I often wonder what it’s like to be one of my students.
I wonder what they think of me, the information I provide, the way I provide it. Which parts make sense to them, which parts don’t? How does their learning history effect the way they interact with me?
And, by thinking about those things, I want to know how I can make the students experience as enjoyable, efficient and practical as possible.
Thinking recently about my own time as a student working with my dogs, a massively important factor to me is the feeling of being in a team.
As dog trainers, it is presumed that the dogs should be our main focus. The owners, despite their best intentions, can sometimes be the reason their dog is struggling. Everything is part of the environment, especially the people they live with.
So we dive deep into the dog’s wellbeing, the dog’s point of view, and tell people what they should do to make their dogs lives better. All of this makes sense.
I wonder, though, how our students feel if we do it wrong? How do they feel if we just focus on the dog’s needs?
We talk a lot about ensuring dogs needs are met. Sarah Owings discusses a Dog's Emotional Cup (wonderfully realised by the artist Lil Chin), but sometimes I feel like we forget about the owners emotional cup as well.
And what about the owners? We’re comfortable setting up management and support networks for our dogs, but with their owners? I’m not sure if I go far enough.
One of my goals when I work with a student, whether they have a bouncy eight-week old puppy, training a dog for Tracking, or working on a behavioural modification programme is to make it a team effort.
Not a team effort between me and the dog, but a team effort between me, the owner and the dog. All three of us, together, will work to help improve the quality of life for two of those parties. I’m fortunate enough that my quality of life automatically increases when working with them.
I’ve been conscious recently of how small a role dog trainers actually play in our students lives. We are, if we do our jobs well, there for a short space of time. Our impact, however important it might be to those students, is over in a blink of an eye.
Then it’s down to them. And I don’t mean they are not supported in their endeavours to improve their lives, but we are not there 99.9% of the time. They are the ones who will improve their dogs and go on their learning journeys, our job is to give them a little nudge.
And that nudge is for both parties. We need to nudge the owners and tell them it is okay to take a break from training. That it’s okay to use management if they’re having a bad day. That they can email or text us if there has been a hard week. That no question they ask is dumb or pointless.
To create an environment for learning we need both of our learners to feel included, their boundaries respected and their needs met.
It’s a team effort. And with all of us working together, for the short sliver of time I might be in my students lives, I hope I can provide even a small speck of information or perspective that helps them grow and develop.