Saturday, March 22, 2014

How do you teach?


Remember school? I know it's hard for some of us older type people, but I do remember the classes I disliked and the ones I excelled at.  I disliked history and English and loved math and science.  Many years ago I figured out why.  It had nothing to do with the subjects themselves, it had to do with the way they were taught.  Both history and English were full of rote memorization and the tests for those subjects reflected that. Math and science were full of puzzles to solve, creative processes and diving into the inner structure of the universe and life.

I've since changed my mind about history when I discovered in college how rich and exciting learning about those who helped create the world we now live in could be. I also learned why we do the things we do today and why money and leisure are the main motivators.

Studying the history of the language we speak, the intricacies of grammar and the true definitions of words and how powerful communication is, has changed my viewpoint of studying English.  One of the most powerful changes was in realizing that which words you choose and what order you put them in can create either a scathing insult or a loving compliment and unless you understand sentence structure and grammar, you'd never know which was coming from your best friends mouth.

This fits right into dog training and why I train how I do these days.  My purpose is to create a self-controlled, confident dog that is willing to work with the human end of the leash without strife, can perceive and resolve problems and understands the rules of living in a human created world.  You can’t really get this with training that only asks for rote learning.

Rote learning, memorization of facts and figures; or in the case of a dog, commands; only works until the test or when the history teach (trainer) is around to trigger that file drawer that you’ve stuffed everything into.  There is no tie-in to real life and in the case of our dogs, no information about how to act when the human isn’t there or in situations where commands haven’t been taught.

I’ve heard way too many trainers say “teach the dog to sit to prevent jumping” and “teach the dog to sit to prevent fence fighting” and “teach the dog to sit for food”.  But what is really happening here?  Even in the R+ world, this is just basic rote learning, memorization of what to do in specific situations.  Where is the understanding of sentence structure, grammar and understanding? How many situations are you going to need to teach your dog to “sit” in?  About as many as there were dates I had to memorize in history class of significant events in history?  And even if it is finite for those significant dates what about the small things in life?  What does the dog do when you startle him flushing the toilet the first time or drop the roast on the kitchen floor?

Hence my switch from rote learning of commands, often with force behind the learning, to structured games that teach with nothing but fun, self confidence, self control and the willingness to participate.

Ask yourself next time you hit the training ground, what is it that you are really teaching your dog.