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A journey from kids to dogs ... and back again

A journey from kids to dogs ... and back again

Let me tell you a little about how I ended up training dogs to teach kids how to learn. I have always loved dogs.  I have always loved stories. I didn't always love reading. When I was a kid, I often hated being in the classroom. I found school work difficult, boring and often pointless.

I became even more frustrated when I did try to excel, as I would still receive average marks - and was often left wondering

"What was the point of even trying?"

I had no self belief as a learner. I had no clue how to study, how to motivate myself, or how to learn from my mistakes.

After I left high school I scraped into University and studied an Arts degree in History and Politics. Through failure, persistence, some great tutors and time I started to learn how to learn. I started to learn how to write well. I started getting better marks and developed some self belief. It dawned on me that although learning comes naturally to some kids, others need more help. Some kids need to be taught how to learn.

After I finished my degree I moved to Japan and taught English. This experience allowed me to understand how different cultures approach learning and value education. When I returned to Australia I went back to University and gained a Masters degree in Teaching. By this stage I understood my own learning style and enjoyed completing the Masters. The experience was fun and exciting because I had far more control of my learning than I ever had before.

Throughout this experience I also developed my educational philosophy and love of teaching. I took a job as Head of Department for the General Studies curriculum at a college in Melbourne. I loved my time developing curriculum and helping students in the classroom, but I was yearning to do something a bit different.

I found something different in dog training. I had been training Minnie and Oscar as a hobby and decided to complete a Professional Dog Trainers course with Alpha Canine Group. I was offered a job with Alpha as a dog trainer. It was fantastic and allowed me to understand the learning process further. Through teaching dogs to learn, and teaching adults how to become their dogs leaders, I got a unique perspective on the learning process - now from the position of a dog and an adult learner. 

I also completed a course in Animal Assisted Therapy. It was through this course that I really saw the possibilities of using dogs to assist in learning in exciting new ways. I always get excited when I start to explain the huge potential of combining teaching practices with Animal Assisted Therapy.

For those, who, like me hated some of my classes - having a dog in the lesson acts as a silent but positive ray of hope when they are struggling to understand. A dog in the lesson motivates the student by taking the seriousness out of the air and replacing it with a friendly 'can do' attitude.

For those, who, like me had no self belief, a dog brings out unmistakable confidence in the shy child. A dog doesn't judge, they are interested in the individual, despite their shortcomings. Children need to feel they are valued. Dog's value the individual, without question. 

For those, who, like me is nervous reading aloud, giving speeches or putting up their hand up in class a dog works as a great sounding board. Sometimes our ideas just need to be spoken aloud before we can gain confidence in them. A dog gives the students a friendly ear when talking through their own ideas, without the judgement of others.

Dogs can also help us understand our own learning process. By teaching a dog to shake hands (for instance), we are starting to understand how the dog goes from the difficult, uncomfortable period of not knowing and making mistakes, to the learner who understands, but is not yet confident, through to the learner who has mastered the task (phases of learning). In this way dogs learn like we do! It is wonderful when a student can identify with the learning phases of a dog and realise that they too need to push through the difficult stages in order to become proficient at something.

I created Canine Comprehension an a tutoring business as I am excited by the learning potential of students with the help of a passionate tutor and their friendly AAI dogs.