Friday, August 2, 2013

CPDT Study Session #1: Instruction Skills

The section on instruction skills counts for 32% of the exam. The CCPDT’s study objectives indicate that there are three main components to instruction skills: interpersonal skills, teaching skills, and managing the training environment. To study, I read chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Terry Ryan’s book Coaching People to Train Their Dogs. I was a bit underwhelmed by what I read, which I take as a good sign. After all, if there was nothing new, that means I’m in good shape, right? Anyway, since this portion of the exam counts for a third of the final score, let’s take a deeper look at what is covered and what I read about.

Interpersonal Skills
This subsection includes verbal and written communication skills and interacting with clients. It includes an emphasis on client compliance, classroom management, and clients with special needs. I feel confident about this section (this is what I did for four years in social work school, so…).

Things I read about: tips to remember the humans’ names, things that get in the way of effective verbal communication, things that prevent you from listening effectively, and tips for handling an emotional or difficult student.

As a social worker, I do that last one a lot. The author recommend the acronym STOP:
(look for) Signals that you’re getting upset,
Take control of your own emotions,
(act) Opposite to your signals, and
Practice doing this in low-confrontation situations!

I think that’s pretty good advice. Being mindful of my own feelings and reactions helps me work with my clients better. I will occasionally find that I dislike working with someone; when I stop to think about why, I will find that something about them triggers my own stuff. (We all have stuff.) Knowing that can help me either get past that or request a reassignment in cases. Deep breathing, pausing before I reply, and using a calm, quiet voice will go a long way to defusing situations. This is because people tend to mirror one another’s feelings, and I want to be the one controlling the emotional tone.

I also liked the section on working with people with disabilities. I have been doing so professionally since 2001, and I thought the author did a nice job of briefly summarizing the various things you need to think about when helping someone with a disability train their dog. You need to consider the physical, environmental, and intellectual needs of handlers with disabilities. From the person’s ability to use training equipment and props to their need for additional space due to adaptive equipment to the pace at which they learn, there’s a lot to consider.

Teaching Skills
Here the exam addresses learning styles, the development of curriculum, handouts, and homework, knowledge of available resources, and the selection and use of demo dogs.

The author wrote that there are three main learning styles: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic (doing). A good instructor will ensure that each lesson includes all three styles. I did appreciate that she pointed out that for some of us, knowing why is just as important as knowing how.

I really appreciated that when she discussed the pros and cons of using either your own dog or a student’s dog for demonstrations, she pointed out the need to consider the stress levels of the dogs. Maisy can be a demo dog, but she’s not crazy about waiting around for her two minutes to shine.

The author also gave a number of suggestions for both developing handouts and assigning homework. I did find her homework section interesting, as she suggested ways to do so that I had not considered before. You can tell students to practice until they reach a particular goal, to practice for a certain amount of time each day, to do a certain number of repetitions, or challenge them to beat their own personal best records.

Managing the Training Environment
Finally, we look at the safety, physical layout, and distractions or disruptions that may happen in a training facility. She talked about what you should consider when choosing a site, whether indoor or outdoor will better meet your needs, and how to set the space up so dogs will be successful. She recommends the use of signs and props to create stations or designated walkways, which is pretty brilliant.

She also talked about preventing and breaking up dog fights, as well as what to do afterwards. Thankfully, I’ve never had to break up a fight in class, but it was nice to read about it anyway.

The section on distractions or disruptions was okay. She talked a lot about kids in class (I don’t see this much, but probably because I teach primarily reactive dog classes) and students who are talking too much. I have honestly found that my biggest interrupters come from outside the class: when I taught at PetSmart, it was customers, and now it’s people that are using the space we rent or people who wander in looking for the business next door (we keep the door locked now!).

Anyway, that’s some of what I read for this section. What about you guys? Anything interesting? Any books that I absolutely need to get my hands on? For the next two weeks, I'm going to brush up on Learning Theory. I feel very, very, very confident about this section, but let's do this anyway. 

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