Dog Training for Humans

May 30Last week, we graduated another class of amazing Transformational Trainers into the world. Not only am I honored and excited to launch these instructors into their respective arenas of learning but also teaching this workshop always re-grounds the adult learning techniques and benefits within me. It’s important because the opportunities to help people gain mastery with the skills they need to be successful and improve their life and work are everywhere and constantly available to all of us. Today was a great example.

As I write this, Tom and I are on our way to the desert to celebrate his granddaughter Ellie’s 6th birthday and enjoy the long Memorial Day weekend with family and friends. We had one small detour scheduled this morning, though. We stopped off at a beautiful campground in the mountains where our new dog trainer, Jay, was camping and fishing with his family. He suggested this as a perfect location for our second lesson in a six-week intensive training course for our new puppy, Shiloh, with the ultimate goal of complete, off-leash obedience under any distraction. Lord knows I LOVE an outdoor classroom with hiking trails and mountain views!

Two weeks ago, our first lesson had focused on establishing our leadership with an “off” command. This morning, we took on the concept of recalling Shiloh to us immediately with a “come” command. For Jay, who trained under Cesar Milan, the training techniques are deeply ingrained, seemingly effortless, and almost immediately effective with Shiloh. For Tom and me, not so much.

The first thing he did was broke the skill down into four distinct steps. He began with me and, long before we ever involved Shiloh, he attempted to adequately train the human animals before the canine one. Turns out she gets all this a whole lot quicker than we do anyway. Acting like the dog and the trainer, Jay demonstrated how I should call Shiloh’s name (only once) to get her attention and then simultaneously tug the leash (immediately releasing the tension), say the “come” command and vibrate (or “nick”) the training collar she wears.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Name, tug, release, come, nick. Yeah. Well. You try it!

And that’s just the first part. The second part was continuing to employ the “tug, come, nick” technique every time she did anything other than walking straight to me. The third part was to praise her only when she was walking straight toward me and toward a spot where I did not have to reach out very far to pet her. The fourth and final stage was for me to physically back up while praising her so that her animal instincts would kick in and encourage her to come trotting towards me. Yikes! As I tried to make one hand control the leash and the other control the handset, my feet back up, my mouth utter the verbal commands in order and at a constant volume and my mind remember it all in order… I felt like I had some kind of learning disability as I stumbled and fumbled and bumbled my way through my first few attempts.

We practiced each step until I could do it and then layered on the next. We practiced and practiced and practiced. And then…. we got the dog. After 30 more minutes of trading off, practicing, and being coached by Jay… the dog, Tom and I all looked like we needed some really big treats and a nice long nap.

Jay walked us back to the campsite reminding us that we were all doing great. He told us we were right on track and that Shiloh was a wonderfully smart and sweet dog and we were terrific owners. He reassured us that this would get easier with practice and with patience. And, with a slight smile, he said he’d look forward to seeing our progress next weekend and giving us yet again a slightly more challenging command to work on. Oh, goodie.

But Jay did it right. He broke the task down to its smallest parts. He demonstrated what both sides of the interaction looked like. He practiced each part independently with us before we even engaged the dog and then layered each subsequent piece on as we gained some confidence with the last one. It wasn’t until we had some fluidity that he began to add on “real life” like taking Shiloh on the trail and having us recall her to us with other dogs walking up to her. And lastly, he was patient with us, and with the countless times we failed, and encouraged us when we become frustrated with our own lack of progress. He left us with praise, humor, and reassurance.

So this week when you are training a new employee, incorporating a new verbal skill or piece of technology, or even helping your 5th grader study for a final exam… remember what Jay and all great teachers and trainers know: Break it down, demonstrate success, layer on complexity and real life when they have mastered the skill under easier conditions… and most importantly, teach with patience and leave them with praise, humor, and encouragement.

They should be off-the-leash and off-and-running by then!

Dog Training Video Graphic


You don’t have to hire a trainer to make every team meeting
deliver a huge dose of skills improvement and productive changes.


These simple but dynamic exercises will breathe life
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Learn more


If you can’t explain simply, you don’t know it well enough.”
~~Albert Einstein

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