Admit it, some of the dogs in your life have learned at different rates. Some catch on quickly in puppy kindergarten and basic obedience. Others, well, not so fast.
Guess what? Two-legged students are the same. Take it from Jennifer Mogren, a first-year Auburn Riverside High School language-arts teacher, and Mary Berry, a longtime Issaquah School District elementary-school librarian, both of whom have instructed at Family Dog Training Center in Kent for varying lengths of time.
For both, many of the skills they cultivated in dog training overlapped into the class rooms to different and varying degrees.
Kathy Lang, Family Dog Training Center, owner and head trainer says, “All of our instruction is supported with verbal, visual and kinetic methods to maximize student learning. In many ways, teaching dog-obedience classes is more complicated because there is an animal involved. Not only do we give our students the philosophy and techniques to support training specific obedience exercises and solving dog behavior problems, we also have to help the students understand how to become teachers, too, and leaders for their animals.”
Mogren, 27, began an apprenticeship program at Family Dog Training Center in January 2014 and began teaching there in July 2014. At that point, she was six months into a two-year Master of Arts in Teaching program at Seattle Pacific University.
“I immediately saw a carryover between what I was learning in my graduate classes and what I saw teaching dog obedience classes,” she says. “One important element of instructing at Family Dog that I incorporate in a school environment is the variety of learning styles. All students, whether dog owners or high-schoolers, learn in different ways. Some learn by reading information, others by hearing things explained. Some need more examples, and others need to see things visually to understand and fully comprehend them.”
It is incumbent on her, Mogren emphasizes, to offer instruction in a variety of ways so that all learners can understand the concept.
She explains, “Teaching sit/stay in home obedience classes, I first demonstrate the ‘finished product’ with my trained dog (Lexi, Yorkshire Terrier/Shih Tzu mix). I then verbally explain the process step-by-step as I demonstrate with my dog. Next, I walk students through several repetitions where they follow along with my words and action. Finally, I let them work on their own and go around the room to help others one-on-one. This scenario plays out in a high school Language Arts classroom as well, although with a completely different subject matter like embedding quotes or identifying tone in a poem.”
Teaching at Family Dog, she has learned patience and compassion, noting every student walks through the door with emotional baggage. “It’s hard to train your dog when you had a bad day at work. It’s hard for high schoolers to focus on learning when they are struggling at home.” Both of these teaching venues have taught Mogren the importance as an instructor to listen to the students and provide them with a positive, safe learning environment. “I can’t control what goes on outside the classroom but I can give my full, positive support to them within it. I have learned to become a better judge of when students need a reality check and when they need the truth spoken with a little more kindness,” she adds.
Instructing dog obedience for a full year before she began teaching high school, instilled confidence and growth in her ability as an instructor, Mogren says.
The young teacher’s “All-American” Lexi, 6½ pounds and 4 years old, has been the perfect learning tool from Puppy Manners and Beginning Home Obedience classes to Competition Obedience instruction. “I really developed a working relationship with Lexi in Competition Obedience,” she says, “and we have since moved on to agility.”
Training Lexi has come with challenges. Chief among them has been separating the work she does as demo dog in home obedience classes from the work she performs in training. “This has taught me to recognize the ups and downs that students experience and to never give up on a student who is struggling. This carries over to the high-school classroom, too.”
Mogren admires Lang’s teaching style and notes that she has learned from her the importance of teaching the same skill or concept in multiple ways in order that it makes sense to a variety of learning styles.
While the teaching skills from Family Dog to Auburn Riverside High School translate in broad terms it is not a case of one size fits all, since there is a student age differential. “Teaching high schoolers is more like a beginning or advanced home-obedience class where you are starting to have the students take more responsibility for their action and you can begin teaching higher level, more fun exercises,” she says.
Berry, conversely, is a longtime educator, serving as a full-time librarian for 23 years in the Issaquah School District, teaching love of reading and literature, library-use and research skills to kindergarten through fifth-grade students.
She began training with Lang in 1985 with a Belgian Tervuren, her first conformation and obedience dog and has taught classes intermittently since then.
Discussing the common traits of dog training and elementary education, Berry says, “Teaching is teaching. The presentation in a dog class and kindergarten class are greatly different, but the teacher responsibility remains the same. It is my responsibility to monitor and adjust the students’ activity and learning behavior and to monitor and adjust my own teaching behaviors in response. This applies to dog owners and their dogs learning obedience and to students first learning to sit still to hear a story or to evaluate a web site for its appropriateness to their research needs.”
Like students, dogs are different. Berry notes that her multi-titled, 7-year-old Belgian Tervuren Traveller poses far fewer challenges than a previous male Tervuren. “Traveller wants to please me greatly,” she says. “When he feels that I have treated him unfairly, perhaps even with just a voice correction, he may shut down. So I must respond differently that I did with my previous dog. With that dog I developed the mantra, Each and Every Time. That meant I could not let even a minor mistake slide by without some sort of acknowledgement or correction or he would take advantage and perform even less than he was capable of doing the next time.”
A classroom teacher must be aware of these types of behavior nuances in whatever the audience is. Some students, whether child or adult, can be pushed into performing better with praise or feedback, others need time to have to work it out on their own, she emphasizes.
Yet another parallel between the elementary-school and dog-training classrooms for Berry is physical fitness. “You can’t teach a class of kids or dog students from an easy chair,” she emphasizes. “I usually sit down while at school to plan lessons or catalog books or other library computer tasks. Psychologically, you must be alert and aware of subtle body language cues from both people and dogs and know how to interpret them in context.”