit’, or are you teaching a ‘sit/maintain’. If it is a ‘sit/maintain’, how long is the maintain behavior expected and at what distance from yourself will you expect the ‘sit’ behavior to be performed? The “What” you are training needs to have a finite objective that is clearly defined and attainable.
Next on the list is where are you conducting the training session? Have you secured the correct location? Does it conform to the necessary safety criteria? Is the area suitable for the type of training you will be doing? Do you have a selection of different locations available so skills learned at one location can be tested in new environments with new and different distractions? Frequent repetition in various scenarios ensures the skill is truly learned so the student can not only generalize in new situations but can also discriminate when appropriate. Also is your training environment suitable for any disabled or impaired individuals?
The third ‘W’ to be considered when preparing for a training class is when are you training, what day and what time of the day? Is your class time correctly posted and have you updated your students by email or phone if anything has changed. Do you know how to get there so you arrive in a timely manner, at least 20 minutes prior to the class start time? If it is an evening classes will there be enough light? Will the forecasted weather affect the class?
When you are preparing your training class be sure to include the background for the methodologies you use in your training. It is very important for adult learners to understand the rationale, the “why” it is best to do certain things in certain ways. Adults like to understand process as well as objectives. Adults take classes because they want to learn, they have identified a problem that needs solving and they are more easily satisfied if the learning is practical and can be related to everyday scenarios. Adults also deal with and process information more effectively when it is relevant and narrow in topic, not when it is surplus and broad.
This leads us to our last ‘W’ of preparation, ‘Who’ are you training. Always carefully review each application form you have for the class. Is the candidate suitable for the class they applied for in age, skill level and social skills? Know the dog breeds so you can prepare for any unique challenges in terms of drives, sensitivities, breed specifics, size of dog. Are your two legged students adults, children, or families participating together? Do any students have any disabilities that you will need to make provisions for? To be a good teacher of adults you need to be interested in people and interested in helping people find solutions. You must be flexible, patient, humorous, practical and creative. You must be prepared. It is pointless to have loads of technical knowledge, experience and skill if you cannot impart it to others effectively. Adult students seem to learn better if there is an atmosphere of mutual helpfulness and peer support. Adult learners are reluctant to take risks so you need to establish a climate of trust and acceptance. It is also important that adult learners feel free to express their views and are open to the views of others. Adult students bring clear expectations to the learning environment and expect instructors to accommodate these expectations.
Once you are fully prepared for your training class, all that remains for you to do is execute and manage the training session so your students fully learn what you are trying to teach them. Remember the old saying, when we tell a student something they retain 10%, when we show a student something they retain 50%, when the student performs what we show them they retain 90% and the other 10% comes with practice and repetition. This is the most effective way to teach a skill to another person. With the group or individual student you always provide a demonstration with a dog, first showing the exact skill you are going to teach. You do this several times without speaking. Have the group stand in a circle and while you are in the middle of the circle demonstrate quietly for a few seconds. Then you show the group the skill again, slowly as you explain the mechanics of the skill.
Then have the Student Perform the skill. Active involvement in the learning process is critical to efficient and effective learning. When the student is actively participating, rather than passively observing, greater learning takes place.
Each student/trainee then practices the skill on their own with their dog. As the trainer, you walk around the group while they practice. Take the time with each student; show them again slowly with their own dog making suggestions on their mechanics based on their individual needs. It is important at this stage to define individual goals for each dog. It is critical to reinforce and reward your two legged student, they need reinforcement just like the dogs do. Make sure the students have time to practice any new skill until you are comfortable that they have the correct training mechanics. In many cases in class the dogs will not necessarily have mastered a particular skill in class. What is important is that their owners have learned how to teach their dogs the skill so they can continue effective practice at home. At the end of each class recap everyone’s successes, reinforce people, and find a way to compliment each person on their training during and after each session. Search for areas to reinforce such as their training mechanics, their reinforcement timing, their voice tone, the relationship they have with their dog, their dog’s good looks. Make sure your students leave class with a new skill under their belt, feeling good about themselves and their future training successes. Not only will the dogs return to the next class with wagging tails but your students will return with positively wagging tongues.