Friday, September 7, 2012

What Makes a Great Instructor? [Dog Agility Blog Action Day]

"We need to learn and embrace patience. Patience is a holy key that will unlock the door to a more fulfilling life. Behind the blessed door of patience are found better parents, powerful teachers, great businessmen, wise masters, and a more compassionate world." ~S. Maraboli

While experience is paramount, I believe that Patience is at the heart of all great Agility instructors.

A great Agility instructor practices patience with us as students (some of us more than others!) and they also teach us how to become patient handlers and trainers for our dogs. It's a tough bill to fill for sure!
If you think about it, people come to Agility with all different levels of experience, different personalities and different styles of learning. On top of that, students bring their dogs with them... Dogs will all different levels of experience, different personalities and different learning styles. Only instructors with some serious patience can deal with this crowd effectively!

As I've written many times, I came into Agility knowing literally nothing about it or about dog training in general. Of all the lessons I've learned over the past 3 years, Patience is by far the most important one.

Patience has helped me learn about our dogs and their differences.

Gilda needs all the patience I can muster as she lives her every waking moment teetering on the very edge of stressing either up on down depending on the situation! Stress impedes learning for all living things so it's important to find ways to avoid it.

Gilda is a quick study but requires time and space to feel confident in performing what she's learned. She can perform a teeter for example but will only willingly do so if she's the only dog around for miles. Frustrating? Yes. Very!
Frustration however, (on either my part or hers) drastically decreases learning.
Linda, in her calm, patient way, took the stress out of the teeter by changing it from an exercise to a fun game with great rewards! Without Linda's patience and understanding, Gilda would still be quivering in a corner at the mere sight of a teeter. Lord only knows where I'd be!

Pico, on the other hand is 'Mr. Operant'. He generally loves to train and loves to work. He requires the most patience from me when new things don't come easily to him because that generally means that I need to change my teaching technique.

I was determined to train Pico to weave using channel weaves because we have a set of 6 of them sitting in our basement. As we started our weave training, it became quickly apparent that Pico didn't understand the exercise at all. It was clear that he didn't understand why he was getting a click/treat sometimes and not others. The ever-patient Jessica made every training adjustment she could think of before recommending that we try using the 2x2 method to train the weaves. One session with the 2x2s and Pico's little light bulb came on!

I know for a fact that Jessica prefers the 2x2 method and has for some time now. I'm even more certain that she wanted to switch Pico's method after our first session. In the end, it was Jessica's experience that led us to try the 2x2s but it was her patience that enabled her to wait until I was ready to try it!

In our fast-paced world of 24/7 ATMs, instant pics and fast food, it's often hard to wait... to really wait. Dogs love instant gratification as much as we humans do. It's up to us to teach them patience through our actions. The rewards are great I'm sure... I'm still working patiently toward them!

Thanks Linda and Jessica. Without your patience for myself and my dogs, I'm quite sure we wouldn't be where we are today.

* For more posts on 'What Makes a Great Agility Instructor', please link to Dog Agility Blog Events: Instructors

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