In parts one, two, and three of this series, I focused on what I believe are contributing factors to an overall lack of enthusiasm for positive rewards based training classes on the part of men. In this final part, I’d like to discuss ways that might help bring men into the classroom and keep them there.
I’m not presenting anything new here. The challenges to bringing men into your classes and keeping them there are really no different than challenges faced by teachers every day. In my opinion, the ability to teach anything rests on the following two points.
- Student interest.
- Teaching in a relatable way.
Capture their Interest
The men who are in your classes because they really want to learn aren’t the problem. It’s the ones who are there with only a passing interest. Their wife signed them up or they have to take it to get a break on their home owner’s insurance etc. They may have good intentions but taking the class is something the feel they need to do not something they want to do.
We’ve all had to take classes we really didn’t want to take. Whether in high school or college, we’ve all had to take and pass a certain class just to graduate and get that diploma or degree. Can you say Premack?
However, a few us were lucky enough to walk out of that dreaded class our very first day and know that it was going to be our favorite class for the rest of the year because that teacher made that first day a memorable one. A first and lasting impression.
The basic set of skills taught at most beginning classes are relatively the same and are necessary things to learn in order to progress. Most good teachers include some “fun for the human” activities in class, but most of them are still related to the basic dreaded arithmetic.
What if on your very first day of class, you showed your students how they could start training their dogs to fetch a ball or a Frisbee using some of the same techniques they will be using to teach the sit and the stay? Do you think you would have their attention then? Would they be likely to come back for the second class?
I can hear the “eyes rolling” from here. Many of you may be thinking that if you start of like this you will never be able to teach your class in an ordered manner. My question to you is why is that a bad thing? The point is to get the men in your classes talking and interested past the point of “My wife signed me up for this so I have to at least show up once.”
If you don’t want to mix that type of activity with your regular curriculum, then create an introductory class based on teaching the fetch, or throwing a Frisbee, or a tricks class. Why not have a one day seminar in which the class decides as a whole the neat trick to be taught? The idea is to be able to show men that these positive techniques used to teach the boring basics can be used to teach all kinds of man friendly and fun stuff.
Teaching in Man Speak
We all have a preferred method of learning. Some of us learn better through video. Some of us prefer to read. Still others have to learn via hands on approach. And then there are those of us who cannot learn a thing unless you’re able to relate it to hitting a baseball.
Okay so the sports analogy is a little extreme but my point is joined. Some men tend to relate to things better if they can draw upon a familiar skill set. As I discussed in earlier in this series, certain classes I’ve walked into sounded awfully kissy kissy to me. Again, I am not condemning it and in fact I do it sometimes and don’t give a damn what people think of me when I do. However, it is not natural for me and I don’t necessarily feel comfortable doing it.
My point is that if I walk into class on my first day and I have to do uncomfortable things then I may not be back. So if you see that I am uncomfortable making a silly voice, don’t just chalk me up as unwilling to learn and place me in the “probably won’t be back anyway” category. Tell me why the silly voice works and help me find an equivalent that works for me.
Good trainers know that you need at least four or five different techniques per behavior to be able teach the range of dogs you will encounter, why should it be different for the humans they teach?
By telling me the black and white of why a technique works you’re forcing me to make a decision. I can reach into my own bag of “what works for me” and find an equivalent. Or, I can accept your reasoning and do it your way regardless of how silly I feel. And finally, I can decide your class is not for me and not come back. But whatever I choose I can’t say that you didn’t give me reasonable options.
The bottom line is that by keeping things fun and relatable, you make your classes more appealing to all students; men, women, and canines.
I hope you’ve found this series a helpful one and I welcome all your comments. Sports analogies are not required.