Tips for Training Dogs, Kids - and Employees!

By James Clark, Senior Pastor


I have enjoyed training dogs, raising my children and managing employees for a while now, and I find some basic principles to be transferable. 

Consistency - Use the same language every time. Be the same person in all places: at home, in the training venue, in the field, in the office. It confuses everyone if they are not sure who they are dealing with. Consistency builds confidence, security and a greater desire to please. 

Clarity - You may understand the command or instruction, but the real question is whether they understand. When I train retrievers, I use a combination of verbal commands, whistle commands and hand signals. If my voice says "sit" and my whistle says "come" and my hand signal says "stay," it simply will not achieve the goal. What was the goal?

Competency - Trust is mission critical! I was duck hunting with my best friend, who happens to be a very effective upland field trial trainer, which made this incident even more embarrassing. The duck went down behind us in some thick marsh grass. I was sure I knew exactly where the bird was. I sent the dog on a line (marking the direction I wanted her to go). Every time I sent her she veered to the right and I would call her back. I was reaching a high level of frustration with her disobedience, so I gave up and sat back down to hunt. A few minutes later she nuzzled up beside me and placed a duck in my lap. My friend softly commented, "Would you call that a handler error?" I should have trusted the dog. 

Command - Every day I watch the dogs in our neighborhood walk their owners. Yes, I said that right. The dogs are in control. We must decide who will lead the pack, the office and the household. Title rarely makes a difference. I am the trainer, but the dog doesn't know that position. I am the designated lead in our organization, but that doesn't mean much. I am the father, but children are very discerning as to who really calls the shots. Leadership is more about attitude, aptitude and action than placement or title. 

Compliance - Just today, I went to pick up some dog food. I walked past the training class and had flashbacks to the occasions I had volunteered to teach classes through the kennel club. I saw a girl whose intention was to have the dog sit. Repeatedly she gave the "sit" command and the dog pranced and played, ignoring her completely. If we have been clear, there is never the need to repeat a command. Whether it is our dog, our child or an employee, repetitive instruction or pleading for compliance will never work. Give the instruction and expect an immediate response, rewarding if accomplished or correcting if ignored. Repetitive pleading gets on everyone's nerves. 

Control - Training dogs can be a lot of fun and very rewarding. Watching my kids succeed in life has been the most satisfying accomplishment and my greatest achievement. Seeing our organization accomplish it's mission is exhilarating. can be taxing on the leader. Anger could collapse all of those accomplishments. Fatigue can rob me of the joy. The best trainers in competitive dog sports know when to walk away from a training session and give it a break. There will always be another time to try again unless I lose it and create irreversible damage to the relationship. 

As for the're on your own, good luck. 

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