Saturday, March 24, 2018
SLICE #24- Lessons learned at dog school
I'm trying to find a hobby. Since I've always loved dogs, it makes sense that this new hobby might involve dogs. And so I've been going to training classes at Canine Partners of the Rockies two Saturdays a month. I love helping with the dogs.
And I often learn something about teaching kids as well.
Today was no exception.
The handlers and dogs were working on the "Wait" command. You might know that command as "stay." But the dogs at CaPR "wait."
Angela, the trainer, was modeling the task with Nugget, who is an advanced dog, almost ready to become a full-fledged service dog. She could put Nugget in a "wait" and then turn her back and walk away for several minutes. During that time she might pet another dog, talk to a handler, or even shake the treat jar. Nugget would still be waiting when she came back.
When it was the other dogs' turn, she cautioned the handlers to set their dogs up for success. With Willow, who is only 14 weeks old, the handler never moved more than one or two steps away. And the "wait" was probably never more than 30 seconds. Valor, an exuberant eight-month-old, could wait while his mama backed up about ten feet, but that was definitely far enough, and he really struggled to concentrate if he was too close to the other dogs. Ully's trainer thought she would be ok if she left her and walked across the room, but Angela cautioned her to try an easier move first, and if Ully was successful there, then she could try something harder. Ully was ultimately able to handle the more difficult task, but she had had success at the easier one first. Angela reminded the handlers that sometimes their dogs would be able to do tasks at home, where there were not many distractions, but that those same tasks would be much more difficult in other situations, e.g. in the class today, when there were eight dogs, and about 15 people.
Angela told the handlers that they should always, always, always set the dogs up to be successful. When the dogs were successful at an easy task, then the handler could up the ante just a little. The dogs learned by success after success after success. And when they failed, the handler simply reset the dog, and tried again, with a task that was a little easier. There was never any punishment or mean voice or anything like that. Not even a "No!" Just a reset and try again.
As I was watching the dogs, I was thinking about the kids at school. We're all about rigor these days. The texts always have to be complex. The writing tasks daunting. And everyone gets the same task to do. And right now, a week before our state tests, the tasks are really hard, and there are a lot of kids that are not experiencing a lot of success. And I'm seeing a lot of discouraged and/or frustrated kids. People don't learn a lot from repeated failures.
Tonight I'm thinking about my friend Lori Conrad, who always says, "Learning is success remembered."
And I'm wondering what we as teachers might learn from the dogs and their handlers.