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In praise of praise

Getting the most out of training

In agility we are told to reward our dogs frequently with treats, toys and play but how often do we, as handlers, get praised, particularly by our instructors. Is it enough to be told 'well done' every once and a while. According to management consultants The Mind Gym, there are better ways to get the most out of class. This short article, adapted slightly for agility, applies to handlers as well as instructors.

Do it often - Five times a session minimum - like fruit and veg. More would be even better! You can't praise too often.

Spread it around your club or class to avoid a sense of favourites.

Remember, it's for their benefit, not yours. This will make it more genuine.

Don't mix praise with negative feedback. Otherwise, it will not be heard.

Choose the right moment. In general, for praise on a minor matter, do it right away; otherwise it will look like a bigger deal than it is.

Give the context. If the praise isn't offered immediately, it helps to let them know what exactly you are talking about. i.e. the way the contacts were handled.

Explain specifically what went well. The more precise the praise, the more effective it is. By just saying, 'Good round, it was great' you are not giving the other person anything they can usefully apply in the future. Was it great because the good pull through, the solid contacts or way the dog went on past the finish line.

Describe the impact it has had. This is the part that motivates. Mention the good/positive consequences that followed as a result of what they did well - like get a clear round. This is what encourages people to repeat this behaviour. e.g. your tight turn saved 1 1/2 seconds going around that sequence.

Describe the skills they demonstrated or what it tell you about them as a handler. This is the part that makes the other person feel good. Thanks for leading the meeting so inspirationally. What a great team you make.

  Congratulate. This is usually the beginning, the middle and the end of the praising. It has a role but if it's all you do, you only get one star.

Adapted from Management Today (September 2004) by The Mind Gym