What most people don’t realise about online training courses is that you can use them in your offline training too. As UK lockdowns continue to ease, in-person training is returning. Outdoor workshops, classes and private training sessions resumed earlier this year. But now we have the prospect of getting back to business as ‘usual’ with indoor sessions once again becoming an option.
This resumption of choice, of variety, is very welcome. Lots of training is greatly helped by having the dog, her human and the trainer in the same vicinity. Trainers are able to see the relationship between dog and human, adjusting teaching methods to suit both. Trainers are also better placed to respond to issues, or to tweak techniques if they are right there with their clients.
Clients can have their questions answered instantly. And they can learn from their fellow learners. Very often the most valuable lesson they’ll learn is that their puppy or dog is just like all the others. Their problems aren’t unique. Their canine companions aren’t strange. They behave just like the others in the room.
Trainers can’t be everywhere at once
But what trainers can’t do at in-person group sessions is work with everyone at the same time. There are times when clients will have to wait. Or when the trainer doesn’t quite catch the dog doing what their client has described. Unless the set-up is such that everyone works individually, one-on-one with the trainer, group sessions can be frustrating.
Good trainers recognise that everyone has paid the same money and so each deserves the same time, the same level of attention. But the reality is that sometimes an individual needs more of the trainer’s time. And that often results in the rest of the group having to work by themselves for longer than anyone would prefer. Ideally, time allocation should even out by the end of the day or course. But in that moment, when you really wanted some help, it just wasn’t available.
The gold standard?
I only point this out to highlight that in-person group training isn’t necessarily the ideal learning environment. It is one of a variety of learning options, but not necessarily the best. That’s not to say that online learning is the gold standard. Not at all. But at least when you are learning online, you are fully able to immerse yourself in the moment. You’re not distracted by other dogs. Not straining to hear the trainer over the sound of your classmates’ dogs barking. You won’t be getting cold or rained on either. Or overheating as you practise drills in a shade free field.
For many dogs, group training just isn’t a viable option. Whether they are fearful of the other dogs, the other people. Or are too aroused by the environment, too distracted by the sights, sounds and smells of the training area. Group sessions are not the solution for every dog.
And while you might not get an instant answer from your course tutor, when she does reply you will have a written record of her advice. Trying to recall all the tips and recommendations you receive from your trainer during class is nigh on impossible. It’s why good trainers provide handouts to support their sessions. But by their very nature the handouts are generic. The answers you receive from your tutor are tailored to you and your dog.
My advice is to combine these two training options. For example, if you’ve done my Masterclass: Indications course you will have a much better idea of how to read the body language not just of your dog but of every other dog in your group session. In scentwork, if you want to do it well you need to put the hours in. It’s a mistake many make. Just because the dog appears to pick the game up quickly, it doesn’t mean that you do too. More often than not, in scentwork (and some other activities) the dog is way ahead of the handler in terms of natural skill and ability.
Test and hone
By having taken an online course and learned what to watch for, what that tail flick or check step means, you can practise honing those skills during in-person sessions. You already understand the background to the behaviours and are more aware of when you might see them. So now’s your chance to test your learning, to see how good you are at putting what you learned online into practice.
Online learning gives you the chance to learn why certain training systems work, or don’t work. They give you the background which leads to better understanding of how and why to use certain techniques at certain times. By practising the practical skills with your own dog and observing your classmates and how they use or abuse the same skills, your expertise grows exponentially. Another example is my Design the Perfect Search course. Once you’ve studied those lessons you can apply your learning at every single scent session you attend. You can understand why the trainer has kicked the box along the floor, or moved it a couple of feet, or discarded an item, or specifically used a certain hide for a certain dog at a certain time.
If you’re a graduate of the Essential Scentwork Skills course you can do your own safety checks. You can even help your classmates do theirs. Or if you’ve already completed the Baggage Searches course you can ask the trainer to make your baggage searches in the Scent 3 worksop more challenging than everyone else’s. You can step up a level because you’ve already been learning about the skills required for such searches and have been practising them. Now, at the workshop, you can challenge yourself and your dog safe in the knowledge that your TDS Elite Trainer knows exactly how to up the difficulty and give you constructive feedback.
Do you see what I’m saying? It doesn’t have to be either/or. While you are waiting for an in-person spot to open up you can already be learning. You don’t have to wait. You can get the best out of both the online – by practising what you’ve learned and getting real time feedback. And the in-person – by learning new skills that you can consolidate and gain a deeper understanding of through your online course. It’s a huge win-win.
So I look forward to seeing you in class – online and in-person.