After a spell of snow and cold weather, spring might be here at last. The temperatures are rising, the daffodils in flower and the birds are busy. Spring is my favourite time of year and for me a time to edit my possessions and have a good clear out.
This is a great time to take stock of the past training year, in particular a time to review some of the training protocols and beliefs I have collected. Every year provides opportunities to grow and learn, and part of growing, is being able to integrate the new learning into current training. I may come across a piece of information that really interests me but if I can't use it in some way I am likely to forget it. The best learning inspires us to review and change our practice.
Another event that happens at this time of year is the BBC's Masterchef programme, a competition that gives home cooks the chance to showcase their skills via a series of challenges, until one contestant becomes the Masterchef.
At the beginning of this year's competition, the amateur cooks faced the 'market test'.
The contestants were given access to a market packed full of high-quality ingredients, and given the instruction to create one dish. Contestants, overwhelmed by the choice, often put too many ingredients in their basket or pick foods that do not compliment. The finished product may be edible but it lacks coherence, too many mis-matched ingredients and the result is a less than excellent dish.
This reminds me of training classes, owners with the very best intentions and training baskets full of unrelated protocols, advice and equipment. My job is to help them edit the contents of their baskets, review, and then make informed choices of what to carry forward. I can only do this if I apply the same process to my own basket every year.
Over the winter I have been inspired by Alexandra Kurland's Goat Diaries, if you haven't had chance to read them yet, you can find them here https://theclickercenterblog.com/category/the-goat-diaries/ Alexandra has some training mantras that she includes in the diaries in particular this one:
"The longer you stay with an exercise the more good things you see that it gives you"
Reading and watching the goats progress I wanted to add this learning to my basket. However, this piece of learning wasn't going to naturally connect with or compliment another piece of learning that was already in the basket.
At the bottom of my basket was a piece of learning from a previous mentor:
"Aim to teach three new things at every class"
At the time this guidance was given it was perfect. I was nervous about starting up new classes, so firm and clear guidelines were helpful. Focusing on three activities helped me fine tune my lesson plans. Looking at that piece of advice with fresh eyes it no longer fits into my basket - I have more skills to tailor training to the individual, an ability to assess and alter teaching in the moment. I have lesson plans but they are flexible and allow space for the dogs and people to tell me what they need to learn. My learners are different, fewer puppies and a greater number of older dogs, especially dogs labelled reactive or aggressive. Trying to teach three new things a week to these learners puts pressure on me, the owners and the dogs.
So for this season of teaching I shall be encouraging classes to stay with an activity. The criteria will be that the activity is one that the dog enjoys. We shall explore the learning together and see the good things that it gives us.