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Want some advice? - DogBlog! — LiveJournal

Oct. 25th, 2009 07:55 am Want some advice?

Advice management is interesting. Actually, I'm not sure 'advice management' is an expression, but it's what came to mind. It seems there are two basic types of advice, advice given unbidden and advice that is sought out. I've been thinking about both types of advice lately, and where things seem to go wrong.

In general, I completely don't understand giving unbidden advice. If someone asks me what I think, I'm more than happy to give an opinion, make suggestions, etc. but if I'm not asked, then it's none of my business. There are situations in which someone might have to step in and take action because someone else is doing something stupid, but that still doesn't call for giving advice. Case in point, if a small child is about to run into the street and get hit by a car because the parent is distracted on a cell phone and lost track of what small child is doing, by all means, step in and grab the kid. What happens next? Well, the average parent, having been jerked back to reality by the goings on, is mortified to have endangered the child and grateful that someone saved the child. There's a rush of emotion and major chemical changes in the parent's physical state as fear, relief, and anger at self wash over. Savior who rescued child could, at this point, give advice. 'Do you have any idea how close your kid came to getting killed? You should be paying attention! Don't talk on your cell phone while you're out in the City with a toddler!' Of course some people would exacerbate this by giving roughly the same advice with a lot of expletives. Parent, who is already in a heightened state of emotion might possibly be thrilled to have someone point on the obvious, but most likely will lash out with something along the lines of 'Mind your own business!' which the savior is outraged at, and the situation escalates. In the above situation there's no need for advice, it's like telling a kid 'BE CAREFUL!' right after they trip and spill the glass of milk. It's just self-righteous narration.

Isn't it better, in a situation like that, to say 'Wow! That was scary!' The parent will most likely thank you for saving the kid and berate her or himself for having been so stupid and distracted at which point you can say, 'It happens to all of us, and I'm sure it won't happen to you again any time soon!' in a friendly voice.

Most situations aren't quite so dire. Someone posts a video of their dog doing something cute and funny on youtube and the dog is clearly fat. Big deal! Did the person ask you for an assessment of their dog's weight? Why would anyone think they should comment on it? But people do things like that all the time. On one of the lists I'm on, someone recently posted a video of their dog's first ever agility trial. The poster mentioned how thrilled she was at her dog's performance in this debut, and it was a lovely run with some really good focus and the beginning of what should turn out to be good speed. One of the first comments made by another list member was about what could be done to improve the dog's weave performance and how she should have handled the teeter. It was a polite email, but really rather deflating. On another list someone happened to mention their dog's weight and was immediately hit with 'friendly' comments about how the dog was fat and what to do about it. Mind you, this was just from a mention of the dog's weight, not a picture of an obese dog, or even a comment that the owner was concerned her dog might be fat. Frankly, I'm not nearly expert enough to tell, from a number whether a dog is fat or not. Granted this dog weighed substantially more than most dogs of the breed, and maybe the dog was fat, I just don't know, and even if I did, it's none of my business on a chat list to put in my 2 cents worth when they aren't asked for.

There are other situations in which it seems far more pressing to give advice, but even then one should tread lightly. Someone has lost their temper and smacks their dog or their child. Does it really make sense to add fuel to an already tense situation by voicing usually loud and angry advice? Someone has lost their temper, that's the first step to recognize. They're not really in control of what they're doing. Maybe they don't know how else to handle the situation, maybe there's a lot going on that you don't know about. Making friendly eye contact and saying something like 'Raising kids can be so frustrating sometimes!' or 'Dogs can really seem like they're out to drive you crazy, can't they?' will go a lot further toward diffusing the situation. If the person in question is someone you know, you can follow that with 'Do you want me to take him for a few minutes to give you a break?' or 'Is there anything I can do to help?'. If you don't know the person, then it might be harder to keep the conversation productive, but anything friendly and calming you say is far more likely to have an effect than voicing anger and disgust at someone who already feels lost and out of control. Obviously the situation would be different if there were really serious abuse going on, but even then, shouting about what you think might make you feel wonderfully self-righteous, but does it really help the situation? Is it likely that someone who is beating the crap out of their kid will be swayed by hearing you say what a piece of dirt they are? Unlikely. If you've really got fortitude, walk right up to the person and say, in as calm and friendly a voice as you can 'I'm REALLY sorry to bother you, I can see you've got your own problems, but I'm lost, do you know where '----' is?' or ask what time it is, or any stupid, non-threatening question you can think of. If the situation seems really dire, call 911 first. The point is, advice unbidden is rarely useful and often does nothing but make someone feel incompetent, helpless, and/or angry.

