Imagine this. You are learning a foreign language. Some aspects of learning that language are easy for you and others are hard. It could be that you learn vocabulary easily, or conjugating verbs, or that you’re very good at listening, writing or speaking. But the odds that you’re good at all of it? Not too likely.
Now on this particular day your teacher asks you a question and you struggle for a moment. What should they do?
Think about it.
You probably already know the answer.
First let’s consider your state of mind and overall well being. Are you excited about your lesson on that day? Well rested? Distracted by anything else going on? Have you been riding high on a string of successes with your lessons or having a rough time of it overall? Is this the beginning of your session or the end? Do you enjoy what you’re learning or are you being coerced into learning for reasons beyond your control?
Now let’s consider the specific challenge or concept that you’re trying to work through. Are you normally good at it? Have you had success with that particular concept in the recent past?
And finally, what is your learning temperament? Do you get frustrated when somebody gives you the answer too quickly or get depressed, beat yourself up or shut down when you’re not successful? Do you have anxiety around learning or is a game for you?
A good teacher is paying attention to all of these things at all times, whether they realize it or not. Indeed, it is largely unconscious and automatic.
The same is true of a good dog trainer.
When you are working with your dog, your choice to help your dog or let them puzzle it out will depend on the circumstances. If you’re not sure when you should help and when you should wait, put yourself in your dog’s shoes. You may be significantly more capable of doing that than you realize since the learning experience of dogs seems to largely mirror the human learning experience. Shutting down, stressing up, anxiety…these are neither the domain of humans nor dogs. They’re realities of learning.
As a very broad rule of thumb, it’s better to wait if you think your learner is likely to figure it out on their own and it’s better to help if you think they are going to give up, become anxious, or simply fail until you step in. As the teacher, you know what allows your learner to thrive; now apply that knowledge!
This is what experienced trainers mean when they say train the dog in front of you. This is what I mean when I say “it depends”, which is probably the most common answer I give to any question.
If you’re not sure what to do, try something. Anything! Did you like the result? Keep on. Did you not like the result? Change your direction. How would you feel if you were the dog, under the circumstances in front of you?
No one knows all of the answers. Not me, not you, and not your favorite training guru. We’re all learning on the job, depending on what is going on in front of us.
On another note, Registration for the June 2018 term at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy ends on Friday, June 15th. Check out the schedule and get enrolled!
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I have found that for me, initially waiting is the way to go. the time I think he should process and the time it takes HIM to process a command are very different things. His brain processes things MUCH more slowly than mine, and waiting for him to understand the command and then translate it into a picture he can act upon has saved me falling into the pitfall of inadvertently teaching my dog to wait for a second command. Most times, that is.
The same was true for many of the dogs in my classes – waiting as long as five or ten seconds sometimes was necessary. Our brains are just much swifter than our dogs’ – the default was to wait. Then,, when it was apparent that the dog had checked out or forgotten the request, stepping in with help was the next step.