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Why I hate homework

30/01/2024 - Mindset and motivation

... and why that has shaped what I do with clients now

At school, I was rubbish at homework.

I would rather be down the beach or out with the dog. Even the thought of it now sitting here at my desk a long time later  turns my stomach a little. I knew I needed to do it, I could do it, but the pressure of doing it meant I often left it to the last minute and rushed through it, scraping through most of the time.

Looking back, I think there were various things going on:

  • I didn’t really see the point in a lot of it. Some homework such as creative writing I loved doing, but other things not so much.
  • It stressed me out! Particularly when I had a lot due at the same time.
  • It took up time that meant I would not be doing things I enjoyed such as walking the dog.
  • It was focussed on achieving high grades rather than being about understanding and learning useful things.
  • It felt like a chore because it was something imposed rather than something that I had any choice over.

Why is that relevant to what I do now?

It's important for me that anything I leave you with to practice is meaningful, engaging, and supportive of your and your dog’s overall well-being and learning goals.

YOU need to be engaging. It needs to be relevant. I don’t want my clients to feel like I have imposed ‘homework’, feel overwhelmed or not understanding why they are doing something. Sometimes we need to make what you are doing a little more structured, but we work out what's the best way to do that for you. If you love the idea of homework, YES  we can work with that too!

I can give you a plan ... but what does that look like?

Whatever we might want to call it - homework, challenges, or anything else - it’s what you do between appointments that really matters.

The problem is that as dog trainers we are told to write out a plan for our clients, put it all in writing, give them sheets and logs, tell them how long they should be doing their training, and tell them what they should be doing each day to raise and lower criteria. It's all about tasks and process, fixing things and badges.

For some people it feels like too much like hard work, and for me and my clients it was not working as well as I know it could be:

  • It was breaking into their day and causing a disruption.
  • It was too hard, and if they hit a stumbling block, they would just give up.
  • There didn’t seem to be enough time to fit it in.
  • It was not prioritised as an important thing to do.
  • Starting up the next session they had to refresh what they had done and couldn’t get back into it.
  • And sometimes it didn't take into account your individual relationship with your dog.

All of that bugged me, and to be honest most dog trainers will say that writing up client plans is one of their least favourite parts of the job.

So a few years ago I changed my approach.

A Fresh Approach

As I am told by my clients every week, my suggestions are commonsense and easy, and anything that is commonsense and easy is more likely to be done.

How do I know that?

Because often they start relating to their dog differently during our appointment, start repeating back to me things in their own words, or send me a video of something later that day to show what they have been doing. They are already living  it!

One of the things that sticks with me every time I see a client is that everyone has limited resources available to them and that includes their time, space and energy, and is often dictated by their family and lifestyle. The first thing to do is to help them understand those resources and work with them, not against them.
Clients write most of their plan with me, so they tell me what time they have and how any training might work. Anything I ask my clients to do before their next session is agreed and can be easily slotted into their day.
Yes, I do send through a plan but unless a client asks for a lot of detail (and that’s fine, we all learn differently) it is bullet points and often video as well which could be pre-recorded videos or something I recorded during our session.

It does not feel like training. Sometimes clients say to me that they have not managed to do much, but when we chat it turns out that they have done loads without realising it because it simply slotted into their normal routine.

We push things forward because between appointments clients who would like to keep me updated send me messages and we talk about what’s going well, celebrate successes, break things down and keep moving.

Top FIVE tips for commonsense training

Here’s exactly how YOU can apply these principles in any training that you do with your dog:
  • Look at what resources you have – time, energy, financial, environmental etc, and be realistic about what you might be able to achieve.
  • Build into your day – 5 minutes on a walk, 2 minutes while the kettle is boiling, 3 minutes while the commercials are on the TV. Short training sessions can be really effective and don’t disrupt your day.
  • Take baby steps – don’t try to do too much too soon otherwise you may be pushing yourself and your dog too hard and setting yourself up to fail, which inevitably will affect your enthusiasm to practice.
  • Know when to end a session – pay attention to your own and your dog’s energy levels and concentration. It’s shorter than you think. If you are they are becoming fatigued, it’s time to end your session, and that could just be a couple of minutes.
  • And have fun! – because if it is a chore, then you are so much less likely to do it.