Years ago, I adopted a retired racing Greyhound. He arrived at my house with the name Busted Suitcase which I quickly changed to Dana once the paperwork was signed.
Dana was a lovely, gentle, and devoted dog. He was as protective of me as I was of him. I wanted to make up for the two years he spent at the track and he was nothing but appreciative of the new sweet life. We took walks, he slept on my couch. He became my baby.
One day I decided to take Dana to an obedience class. Dana was the oldest dog in the class the rest being puppies.
The first command was “Sit”. Just press on the dog’s rump as you issue the command the instructor told us. Getting a puppy to sit is a piece of cake; you use your index finger to push the tiny little tush down.
Getting a greyhound to sit is another matter. Greyhounds are good runners because they have muscle. Lots of it. I would position my entire weight on the back end of my dog as I firmly told him “Sit” but nothing would happen.
Instead Dana would kick me off like a mule into the cinder block basement wall. Time and time again. I even ended up in a leg cast from a smashed knee.
While all the other little puppies had moved on to “Down” and “Stay”, Dana and I were left behind still working on “Sit.”
Exasperated, I contacted the greyhound league. Why won’t my dog sit? I whined to them, what’s wrong with him?
He won’t sit because he’s trained not to sit, a woman told me. If a dog in their racing silks even thinks about sitting they get whipped. No one wants to see dirty silks. Your dog won’t sit because he thinks he’ll get punished.
I could have spent years trying to get my dog to sit and it just wasn’t going to happen. Because I didn’t have the background, despite my best intentions no real learning was every going to occur.
As an Instructional Designer, I could have had no better lesson on the importance of fully understanding my audience’s needs and limitations before I start any training. I can design the best learning series or write the best manual but if my audience is incapable of relating to it or doesn’t have the capacity to understand it, I might as well throw my money to the wind.
In the case of Dana? I modified my expectations (a sit wasn’t very important) and instead worked on skills that he could accomplish like “Come” and “Stay”. Eventually, both of us became successful Dog Obedience class students.