Becoming The Best Teacher You Can Be

Becoming The Best Teacher You Can Be

At the APDT Conference last week we had the pleasure of listening to Sumac Grant-Johnson‘s speech called Build A Better Trainer. Sumac is a wonderful dog and people trainer. She engaged the audience like few speakers were able to. Everyone was laughing and enjoying themselves during her speech. Here are some of the highlights of her presentation.


Teaching Skills For Dog Trainers

Many trainers get into dog training for the dogs. However, you have to work with people to make a living so having some people skills are important to being a successful dog trainer.

Sumac has broken down the steps every teacher should take when instructing a class or lesson into an easy-to-remember acronym: OIA. OIA stands for Observe, Interpret, and Act. She encourages all trainers to learn as much about human body language as they do about dog body language. This will increase your ability to understand clients who might be struggling. She stated that if there is a failure rate of more than 25% in a class after instructions are given then the issue lies with the instructions given, not the students.


As a teacher, you must be able to observe your student’s actions. Look at what they do correctly and incorrectly. See what might be inhibiting them from achieving the goal behavior.


Once you’ve made accurate observations, you can then interpret what you’ve observed. Bring into consideration environmental factors such as space, distractions, fears, and noise. She mentioned that you can let clients know what they can do if they cannot hear you appropriately.

Learning Styles

A good instructor understands how to utilize different approaches so that all learning styles are incorporated into their teaching. Learning styles can be broken down into visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Make sure you’ve researched these styles so that you can identify the learning style of each client.

Knowledge Base

Every client will have a different history and knowledge base. Sumac recommended we read the book How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman. You never know right off the bat what kind of training knowledge, behavior knowledge, or experience a client may have. What they know can hold them back in some cases due to prejudices or biases.
One of the most important parts of her presentation was the recommendation to never express differing or conflicting opinions right off the bat or they’ll put up barriers.


After observing and interpreting your client’s behavior, you’ll want to act accordingly. Consider adjusting the environment, avoiding putting people on the spot, and mark and reinforce correct behavior. Sumac recommended the use of words like good, nice, or great as marker words before explaining what they did correctly. Make sure you give your students achievable steps towards the goal behavior just like you would when working with their dogs.
In the end, she states that as dog trainers, we all of ONE job. That is to help people meet THEIR goals. This presentation was one of our favorites out of the whole APDT Conference in Hartford. She is an excellent presenter and intelligent people-person. She claims she used to be extremely shy as a child, but we find that extremely hard to believe! Thank you Sumac Grant-Johnson for sharing your knowledge with us.

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