The Links Between Classroom Management and Dogs!

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Patch and Bella Dogs


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How can teachers refine their behaviour management instruction?

… the parallels between dog training commands and classroom management techniques, provide (perhaps) fresh insights for effective teaching!

Imagine this scenario

You are the owner of a dog.

Now, think briefly about the various keywords you would use when communicating with them …

(Think a little bit more!)

Becoming an expert in explicit instruction

As the owner of a Border Collie, renowned for its ability to understand and remember many words, I remember vividly when ‘Patch’ was a puppy, thinking very carefully about my choice of language to aid instruction. I spent a great deal of time choosing popular commands not only with the general public (for example, ‘sit’ and ‘stay’) but also commands specific to our family environment and needs.

According to the Guinness World Records, a Border Collie named Chaser was recognised for understanding 1,022 words! This highlights the potential for dogs to understand and respond to human language, which has got me thinking about explicit instruction and behaviour management.

Inspired by a question by Caroline Hudson, I started to think about the keywords I use as a dog owner and why teachers are (potentially) better dog owners than others because they are experts in communication.

Using fewer words means that you have to use conscious effort. When we use too much language with our dogs, key commands become lost!

I don’t believe this is any different to the key information we might use in the classroom, not necessarily for developing subject knowledge, but exclusively for managing behaviour. It’s also worth mentioning here the verbal and non-verbal gestures we might use to improve behaviour communication which can also add significant value, but that’s for another post.

Let me give you some examples of common dog commands:

  1. Sit – Instructs the dog to sit down.
  2. Down – Directs the dog to lie down.
  3. Heel – Signals the dog to walk close beside you.
  4. Wait – Instructs the dog to wait and not move forward.
  5. Here – Calls the dog to come to you.
  6. Leave – Tells the dog to ignore or drop an item.
  7. No – Indicates that the dog should stop what it’s doing.
  8. Off – Commands the dog to get down from furniture or people.
  9. Drop it – Asks the dog to release whatever is in its mouth.
  10. Fetch – Instructs the dog to retrieve an item.
  11. Bed – Directs the dog to go to a specific spot and stay there.
  12. Paw – The dog offers a paw to shake hands.
  13. Speak/Bark – Encourages the dog to bark.
  14. Gentle – Instructs the dog to take something gently with its mouth.
  15. Up/Stand – Commands the dog to stand up from a sitting or lying position, and so on …

In the classroom …

As a teacher, especially working with young students, using clear and age-appropriate key terms is crucial for effective behaviour management in the classroom. Here are some key terms and phrases that are commonly used:

  1. Listen – Encourages students to pay attention.
  2. Hands up /down – Promotes orderly participation.
  3. Quiet – Requests lower volume when speaking. Ssh – not so explicit!
  4. Look this way – Gains students’ attention.
  5. Sit down – Promotes a sitting posture for focus and engagement.
  6. Hands to yourself – Encourages respect for personal space.
  7. Walk – Reminds students to walk, not run, indoors.
  8. Please / Thank you – Reinforces polite behaviour, and so on …

Incorporating these terms into daily routines and expectations helps create a structured and positive learning environment. Consistency and clarity in their usage, along with positive reinforcement, can significantly enhance classroom management and student engagement.

Reflection questions for teachers

  1. How might simplifying your language improve student comprehension and cooperation?
  2. What specific classroom commands could you streamline for greater clarity?
  3. In what ways can consistency in instruction mirror training techniques used with dogs?
  4. Could incorporating non-verbal cues enhance your classroom management, similar to dog training?
  5. How might this approach differ in primary, secondary, and further education settings?
  6. What are the potential challenges of adopting this method, and how could you address them?
  7. How can this strategy be adapted for students with different learning needs?
  8. Could this approach help in managing large classes or diverse student groups?
  9. How could you measure the effectiveness of this strategy in your classroom?
  10. What other animal training techniques could offer insights into classroom management?

When teachers embrace the simplicity and clarity of dog training commands they can use this thinking to transform their classroom management.

Why not experiment with direct, concise instructions and witness the positive impact on student behaviour and engagement? Less is more they say!

p.s. I’ve finally found a great reason to post a picture of my two dogs and explicitly reference teaching! Oh, and it’s ‘Bella the Cavapoo’ on the left …


2 thoughts on “The Links Between Classroom Management and Dogs!

  1. Great blog. I’m not a teacher but I have two dogs and three children. I have often pondered on the many parallel skills needed in the educating of the human and the fur baby! Not only do you need to keep things simple and concise , patience and consistency are also essential to getting results.
    Although, I still haven’t managed to get my children to perform the spin command with the same enthusiasm as their furry friends.

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