Attending the School for Dog Trainers is an immersive experience for all of our students. There are so many learning opportunities available – from the wide variety of dogs available for hands-on training, to extra classes and sessions available outside of the core curriculum.
Perhaps one of the best examples of the extracurricular learning opportunities we offer is our Student Excellence Program. This challenging set of activities is available to students enrolled in our Master Dog Trainer program, and provides students with a number of ways to further their education by participating in additional tasks and challenges.
The Student Excellence Program is designed to push students above and beyond what is taught in their day-to-day classes. For example, as part of the program, students may be asked to train a dog how to perform a handstand; teach a dog the sport of Treibball; and even train a non-canine to perform tricks. The nature of the tasks can vary, but all are designed to improve problem-solving skills and push students to even greater heights.
To get an insight into the Student Excellence Program, we spoke to previous graduates and current students about their experiences. What compelled them to participate in Student Excellence? Which parts did they find particularly challenging? And perhaps most importantly, did they enjoy it?
Taking advantage of opportunities
As with many things in life – whether focusing on personal or professional development – you have to maximize your chances to further your knowledge. The Master Dog Trainer program is a comprehensive six-month program, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have opportunities to improve your skills outside of the core learning hours.
Savannah Dean was a graduate of Class 56 (after graduation, like many who come through the Master Dog Trainer program, Savannah went on to start her own dog training business – Dean’s List K9 Training). It was important to Savannah to make the most of any chances to enhance her skillset.
“I thought of the School for Dog Trainers as an investment into my future,” explained Savannah. “Because it was an investment I wanted to get everything I possibly could out of it. This gave me a way to not only push myself and my abilities, but to also gain as much experience as I could during the program.”
Maranda McLemore, a current student in the Master Dog Trainer program and a participant in the Student Excellence Program, agreed.
“I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity possible to gain as much experience and as much knowledge as possible,” said Maranda. “I’ll admit that I’m an overachiever and want to do everything I can to be the best I can be.”
Every student who attends a program at the School for Dog Trainers comes with different levels of experience of working with dogs. For Wendy Hasenbalg – a graduate of Class 56, and Highland Canine’s trainer in Galax, VA – the Student Excellence Program served as an ideal way to get even more experience of training dogs. As Wendy detailed, she embarked on the Student Excellence Program to give her a more varied experience to help set her up for future success.
“I was motivated to complete the Student Excellence Program because I did not have any prior experience with training any dogs other than my personal pets. I wanted to learn as much as possible and thought exposure to a wider range of experiences and dogs would help. Additionally, the activities seemed like they would be fun.”
Different skills and different experiences
As we alluded to at the beginning of this article, the Student Excellence Program offers a wide array of opportunities for students. In addition to boosting their skillset and knowledge, it can also offer fresh perspectives outside of the scope of dog training.
Christine Ho is a current student, enrolled in the Master Dog Trainer program at the Main Campus in Harmony, NC. From Singapore, Christine was the recipient of our 2021 International Scholarship; as such, she was determined to make the most of every opportunity coming her way whilst attending the program.
“I enjoyed our first practical assignment – to train an animal other than a dog to perform a trick,” said Christine. “After doing some research, I decided to teach my assigned chicken to peck only at the blue circle when presented with two circles of different colors.
Going through this process of teaching an animal that is first and foremost afraid of humans and does not respond to human praise or affection, I gained a better understanding and appreciation of what we had learnt in class about clicker training and successive approximations to teach a desired behavior. It was exciting to see firsthand how the theory and fundamentals we were taught about shaping behavior were applicable to all animals, and not specific to dogs.”
Wendy also agreed with Christine’s assessment with her own non-canine experience – although instead of working with a chicken, Wendy trained a donkey!
“Working with Hank the donkey was so much fun and a great challenge for me,” said Wendy. “I also liked that our class was all about teamwork; so we were all able to observe and help each other work with a donkey, chicken or horse. The tasks and added opportunity for teamwork helped me understand operant conditioning better.”
Tony Dora – a member of the current class alongside Christine – cited the overall challenge of Student Excellence as his favorite aspect of the program. For his non-canine task, Tony trained a pony to spin and perform a bow (as seen in the video above).
“The thing I like most about Student Excellence is the many challenges,” explained Tony. “I love interacting with dogs. I love learning from them. I love helping them understand the content of any given practical and I love when they see the connection between what they are learning and the value of a reward they are given.”
Time management - and other challenges
Naturally, the demands of doing additional tasks – on top of a six-month program with little time off – can be a difficult one to manage. A couple of our interviewees mentioned that time management was the biggest challenge they faced during their Student Excellence endeavors.
“You are working on challenging and sometimes time-consuming practicals, and your ability to succeed depends on your level of motivation and your ability to manage your time wisely,” said Maranda. “Things overlap and it can get crazy, but if you plan what you’re doing and take advantage of all the time you have at the training center, you are golden.
It hasn’t been as bad as I initially thought that it would. In the beginning, you have practical after practical for Student Excellence that overlaps with your regular practicals. It can seem overwhelming at first because you are still trying to get the hang of things and figuring everything out. Once you get through the first few, it seems to slow down some and it seems much more manageable. It really isn’t that difficult as long as you aren’t wasting time that you could be working on one thing or the other.”
Former graduate Savannah agreed with this assessment. “The most challenging aspect was the fact that I had to balance it along with all of my other school work.”
In addition to good time management skills, students in the Student Excellence program may encounter other challenges. The tasks are designed to be very challenging and push students even further – and the nature of the tasks can be difficult to master.
“For me, the most challenging aspect of the Student Excellence program for me were the tasks associated with the scent and behavior study,” said Wendy. “Trying to get a dog to spin, sit or down by only a smell cue was hard.”
We asked each of our interviewees to provide us with their overall impression of the Student Excellence program.
“I am loving every moment so far,” explained Tony. “I live for learning and excellence. As the successes in the Student Excellence program build, I am able to grow in confidence. It helps me to discover my strengths and develop those strengths into habits. Knowing that I have helped not only dogs, but other students too, move forward with skills they will use for the rest of their lives is gratifying and truly fulfilling for me.”
Tony’s fellow student in Class 60, Christine, said she has enjoyed the experience so far. “While it has not been easy, I will continue to strive to do my best and gain as much knowledge as possible through the assigned tasks.”
Previous graduates Wendy and Savannah summarized their thoughts.
“The Student Excellence program was enjoyable and added a lot to my educational experience.” said Wendy. “I felt like it motivated us to think creatively and as professionals that should be involved in service to the community as part of our business model.”
Savannah thinks that future Master Dog Trainer students should give the Student Excellence program serious consideration. “I enjoyed it immensely and would recommend it to everyone!”
The final word goes to current student, Maranda.
“I love the Student Excellence program. I love the practicals so far. They have been so much fun and challenging enough to really give me a sense of accomplishment when I successfully complete them. If you really apply yourself and do your best, you can learn a lot from them. I have used my own dog many times for the Student Excellence practicals, and I was surprised at how much I learned from teaching him new, different things that I hadn’t thought of before that challenged me as a trainer and my ability to communicate with him effectively.
I would highly recommend people doing it and being a part of it when they come to the School for Dog Trainers. It is exciting, fun, challenging, rewarding, and so worth the extra time and work it takes. There is nothing to lose by giving it a shot, yet there is so much experience and knowledge to gain.”
For more information about the Master Dog Trainer program, click here.
For more information about the Student Excellence program, click here.