What about situations where you're actually looking for advice? In this day and age we're lucky to have access to so many people and so many possible sources of advice. Need to know how to fix your dog's weave entries? Post the question on whatever yahoo groups you're a member of, maybe on facebook, ask your instructor, check out weave training videos, and read about possible solutions in books and magazines. Suddenly there are dozens of possible solutions suggested and often they contradict each other. Rather than randomly take whatever piece of advice 'sounds good', take the time to prioritize. Start by reasonably assessing your instructor's advice. Your instructor, after all, is the person you spent time picking because you thought he or she would be the best person to teach you and your dog. If what your instructor suggests doesn't seem to work, spend time discussing it with her, maybe there's something you didn't understand, maybe the plan is actually working but you expected faster results, maybe both you and your instructor need to re-think what you're doing and maybe you need to find a new instructor. The point is that this is the source closest to you and your dog and who you are paying for expertise, so this should be the source of the best answers most of the time.

That said, there are situations in which both you and your instructor are stumped, or maybe you don't have an instructor. Before taking advice from someone you don't know, whether from a book, a magazine, or a yahoo group, take a look at what that person's dogs are like, and, if possible, what that person's students' dogs are like. That's not so hard, at this point you can find at least some video footage online of nearly anyone who's competing with their dog. If that's not possible, then take a look at how successful the person has been in agility. Some people, even published authors, have far less experience and far less success than they'd like you to believe. Look out for people who tell you that they're really amazingly successful but they've chosen a difficult breed, and training a 'whateverdog' to get through novice is like training a Border Collie for a MACH. Even if that statement is true for that person, their advice is probably not going to be super-helpful if you've got the breed of dog they've found so difficult! One of the reasons I post a lot of video of my dogs is that if someone asks my advice, I want them to be able to know what my dogs are like, how they work, and how I handle them. I think it would be rather pompous to offer advice without any sort of proof that I actually know what I'm talking about. Watch my videos and you probably won't ask me for advice on teaching rock solid startline stays...

And while I'm ranting, a bit about teachers and instructors -

Teachers have a responsibility to teach. A short refresher on the meaning of 'teach':

Definitions of teach:

-impart skills or knowledge to; "I taught them French"; "He instructed me in building a boat"
-accustom gradually to some action or attitude; "The child is taught to obey her parents"
-an English pirate who operated in the Caribbean and off the Atlantic coast of North America (died in 1718)

We can probably skip the third definition, although I do think some supposed 'teachers' fit that definition better than the others. In case anyone is parsing words and wants to argue that instructors are different, the definition of 'instruct'.

Definitions of instruct:

-teach: impart skills or knowledge to; "I taught them French"; "He instructed me in building a boat"
-give instructions or directions for some task; "She instructed the students to work on their pronunciation"
-make aware of; "Have the students been apprised of the tuition hike?"

What's missing from the definition is any contingency clause. If you teach, it's your job to impart skill or knowledge. Not 'it's your job to impart skill or knowledge if the student is focused, quick to understand, and dedicated', it's your job to teach all your students, even the ones who don't seem to care, or are struggling to understand, or have problems you're not sure how to deal with.

It doesn't matter how expert you are in a field, if you don't understand how to impart that expertise, then you shouldn't be a teacher. We've had quite a few discussions about teachers and teaching lately around the dinner table. If you're teaching in a school or college, then your responsibility is perhaps even greater as the stakes are higher. It seems that everyone has, in their educational life, come across a teacher who berates the entire class after an exam because the bulk of the class did very poorly on the exam. If a teacher finds that the bulk of his or her class is not learning the material, then the teacher should take a long hard look at her teaching technique. Obviously, something's going really wrong.

Some students will require a lot more help than others, some students will require a different approach than others, and some will need help that is beyond what you can give, but all students should expect you to do the best you can and to find them the resources they need if you aren't capable of helping them yourself.

