Wednesday, February 21, 2018

What My Dog Taught Me About Teaching

My friend Terri over at: posted pics on Twitter of their new rescue and it made me a little nostalgic for my Ruby's rescue story. I don't think I've shared it here for a while.

I adopted Ruby when she was 3 months old. She had already been at the shelter for a month and she was kept isolated because she had respiratory infections that they first thought might be distemper. I played with her for little while and then immediately decided she would become part of our family.

 Many people talk about how rescue dogs are awesome (and they are!) because they are so grateful that you gave them a family. Ruby did not get that memo. She bit and scratched me the whole way home. Once at our house she paced around like a shark. If I sat on the floor to play with her and cuddle, she nipped at me. I grew up with boxers and we never had any kind of behavior like that before so I asked my vet for a trainer recommendation.

The trainers came out to our house, met her, observed her-asked questions-she doesn't ever cuddle in your lap?-- and proceeded to tell me that "she will never be the kind of dog you want her to be". I was so appalled at that response. First of all, I made a commitment, I wasn't taking her back. Secondly, if you don't believe she can learn, she's not going to learn. As a teacher I couldn't even imagine making that judgement about a student-oh, they're never going to be able to learn.

So on to trainer #2. He was very nice, called her "Little Alligator"because she liked to chew on his shoelaces. He was all about the alpha dog approach. Yeah, Ruby never got that memo either. She was just really stubborn.

Trainer #3 called himself a Dog Whisperer. He immediately pulled out a dog collar with teeth. I refused to use it with Ruby. He told me if I wasn't going to do the program correctly it wasn't going to work-I told him if he couldn't train her without hurting her, then this was not the right program for us.

Now Trainer #4 was a great match. She was very zen and knew from the start that Ruby was misunderstood. She was an agility trainer and right away Ruby showed a fearlessness for the tunnels and jumps that she said all dogs did not possess. She taught me techniques to use with her and we practiced and practiced. There was blood, sweat and tears put into that process.

Today she is such a great companion. She makes me laugh, protects me (from anyone even walking down our street). I look forward to coming home to take our walks and sit out in the front yard watching the world go by.

What does this have to do with teaching? First of all you have to believe a student will learn or they will not learn. I was in a training once where they asked "do you believe your students will grow up and go to college"-every teacher at my table said no. I do believe that. We start talking about college in Kindergarten for that very reason. Even if they are not getting the best start in life economically, I believe in that for them.

Secondly, all techniques do not work for all students. You have to try different things until you figure out how a student learns. We fill out inane paperwork every year for permanent folders-but nowhere is there a place for a teacher to say anything specific about what works for that student when it comes to how they learn. Most teachers have to figure that out for themselves, which can be frustrating.

Don't give up! Every child (and dog ) deserves a chance to be successful.


  1. You inspired me to post about my dog as well (tomorrow's post)! I definitely learned a lot about teaching from him! Ruby seems so wonderful. She is lucky she had you to give her a chance!

  2. Thanks Terri! You wrote a really beautiful tribute to your puppy. Here's to lives being enriched by stubborn dogs! :)