Lessons Gleaned From Puppy Manners Class

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Trying to pay attention

Trying to pay attention

We have, Heaven help us, acquired a new puppy, a gargantuan Great Pyrenees/Golden Retriever cross intent on eating our living room. Like most doting but desperate parents, we’ve sought outside counsel, and enrolled Rory in dog obedience classes (I use this term, you understand, in the loosest possible sense.) Great Pyrenees are, apparently, “willful”, a euphemism for flat stubborn; we keep hoping the people-pleasing Golden Retriever side will surface, but so far have been disappointed. It’s a lot like looking at your husband when your children do something heinous and debating whose genes are responsible for the lapse.

I tell you this because it’s been eye-opening attending these classes, where Rory routinely disgraces himself by his wild enthusiasm and inability to focus. The instructor, who has a Masters in Animal Behavioral Science, is undaunted by his joyful uncooperativeness, encouraging us to “break down the task until he can be successful, and repeat over and over until the behavior is solidified.” There is no such thing as inability or refusal to learn; we just haven’t figured out a way to teach him….and she will brook no suggestion of resorting to “negative” reinforcement (which crosses my mind quite frequently).

This experience, where we “click-reward-repeat” ad infinitum, makes me think of the intervention research which suggests some students need 4 to 5 times the intensity of instruction as others to attain concepts. Under our instructor’s gentle scrutiny, I’ve begun reflecting on my own intervention instruction: Am I showing children exactly what to do? Am I breaking the task down into incremental steps so each can be successful? Am I rewarding successful attempts immediately and appropriately? Am I providing sufficient practice so that the skill becomes automatic? Am I setting up appropriate situations where the skill can be transferred? Am I reviewing on a regular schedule to cement the learning?

About 40 minutes into every lesson, completely overstimulated and exhausted by effort, Rory collapses in the midst of the mayhem, and falls fast asleep. This learning business, for him, is tough work. It’s a reminder to me to work a little, rest a little, work a little, rest a little…before this learning business overwhelms my struggling students, as well.

May your dogs learn willingly this joyous season, and may all your teaching be productive!

Rory flaked out

Joan Vaughan

Joan Vaughan

Before coming to Region 10, I taught in two countries, two provinces, two states, two languages, and spent twenty-two years in the classroom. My passion is teaching writing, talking about writing, modeling writing, and discussing writing with kids and teachers alike.

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2 Responses to “Lessons Gleaned From Puppy Manners Class”

  1. Toni Garrett says:

    This is hysterical – and so very connected to what we do as educators! Thanks for sharing. I love it when life mirrors work!

  2. Greg Artkop says:

    Teaching students who have short term memory has been a challenge. Sometimes these students require a concept to be retaught and retaught several times, and when they retain the concept it is both rewarding for the student and teacher.

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