Why Training a Puppy is a lot Like Teaching Junior High

When my husband and I adopted a dog (who is under a year old) over a month ago, I quickly realized that training a puppy is a whole lot like teaching junior high. I literally would go into school and get frustrated with my students because they did the exact same thing that my dog did!

Here is what I have noticed:

  1. Puppies and students need constant attention! My dog Coby needs constant monitoring. He has gotten better about stealing my shoes, eating my rugs, and chewing on the furniture, but we can’t leave him alone in a room yet. If I try to log into Facebook or eat dinner or grade papers, Coby will do something to require my attention. Sometimes good, like putting a toy in my hand, and sometimes bad, like scratching the walls. Students are the same way. Each student needs my complete attention at all times, which requires serious multi-tasking. If they don’t get the attention they want or think they deserve, they will immediately begin acting out. Sometimes in good ways, and sometimes in bad ways.
  2. Puppies and students never learn their lesson the first time. They need reminded, corrected, and encouraged over and over… and over… again. Coby still hasn’t totally figured out that he can’t steal my decorative pillows from the couch or to stay out of the sink. My students still haven’t learned that homework is always due on the assigned day or that they will do poorly on a test if they don’t take notes in class or study.
  1. Positive reinforcement works best. Coby picked up on his new name immediately. They was no training needed to teach him his name. However, he is horrible at responding to his name. He is very interested in following the scent or chewing that rug or barking at the passing truck. Even though it has been a month, every time Coby comes to me when I call his name, I give him a tiny training treat and praise. When he finally does what I ask him, he gets heavily rewarded. On the times that he chooses to obey, he comes bouncing to me with joy for that treat and hug and loving words. When it comes to my students, I expect that they are obedient all the time. (They speak my language after all!) But I try to offer positive reinforcement for them as well! They get praise when they act a certain way, stickers when they get certain grades, and bonus passes when they have been diligent. All of the kids respond well to positive reinforcement and for many, it encourages them to continue doing the right thing again.
  2. But sometimes discipline is necessary. During the first three weeks that we had Coby he would be really sweet and wonderful then out of nowhere start biting. It wasn’t aggressive, but it was painful. For our safety and sanity, we decided to crate Coby for a period of time if he bit us or got worked up to the point where he was going to. We started at three minutes (recommended on the internet), then actually upped the time to 30 minutes at the suggestion of a trainer. He pretty much hasn’t had any issues with biting since those first few thirty minute sessions in the crate. A student or two of mine may have a horrible habit of showing up late to class. I gave them demerits for each minute late (my school is very generous in their discipline system), and they figured out within two weeks that they needed to get to class on time. Slow learners, but they got it eventually. 😉
  3. When they are behaving, don’t move! Whenever Coby falls asleep, it is seriously a few precious moments of peace and quiet. This time cannot be used to get anything done, because the minute I try to do something the puppy wakes up and wants to go with me. So whenever he falls asleep, don’t move. Don’t do anything. Just sit and relax and enjoy the precious moments. Same thing with my students. Whenever they are behaving, don’t comment on it. Don’t make any sudden movements. Don’t check email. Just keep doing whatever you were doing and hope they don’t notice that they are behaving.
  4. And probably the most significant…. Puppies and students cost money. I decorate my classroom out of my own pocket. I buy snacks, supplies, decorations, prizes, and exciting games and activities for my students out of my own pocket. This isn’t new to me. All teachers who want their students to be successful and happy do this willingly, but it is a common denominator between students and puppies. A new super-harness because he chewed through the really nice one in an afternoon. Another box of treats and several new toys (because the other ones were no match for the velociraptor jaw).

While, of course, there are obvious differences, too many times during the school day, I have thought training these students reminded me a whole lot of training my new puppy. The good news with both is that they will learn. They will figure out what I am trying to tell them and the bad days will become good days.

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