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The Pygmalion Effect: A Dedication

by | Aug 24, 2016 | 0 comments

Whether you are involved in dog sports or dog training as a career or hobby, you may have had a mentor early on. That person was probably pivotal in your understanding of dogs or training, or of your chosen sport. You need not have had a mentor to be great in your chosen doggy path; technical training skills can be taught in any of the quality dog training education programs available, and there are a wide variety of resources for dog sport handling. I’d argue though that you’d have been lucky to have one, because a mentor doesn’t just teach skills.

The word Mentor in magazine letters on a notice board

A mentor is defined by dictionary.com as “an experienced and trusted advisor.” Not a teacher, not an educator, an advisor; a trusted advisor. Someone who is there to help guide the learner in her education; not someone who provides the education itself. A mentor is a special gift, a lucky star. I have had quite a few in my quest to help dogs and their people to function better together in sport and life, but I’d like to tell you about the first one. The one who is probably most responsible for the fact that I didn’t become an English teacher or a clinical psychologist. The one who not only offered me guidance wrapped up in kindness, compassion, and good humor, but the one that always expected me to do well. Her name was Elyse Hansberry, and while she was no famous dog trainer, she did something for me that I can never repay her for: she consistently expected me to be successful.

Expectations DO Affect Performance 

There exists a phenomenon called the Pygmalion Effect. Simply stated, a teacher or mentor’s higher expectations lead to elevated performances in their pupils. This has been studied and demonstrated, as has it’s counter, the Golem Effect, whereby lower expectations yield lesser performances. I believe strongly that this phenomenon is alive when we are training our dogs, as well as when we are educating our human students. I know today Elyse’s belief that I would succeed; her high expectations of my training and handling had that effect on me. I didn’t know what I was doing, and my dog (Kelso, my beloved first border collie) had behavioral problems that made dog sports quite challenging for him. Still, Elyse always expected a great performance, though I was immersed in a world of people who were afraid of my dog (rightfully) or resentful that we were allowed to participate (again, rightfully). She defended me, spoke only complimentary words about my dog, and always expected me to meet and exceed my goals. Against all odds, I usually did.

If you are in a position in which you influence someone; students, clients, children, or the dogs you train, do not forget this important phenomenon. Expect them to be bright, successful, high-achievers. Expect more than what is even possible. You’ll be giving them a gift, I promise.




Thank you, Elyse. We should all be so lucky to have a mentor like you, in anything we attempt. You are at rest now, but what you did for me, and many others, lives on. 






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