As agility instructors, although we have the same responsibility toward our students, the stakes aren't as high if we fail. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't teach with the same dedication and devotion, it just means that it's less of a big deal if we do fail. Still, we are in an interesting position because our students come to us because they have extra money and extra time and want to spend it doing something they think they're going to enjoy. What they find enjoyable might be different from what we do, and what they want out of class might be different from what we think they're going to want. We need to find out what each student's goals are, how much time they have to devote, and whether they're progressing at a rate they find comfortable. We also need to remember that goals change over time, so we need to keep track. We became teachers because we were good at agility, or at least better than the people who became our students, and many of us also did reasonably well from the beginning, we may well have had somewhat better coordination and timing than others when we started, and maybe we started with dogs who learned what was wanted more easily than some. That is all well and good, but it also means that many of us who are teaching agility don't actually know what it's like to be in the position some of our students are in.

I can tell someone 100 times to do this with her left hand and do that with her feet and she'll nod as though she completely understood then go off and do something completely different. It might make me feel like she's not paying attention, or that she doesn't want to try what I'm saying, or that she's dumb. It might, but it doesn't. When I do find myself thinking someone just isn't trying, I have a simple cure. I take a class in something I know nothing about, preferably something that I'm pretty sure I'll be no good at. I can hear the piano teacher explaining exactly when to put which fingers where, and how to pay attention to the rhythm and what the little dots that are called notes mean, I even think I completely understand what she's saying until the moment I put my hands on the keyboard and everything comes out wrong.

I spend a large amount of time training dogs and thinking about training dogs. My students might not. Yes they're enjoying training their dog, but it might not be the priority for them that it is for me. They're doing this for fun, I'm not going to require homework. Some people just don't have the time, others might not have the interest in doing more than what they do in class. Either way, that's their choice. I do explain to my students that if they practice correctly at home they'll progress faster, but I also point out that they will progress even if they don't practice at home, it will just take longer. It's their choice.

Recently I was complementing a student on her lovely handling of a short sequence. She had recently switched from another facility and I was still in the process of finding out what she knew and what she needed to learn. She positively beamed when I complimented her and then told me that she had never been told she'd done a good job handling before. That stopped me in my tracks. We've got no problem reminding our students of how important it is to constantly emphasize what their dogs are doing correctly, what in the world would make any of us think that it would be different for our human students?

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Date:October 25th, 2009 04:32 pm (UTC)

thinking out loud here... we've had all kinds

really good teachers are rare...

just because someone is an expert at something doesn't mean they can teach it

i think it takes a particular kind of energy and ability to get outside oneself, really see, pay attention, even care

to be able to convey the why and not just what

it means doing homework, time thinking about some of the needs of individuals (even students they don't particularly like) in the class beyond the class time that is payed for so that the class provides appropriate challenges - so it means she isn't only in it for the money

the job also usually requires someone who will never be threatened by someone else learning what they know...

someone who is even open to, or perhaps expects to be, continuing to learn from her students...

i think you know you have a great teacher when you leave most classes with that feeling of loving what you are learning... a good feeling for what you got right--which the great teacher knows to point out because self-confidence really helps the learning curve--and also inspired by whatever is difficult for you--the understanding, and safe feeling, that your teacher is going to help you build the skills to meet those challenges

a great teacher is also able to create an atmosphere in which their students enjoy and are rooting for each other's successes...

Edited at 2009-10-25 05:26 pm (UTC)
Date:October 26th, 2009 12:36 am (UTC)

Re: thinking out loud here... we've had all kinds


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<a great teacher is also able to create an atmosphere in which their students enjoy and are rooting for each other's successes... >

This is so true and so important.

<it means doing homework, time thinking about some of the needs of individuals (even students they don't particularly like) in the class beyond the class time that is payed for>

