Lifelong Learning for You and Your Dog

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“Why are you taking an agility class? Isn’t Otto agile enough?” That’s my husband’s question.

Otto is plenty agile; I am much less so. But that’s not why Otto and I are taking an agility class.

One of the main reasons I signed us up for the class is because I’ve found that it helps to take classes yourself when you are learning to teach. I’m interested in teaching, both in print (in the magazine) and in the course of my volunteer work at my local animal shelter.

I find that I often observe something about teachers when I’m a student. In my first class, for example, I noticed how much I like it when the instructor said, “Good job, Nancy!” – but only when I really thought whatever I did WAS good. I didn’t like it at all when I thought I did a lousy job of something. Praise has to feel authentic for it to actually feel good. At least, for people. I don’t know about dogs. Otto doesn’t seem to mind getting a treat at any time!

I’m also taking the class to help maintain Otto’s interest in working with me. When we work on the same stuff all the time, I notice he starts to get a little less enthused about the process. But whenever I ask him for something new, his eyes light up, and I can see him concentrate in an effort to figure out what he has to do to earn my praise or treat. He enjoys learning something new. Don’t we all?

The first class was not a huge challenge. I often ask him to jump on or over things on our walks, so the table, plank, and the jumps were not particularly novel for him. He’s previously been through an agility tunnel and over an A-frame at dog daycare. However, we both had to concentrate on doing these things with him on my right side, as opposed to my left. And building in the “pause” at the end of the obstacles made him furrow his brow in concentration. After just a try or two, he got the hang of it, and was bright and enthused about more.  I can’t wait for the next class.

What are you working on with your dog?

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