I have been instructing people with their dogs for about twelve years. I really wasn’t very good at it at first. It took a long time for me to learn how to be an effective and kind teacher, and those skills continue to require polishing. Anytime we want to be good at something we need to know what it means to be good. Luckily I had both positive and negative experiences to draw from, and I had my best teachers, dogs. I also had some very real talks with myself about whether or not I actually could teach everyone about dogs (spoiler: I can’t, and I don’t have to). But this is not a blog about being a teacher; it’s a blog about being a student.
I am enrolled in an online course with Felix right now. It’s my first time having a working spot in something like this, and when I tell you it’s been eye-opening and humbling, I mean it. When I signed up I made a commitment; I knew that I’d need to work hard to understand the concepts, religiously edit and post video for feedback, and take charge of my own learning. I knew I’d need to do what I ask my students to do; I’d need to dive in. A head-first-body-swallowing-deep-sea-dive. That’s what was needed here.
This is what I ask routinely of my clients because I know my most successful students dive deep. They don’t dip their toes. They don’t wade around. They hold their breath and dive. I have done that, I am doing it, and I’ve learned a few things.
We live in an interesting time. There are countless online learning options for dog training varying widely in methodology and price. If you’re going to take an online class, pick it wisely. Be pretty certain you are going to get what you want from it. Explore all of your options, because they are endless. If you wind up displeased with the content of a course, you probably didn’t do adequate homework. The instructor is putting out information she thinks is valuable. If you wind up disagreeing with that statement, you may not have researched adequately.
Trust Your Selection
After carefully choosing the course you need, trust the information. Do your work up front so that you know this is a good class, and then do what you are taught to do. Leave conflicting information at the door and do what the instructor suggests. You will not learn what a person has to teach you if you don’t allow them to do so! I have ideas about how to teach pretty much anything I might be taking a class on. If I let those ideas cloud the information I am presented with, I am not being an effective student. The best students try to get as much information as they can from all classes, courses, and instructors. They do not waste time arguing with the person they decided to pay for information.
When I say don’t argue, I don’t mean to say don’t question. A good student questions everything; she does so out loud, directly to the teacher. If something doesn’t make sense, or conflicts strongly with your previously acquired information, give the instructor a chance to explain. When she has given you adequate explanation, either accept her material or choose to stick with what you learned first. Don’t fight with her, that’s not what you’re paying her for.
Above All, Know Thyself
A high-quality instructor knows her weaknesses in her profession. She may struggle with people who are trying to crossover from correction-based training, or she may have a harder time teaching “pet people” than “sport people.” If she is good at her job she is aware of these things and she works hard to keep them in check, lest they interfere with her effectiveness as a teacher. As a student, this same principle applies. In Felix’s online class I have been surprised by some old gremlins; fear of failure, shame in mistakes, and their god: perfectionism. Guess what kind of students don’t post video? The ones who are afraid to fail. Guess what students only show their instructor successes? The ones who have shame in their mistakes. Guess what halts learning in its tracks? Perfectionism. And these are precisely the students who will learn nothing; who will not grow.
Luckily, I’ve been working on myself long enough that I saw these things as what they are: gremlins that I get to tell off. Fear? Vital in life and not needed in the learning process. Shame? Just a lack of vulnerability; and a good student is nothing if not vulnerable. Perfectionism? The seductive illusion that aims to keep us all in glass jars. So I have trained my dog. I have posted my videos. I have been wrong a LOT of times. I have learned so much more than I even thought I would (and I hoped I’d learn a lot). Best of all, I have a renewed respect for what my students face when they post a video, especially a video in which things didn’t go as planned. This student thing is hard, but as someone smart reminds me often, I can do hard things. Guess what? So can you.