Lets go fishing…

Have you ever heard that expression… ‘give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day… teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime’…

Well, I was delivering a seminar in beautiful Aberdeen, and I was asked about how I teach and why.

The question came from a gentleman who had been in attendance for the two days.

He made an observation, that I taught dogs in the same way that I teach people.

It’s an excellent and fair point.

As a professional dog trainer and sports dog coach, I view teaching in the same way. Its all behaviour. And like my dogs, my preference is to shape.

I want to create a situation for my dogs to learn, where I solely focus on what I want them to do, and reinforce them for their choices. It may be a small insignificant effort looking from the sidelines, but for that dog, its a milestone. Not all dogs are comfortable ‘offering’ a thousand behaviours. Some stall, shutdown, get frustrated… displace, disengage, get over aroused. I set them up for success by creating an environment they can succeed in, breaking down information into achievable pieces and reinforcing any effort.

As a coach/trainer, I see my role as both a teacher and a support system, to build confidence. So it is logical, that I apply these principles to my students.

Confidence is initially created by an infinite amount of successes… but it also comes from facing and embracing struggles and challenges. Often people fear failure or mistakes, as though this is an indication of the eventual outcome, rather then a stepping stone to success.

As a progression with my students, be in two or four legged, I challenge them to step out of their comfort zone, as this is where real growth will occur.

Identifying the line between too much and too little is key. ‘Easy successes’ will definitely create confidence, but is that confidence fragile? One significant failure and will the confidence will crumble? Do they have resilience? 

Imagine a being in a team, where you never lost. Amazing right! Where you literally, never experienced ‘not’ being crowned the successor. Or think of a sports person, who has reigned supreme for a time, yet then experiences a loss. 

Often, we hear stories of the aftermath of ‘loss’ or ‘failure’. They take it so severely, they walk away from the sport or worse. They have lost in a way that was significant for them. A may be by a huge points difference, or in an important competition….

What do you think that would have on their confidence?

Some would  they be able to dust it off and call on their bank of wins.

Some would take it to heart and question everything they ever knew.

Some would walk away and quit.

Some would get angry and want to come out all guns blazing.

All these are typical responses, that both people and dogs display as a response to ‘failure and frustration’.

What determines this wide and diverse response to failure? 

Genetics possibly? The ‘core’ make up of the person? The core make up of the dog?

By apportioning the outcome to genetics, we are limiting those that can achieve success. We are saying that it has to be the right dog or right person.

However, what would we want the ideal response to be?

Thoughtful? Reflective? Still engaged? Still focused and still willing to try again? Tenacity? Committed? Confident? More determined? 

This is what I aim to create in my dogs and students alike. 

My agenda with both is to create confidence, inner belief and the ability to ‘think for themselves’.

When I teach, I allow my student to ‘try’. It doesn’t matter if they make a mistake.I let them first fall in love with the task and process. I also give them information in ‘pieces’, rather the chunks. I give them information that they can initially achieve, and then gradually increase the challenges. 

Once they have this ‘want’, I then focus on what I want them to do, reinforcing the correct behaviours.

I challenge them, push them and ask them to figure out their own solutions. 

By doing this, I aim to create ‘trainers’ rather then just ‘students’. I want them to have confidence in their own judgement, and apply the principles and theory to their own training, and not being afraid to ‘make mistakes’. Long term, this also makes them better competitors and trainers in their own right.

I can ‘easily’ show them what I want, spoon feed them information. A, then B then C… There is nothing wrong with that, but does that help them ‘truly’ understand and have that confidence in themselves? Does it create that ‘dopamine’ hit, that we know shaping induces? Do they have that ‘aha’ moment, that allows them to develop skills that make them ‘fishermen’, and not just have ‘cod and chips’..,

Often when teaching students, that are new to me, they can find this initial process a challenge… and alien to what they have known. This may be how they have experience learning in other areas in their life, school, a sport, work etc…. So I blend supporting them with allowing them to ‘figure’ stuff out. One of the tasks I ask them to undertake, is to teach a trick… but I dont tell hem how… I let them work it out. I also would do this with a behaviour chain. They have to ‘figure it out’…. There is no ‘wrong’ paths, just the one that suits the individual and the purpose.

This process has allowed my students across the globe to develop skills and ability, that defies their experience. First time dog owners, with no previous dog training experience, with unconventional breeds of dogs, deemed untrainable’, going to and winning at the biggest dog show in the world! ‘Inexperienced’ sports dog trainers, representing their country at World Championship level competition. And in doing so, have a relationship with their dogs that defy the boundaries of sports. This is where my real joy lies. 

A good teacher will teach, a great teacher will inspire.

I am so excited about the possibility of helping more people reach their goals, develop their skills and ultimately fulfilling their dreams via my online training site…. more information to follow on this, in the next few weeks!

For now…enjoy your dogs!


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