often a lot of homework, I certainly find I spend more time in the week thinking about my students and what each one needs than I do actually teaching. An interesting by-product is that when I do that, I find that I start to like all my students, even the ones who at first I thought I wouldn't mesh with. I think that as I try to figure out what a team needs to succeed, I have to put myself in the student's shoes, and doing that makes me much more sympathetic to them.
Date:October 25th, 2009 07:06 pm (UTC)
Great post Sassie! I must re-read again as it has so much common sense and good points. Thanks for sharing those thoughts. Do you mind if I cross post to my blog?
Bernadette and the shelties
Date:October 25th, 2009 10:27 pm (UTC)
If I post video of my dog training, then I think I open myself up to what people are going to say. I dont have a problem if someones tells me I should have handled it differently. If I dont like the advice I dont listen to it. Sometimes people see things that we dont see. Its hard to watch yourself and see what the problem is. I think most people who comment are just trying to help and arent trying to make you feel bad. I realize there are the exceptions. You can always delete those comments.
And as a student , you are usually trying to do what the instructor tells you. Its funny because you watch other people and they arent doing what the teacher says. It weird. I always find myself sitting there thinking, "Do I do that". ( the not listening) .
Thanks for the post. I will be more mindful I how I comment to people. Maybe they are offended, I hope not. Diana
Date:October 25th, 2009 10:38 pm (UTC)
I think it's a matter of context. If someone is proudly showing off their very agility trial run, then probably they don't want to hear all the things they did wrong, but if someone is putting a video out there because they're struggling with an issue, it's different. Also some people are where they want to be even when we think they could be better or see things they could do differently. I often comment to myself when I see other peoples' videos, but unless they're asking for an opinion, I keep it to myself. On the other hand, if it's someone I train with, or someone I've often exchanged training ideas with or asked for advice and they see something on video of mine that they think they could help with, then they will tell me what they think, and I'll do the same for them in the same situation. I guess it's a nuanced thing, not entirely cut and dry.

Date:October 26th, 2009 02:55 am (UTC)
Advice management is definitely something. You have no idea how much "advice" I've gotten over time on Duchess (and how much of it I have smiled, nodded, and immediately dismissed because I knew my dog better). I am really trying to instill in people I know who are newer to dog sports than I am that they will get a lot of advice and that they have to think about it in the context of knowing what is best for their dogs, no matter WHO it is coming from.

One of the best parts in "Control Unleashed" when I read it was about all the instructors who say that YOU have to be the most interesting thing to the dog, and then when you can't manage to be that, make you feel like your dog will never be anything. Then (although we'd never admit it) the students go home and cry because they can't manage to be the center of their dog's universe and are big failures. To see someone actually publish this, in writing, and know I wasn't the only one who had ever experienced it, was a HUGE deal for me. And our dogs still go on to be successful (although some of these instructors would hate to admit that, or so I've found on my end of things...)

I think that there aren't enough instructors out there who catch students doing things right. Its easy to look for what's wrong and needs to be fixed, but too often that becomes the WHOLE focus (unless you have some super amazing gifted dog and then you get all sorts of praise while the other more average people get left feeling like they are "less than").
Date:October 26th, 2009 12:01 pm (UTC)
>>I think that there aren't enough instructors out there who catch students doing things right. Its easy to look for what's wrong and needs to be fixed, but too often that becomes the WHOLE focus (unless you have some super amazing gifted dog and then you get all sorts of praise while the other more average people get left feeling like they are "less than").<<

It's easier to see what's wrong, and especially with beginners you need to be very aware of the incremental steps they have to learn to get everything right, so that you can mark those little improvements even though the finished product is a long way off.

On the other hand, if you do have the 'super amazing gifted dog', you still need constructive instruction, and sometimes instructors are at a loss as to how to teach the handler the tiny improvements needed, so they just praise, praise, praise but it doesn't actually help the team in any way.

It's a tough job!
Date:October 26th, 2009 03:55 am (UTC)

Advice requested

Sassie can you help me? Do you ever have the situation with a new student who isn’t comfortable being told when they are doing well?
I am a serial complimentor when I train people (at work or at agility) because I am truly happy when they do well. I don’t think this makes me the best teacher because sometimes they feel uncomfortable with it, but I am doing my best. I am improving slowly and have found ways of bringing errors to the attention of the student in a way I can handle.
Anyway, because of my above mentioned teaching style I have come across a few people who have asked me to stop complimenting them, inside and outside of agility. The strangest example is someone who walks out of the room while you are speaking to her if you compliment her work and also generally men who have been used to a more correctional based training. I assume these people feel it is insincere.
Any insights for me?

Date:October 26th, 2009 12:13 pm (UTC)

Re: Advice requested

It's a tough one, again a matter of finding the right balance. If what you perceive as praise is something the student is uncomfortable with, then you've got to find a way of marking correct behavior that is rewarding to the student.

One student might need something along the lines of 'Wow, that was just amazing to watch! You really nailed it!' then a pause before saying, 'now, let's try the exact same sequence, but instead of putting a cross there, try putting it here and see if what that does.'

