Saturday, March 13, 2010

Trainer Skills

Back to that thing about repetition and practicing... it's important not just for the dogs, but for trainer skills too!

I'm super excited that I might get to be *cough cough* teaching something like this soon.

Students today were pointing out how good their dogs were for me. I'd take the leash and suddenly the dogs were focused and responding and moving with me. The students commented on how quickly I handled the reinforcement and props.

We talked a bit about how to improve. And I pointed out that I've had a lot of practice, but if I switched hands and fed with the left hand, my precision and speed and fluency greatly decreased.

There are lots of important trainer skills that can be worked on, and especially outside the context of a pet class where students just want the dogs to "be good."

Creative problem solving is super important and fits so well into clicker training. CPS is something I -love- thinking about and teaching. When I was in school I absolutely loved the CPS program I was involved in, and my year as a team manager for two teams (kindergarten and a high school team!) was the best. Now that I teach every night of the week...I just don't have the after-school hours to have a team.

What? Back to CPS. Being able to take a situation, brainstorm a ton of solutions, change the way of looking at the problem, approach it from different ways, use different props, manipulate the scenario, use what's available and come up with fabulous, brilliant, different, and workable scenarios is a super important skill for anyone who is teaching and for dedicated students. And it's something I don't practice enough. I have fairly efficient ways of teaching just about anything and I do need to keep experimenting with my own dogs and students to find even better ways of training certain behaviors, improving fluency, and a better experience for the dog and handler.

Mechanical skills are just as important too. I'm really efficient at holding leashes, clickers, treats, props. But only in a certain way. I need to change things up, develop leash handling skills with my right hand, be able to feed with my left. So, what will I be doing? Practicing without my dog. Imagine that. Yay for invisible dogs.

And...because I'm good at making these long, "trainer skills" is something we're focusing on with our 4-H kids this year. It'll be interesting to see how the kids do compared to past groups. We haven't taught a Sit yet. We've lured/captured/prompted for fold back downs on ONE practice. We do stays and heeling every week. But those are behaviors. Skills: We do 30 min of obed, 30 min on knowledge/trainer skills and 30 min on showmanship. The kids have lots of exercises to practice without their dogs. They're looking GOOD. If they look just as good with their dogs...they'd be ready for fair tomorrow! "Breaking it Down" is just as important for people as dogs.

And here's an image about tomorrows post and my "new contact training technique" hah.

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