Crossover students make the difficult transition

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 2/27/11
By: Gail T. Fisher


I’m still on a bit of a high from the terrific group of 15 dog trainers who participated in our Instructor Training School last week. As exhausting as this five-day course is to the three of us who teach it, it is equally exhilarating, and this was the most diverse group we’ve ever had attending our courses. Our previous course of nine students included a 17 year-old recent High School graduate planning to enter the Police Academy with a goal of being a police dog handler. His mentor also took the course—a Police Chief with a military dog training background (called “traditional training”). Coming from that methodology, the Chief was at one end of the method spectrum, while the majority of participants came from vastly different training approaches favoring luring and treats as opposed to collar corrections.

Trainers from a background in any other method who want to learn marker training (also called clicker training) are called “crossover” trainers. I am a crossover trainer, myself, which is why I wrote THE THINKING DOG – Crossover to Clicker Training. For many, if not most of us crossover trainers, it is not easy to change from methods that have been successful, and to alter deeply-ingrained habits. It’s not easy to embrace an entirely new, and radically different approach to training a dog. Making the decision to crossover is hard enough, and the transition can be frustrating and difficult. This is the case with many if not most of our Academy students.

Because marker training often uses food rewards, many “traditional” trainers enrolling in our courses view it with extreme skepticism. This was definitely our Police Chief student’s attitude. He spent the first day of the course with tightly crossed arms and a “you’ve gotta be kidding” facial expression. Fortunately, because of his open mind and willingness to wait-and-see, his presence was a wonderful educational experience for all the participants, seeing his metamorphosis—from skepticism to curiosity, wonder and finally confidence and acceptance. Last week, I got an email from him that he and his mentee are teaching marker classes and loving it!

While the current class didn’t include this degree of skeptics, the range of students included the youngest we’ve ever had—a 15 year-old home schooler—and at the other end of the spectrum, the most experienced “dog people” we’ve ever had, including a Certified Professional Dog Trainer with 30 years experience, and students running the gamut from very little to lots of experience in training, including a woman who competes in Schutzhund trials (demonstrating obedience, tracking and protection).

By the end of our five days together, there was a wonderful feeling of supportiveness and camaraderie as each student taught a mock training class, demonstrating both their teaching and their training skills. Everyone did beautifully, even coming up with some novel and fun ideas, giving even us seasoned veterans some good suggestions to spice up our classes. That’s my favorite outcome—we all come away with new knowledge, fresh ideas, improved skills and renewed energy.


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