Sink or swim

Last Friday I took Neave, my 1yr old daughter to a swimming lesson.

This was with a group called ‘Puddle Ducks’, you can check out the website

As a coach and teacher for competitive dog sports, and someone who works extensively with behavioural issues in dogs, I am always ‘aware’ of how others ‘instruct’, seeing if there is anything I can take from how others approach teaching and communicating. Great teaching is great teaching, whether it be aimed at two or four legged subjects!

Well I can definitely say, Neave’s swimming experience was definitely teaching at its best!

Teaching someone that has no ability to communicate with you verbally, is reliant on clear communication in other ways… body language, expression, posture, tone of voice and gestures are some of the ways the instructor created a positive learning environment for Neave to learn.

The lesson was going to particularly challenging for Neave, as she was going to be briefly submerged underwater. This in itself can be incredibly stressful if not handled correctly and safely.

The first part of the lesson Neave had was how to enter the pool appropriately. She had to sit at the edge and wait briefly to be lifted into the pool. She was given information about what was happening and allowed to come in the pool when she was calm and attentive.

We initially played games to build Neave’s confidence in the water. Although, she had been previously, and we were comfortable that she was happy in the environment, the start of the session was confirming this feeling.

The first part of the sessions comprised of games that were familiar to Neave, and she appeared to recognise theses games and the songs that were sung.

This helped start the session with some ‘successes’. It built her confidence in the process. It also ensured she found the session fun.

Next was the challenging part of the session, where she was to be submerged briefly underwater.

This was done incrementally and at each stage, we ‘checked’ Neave was comfortable and happy with what was happening.

Initially, a small container was used to pour water in front of her, and she was encouraged to play and interact with it. She was allowed to indicate the speed at which the session progressed and when to move on to the next part. Her body language was closely observed and monitored.

The water was then poured on the back of her head, then across her face. Again, each stage was monitored and a visual ‘thermometer’ taken of how she was coping. Although Neave cant speak coherently to exclaim her joy, it was clear to see.

Next, was the submerging.

My role was clearly explained, what I was to do was demonstrated with a doll several times. I was allowed to ask questions and then, when I was ready allowed to submerged Neave briefly.

It was explained clearly how long for and what to do directly after. I was advised to distract her with games immediately after and not to instantly react by turning her towards me. This was to ensure I didn’t create anxiety around the experience. As Neave’s parent, this was clearly a nerve wrecking experience for me! Instead I was advised to distract her and make it fun!

We did variations of this exercise and at each stage Neave’s response was monitored and gauge. She dictated the speed of the session and the rate of progression. She loved it, and even when there was a moment of hesitation after her first submerged, because she was refocused onto another game, she quickly gained confidence.

After a few more repetitions, we finished on some easier challenges and the session was ended.

Neave loved it! Largely because of the expert guidance and instruction.

This was an excellent example of growing confidence, pushing beyond your comfort zone, making learning fun, using interaction and games to teach important lessons. It incorporated shaping, desensitisation, acclimatisation, impulse control to name but a few, all merge into a series of games, songs and fun experiences.

This is everything that a great learning experience should be, irrespective of whether it is a one year old learning to swim or a dog learning to face the world, or nose target a cone, or pick up an article.

Learning should be fun, but it can be stressful and create anxiety but rather then avoid it at all cost, create confidence in the subject so that they can cope with challenges, and perceive situations that may invoke stress and anxiety as a positive. Fun isn’t just fast and furious, it can be a mind game, a challenge, physically or mentally.

This session built up to the challenge in increments, they also paid attention to Neave and what she was coping with.

There was no rush, no hurry and no time frame to adhere to. But yet they also took her further in her learning, slightly out of her comfort zone and above all, made it a game.

The session was clearly planned out, and strategic. This one of a series of lessons designed to teach core skills and foundations for swimming and safety in and around water.

If only all teaching could follow this pattern. Either end of the spectrum, being to forceful or shying away from challenges, can inhibit growth. Both moving at a snails pace or racing to the finish line, are counter productive.

Strategic planning, clear vision, enthusiasm, passion are just some of the attributes that a great teacher has. They create a student that wants to learn, will relish challenges and have confidence in everything they engage in.

Be that person for your dogs, your students and yourself.

3 Replies to “Sink or swim”

  1. Love it Kamal and beautiful baby girl😀

    On 15 Dec. 2017 6:43 am, “Kamal Fernandez dog training blog” wrote:

    > kamalfernandez posted: “Last Friday I took Neave, my 1yr old daughter to a > swimming lesson. This was with a group called ‘Puddle Ducks’, you can check > out the website As a coach and teacher for > competitive dog sports, and someone who works extensi” >


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