Become a Learner of Skills

by | Aug 22, 2019 | Klog | 0 comments

Much of our learning originates from the work, thinking and background of those who have gone before us. This can often lead to canalisation of our journey to their way of thinking, their view of learning or the purpose of their research and theories.

An example of this is learning to think only in terms of “behaviour” and not consider emotions, skills, social needs and genetic predispositions which can all influence behaviours. Added to this are the emotions, skills, social needs and biases of the trainer.

If we put the overstretched “sit” under that microscope, we can begin to see that a sit is never “just a behaviour” for the dog. It is packaged with varied functionality, from resting and relaxing, to social response when it may be used it as appeasement. There may be poor motor skills in replicating the action from juveniles to stiff, older dogs. There may be physical limitations that are often breed or individual specific.

We then have to colour this with the trainer’s bias that will view the sit as a representation of obedience, a reflection on their mastery of the dog. The view that sitting is a polite, nice, way to greet. It is still the most frequently desired need, perpetuated for the most unsuitable conditions when the dog is in a high state of arousal and the person is least likely to be paying attention. 

Let’s step into the world of teaching, not training, of education and learning, not behaviour and consequences. As much as it would be comfortable to stay with simple concepts, we are all learning to teach a learner and that is a complex model.

Instead of developing behaviours, I would like to think in terms of teaching and learning skills – for ourselves and for our dogs.


A skill is not innate, it is developed. This may be a simple development of maturing, such as walking, or through deliberate practise, such as speech and language right through to exceptional mastery, such as musicians, or sports. Skills tend to be categorised into motor, perceptive and cognitive.

Skills usually follow a recognised model of developing competency, paired with consciousness.

Stage 1 – Unconsciously unskilled 

We don’t know what we don’t know. We are inept and unaware of it.

This is where we all begin. As a trainer the recipe instructs minimally as “treat”. We now look at this and realise delivering a treat is a skill. There are many considerations and motor patterns to practise and develop.

During this stage was are likely to be self-conscious, awkward, and entirely focussed on everything but that which we need to be focussed on – which is our learner.

Stage 2 – Consciously unskilled 

We know what we don’t know. We start to learn at this level when sudden awareness of how poorly we do something shows us how much we need to learn.

As we progress in our training, we may return to this stage many times as we become aware of skipping pass a skill. Looking at some of the self-diagnosed “muckiness” this level is present in many of the skills that we should be proficient in, before we begin training or teaching.

We are likely to feel overwhelmed by how much we have to work and develop. It can seem a little depressing.

Stage 3 – Consciously skilled

Trying the skill out, experimenting, practising. We now know how to do the skill the right way, but need to think and work hard to do it.

This is where the really hard work sets in. We may need to step away, re-learn our skills, self-checking our progress. Seeking feedback and working past the errors and future-less habits that came from skipping this stage when we first began.

We are also likely to feel guilty. There may be a sense of letting down our dogs by not having these skills to begin with. But we cannot know what we don’t know – as beginners we are innocent. But if we graduate towards expertise, then, yes we are to blame if we do not take responsibility to improve our skills.

You may also feel it is a waste of time as there are some results you have achieved without all this hard work. Changing a habit IS hard work. But I wish that I could give you the gift of fore-knowledge of how it will feel when this hard work is done and you see the benefits.

(As an aside here. If we pare down to the basic concept of consequence shaping behaviour, then your motivator for spending, time, energy and resources on developing your skills will be seen in the impressive increase in the ease by which you teach your dog.

When we conducted a small survey on the motivators of dog trainers, we found that chocolate, wine and wins were never at the top of the list but “seeing my dog get it” always comes number one. That feeling that comes from exquisite communication when your dog’s face lights up with understanding is never exceeded.

As you go through this stage, even if it feels a bit silly, a waste of training time, visualise the future benefits)

Stage 4 – Unconsciously skilled. 

If we continue to practice and apply the new skills, eventually we arrive at a stage where they become easier, and given time, even natural.

This is heaven. This is where we find the flow and rhythm in teaching. This is where it seems natural and unforced, where our confidence comes through and we can lay down a learning pathway that brings pleasure and joy to learner and teacher.

Knowledge & Understanding

Skills &

Application & Activities

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When people with the same passion get together learning explodes. Many of us are travelling the same path, with the same doubts, the same desires to learn more.

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Where would you like to go? What piques your interest? Would a Micro-Lesson help you understanding and improve application?