Another student, if you praised that heavily for something, might feel that it was condescending, or feel uncomfortable being the center of attention and would do better with a genuine smile and 'cool, that worked, how about seeing if a cross here rather than there would make tighter?'

Sometimes it's a matter of the student feeling that the praise is inappropriately excessive and that you're over doing because you actually don't believe they can do better.

If you imagine toilet training a toddler, at first of course you praise like mad and make a big deal that the kid used the potty, but imagine the horror on a six year old's face if, when he came out of the bathroom you gushed over how wonderful it was that he'd been successful. Especially imagine how mortified he'd be if you did this in front of his friends. I do think that some people perceive direct praise exactly this way.

The hard part, of course, is that until you've started getting to know someone, you're not sure how they react to things, so there are always going to be some miss steps, especially at first. I think we've all put our foot in it at least a few times with our students, but it's better to be disliked for being too kind that for being cruel, because when someone talks about you to others and complains, 'she was always gushing about how fab I was' it makes you sound a lot better than if they say 'and then that bitch told me I was a ass and completely incompetent just because I got my left and right confused' ;-)
Date:October 27th, 2009 09:02 am (UTC)

Re: Advice requested

Thanks. That gives me something to think about
Not long til ToggleTime...!
Date:October 26th, 2009 05:00 am (UTC)
I am one of those people who gives unrequested advice. I am aware of it, and am a lot better at catching myself then when I was younger. But sometimes I forget and don't stop myself and read/look at the situation more closely. Why do I do this? I'm not sure if it's insecurity, or wanting to be liked or thought of as smart, or just wanting to impart knowledge. I hope that it's not arrogance, that is a horrible quality to have. Granted, on a blog, I figure if someone puts something out there, it's fair game to comment on, that they want comment. But at the same time, I have come to realize that it is a form of recording thoughts and events for an individual, kind of like a written journal used to be. That not everything everyone puts out there needs to be commented on (in the form of advice). This was a good reminder to look/read a situation more closely and to try to figure out if advice is something I should give, can give or can't.
Date:October 26th, 2009 12:27 pm (UTC)
I'm also guilty of giving unwanted advice sometimes, although I really do try to pay attention, sometimes it's just something that comes out. Like you, I'm not sure if it's insecurity or wanting to be thought of as smart. I don't think it's arrogance, although I definitely can be arrogant sometimes (not something I like in myself but...) Sometimes I see something that I know I can fix and I really, really have to sit on my hands to keep from saying something. Often in those situations I'll try to find some indirect way of exposing the person to the possibility that things could be different. This is a big one for me because most of the breeds I have and have had have been breeds not considered 'easy to train' so when I talk to other people with those breeds they've often fallen prey to the belief that their dog can't really excel.

I generally agree with you about blog posts, especially with people who are roughly on equal footing in terms of training and ability. If I have an itch to critique someone who is way more successful than I am, I try to keep my trap shut, likewise with unasked for comments to people who don't have the experience I have, but are at the stage of feeling like they're really starting to know something, but for different reasons.

The two points where I have the hardest time keeping my trap shut are when I see sighthounds doing agility slowly, and when I see small dogs doing weave poles or teeters slowly. I KNOW I can fix both those issues, so it drive me CRAZY!!!
Date:October 27th, 2009 04:50 am (UTC)

Unsolicited "advice"

Along those lines, I posted a message to the Sheltie chat group I'm on about my puppy's progress. I happened to mention (humorously) that he had recently started lifting his leg now and then. Well, didn't I get someone all riled up who just had to write in about how NONE of her male dogs EVER lifted their legs, it's an unnecessary learned behavior, and then she went on about how horrible it is when people let their dogs pee on ring gates, etc., etc.

Well, jeez! Sorry. Guess I'm an awful person and my puppy will grow up to pee on everything in sight. And here I thought I was just making an innocuous comment on how my puppy is growing up...

Amy and Hooli (now six months old!!)
Date:October 27th, 2009 11:50 am (UTC)

Re: Unsolicited "advice"

That's EXACTLY the kind of thing I was thinking about. What are people thinking? I guess some people just can't imagine that anyone might be different from them or have different aspirations and expectations. I also think some people are kind of insecure so if you don't do things the way they do, they feel threatened and lash out.

Post some pictures of Hooli! I haven't seen him since he was small enough to fit in my pocket!