Monday, March 7, 2011

Out on a limb

I have read two blogs in the past couple of days that both made me pause and think. Then today for some odd reason (I love the way that works) I started thinking about how those two blogs related.

Coaching vs. Instructing
No Reward Markers

Let me first take you back to my very first professional career of Musician. At first in music you most definitely have an instructor. One who teaches you the mechanics of your instrument and of music. Then as your skill and experience evolves you need less of an instructor and more of a coach. One who not only advises you on mechanical mistakes (of which you don't make nearly as many), but also helps you plan your experiences so that you can meet your goals. For instance, I want to be the first Oboist in the New York Philharmonic.

So, if you apply this to agility. When you first start out you definitely need an instructor. As time goes on and you and your dog become highly skilled and you begin to need more of a coach. So, if your goal is to win USDAA Nationals, this person would help you create strategies that will help achieve that goal. With every lesson they will instruct you with your goal in mind. They can design experiences that help you get there. For instance, you and your dog better know how to take the back side of a jump. Not important if your goal is to compete only at NADAC Nationals.

So, how does this apply to NRMs (No Reward Marker - isn't a correction. It simply lets your dog know that he needs to try something different in order to get the reward)?

In reading Susan Garrett's blog today she said a couple of things that I felt could be applied to humans as well:
1. A dog’s response to failure is entirely learned. In my experience, a successful human learner knows how to move beyond failure and try the next likely correct thing. They don't shut down from one failure if constantly encourages to try the next thing.
2. "Never to be used during the “value building” stage of any behaviour". This is during the shaping of a behavior. With a child/adult we have to give learning a very high value otherwise there is no incentive to keep learning.
3. "If a NRM is going to be used (during value testing) the massive amount of reinforcement that has been banked during the value building stage prevents any of my dogs from considering shutting down and leaving work." An instructor/coach should build reinforcement into their process so that the students loves what you are teaching and values you as the teacher.

Create the right balance for a student on what is going right as well as what should be improved.

So, all of this brings me to what makes a great instructor and coach? It is someone who has built a tremendous amount of value into their process of teaching the student. I believe that it is an instructor who takes the time to learn the student and their dog. Correctly assess what the students goals are (you could ask them), what reinforcement markers the student and the dog need and provides those.

We talk a lot about building the confidence of our dogs, we should do the same for our students. Positive reinforcement builds confidence. Instructors never get to be great coaches if they cause their students to shut down and stop the process.

All the great instructors/coaches that I have had in my life time all had one thing in common, I walked away feeling better about my skills after each lesson and always had homework on how I could improve.

Teach the student like we teach our dog "Click N Treat"

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