What a Pithy: Making Classes Memorable

“Pithy” means “concisely cogent.” It describes an essential skill of the best training instructors. We work in challenging conditions: teaching two species simultaneously a series of precise physical skills, often in less-than-ideal environments. We must communicate unfamiliar concepts to our human students quickly. Explore creative ways to present this information concisely (i.e., in few words) and cogently (i.e., in a powerfully convincing way).

Summary of Presentation

Part of the job of a pet-dog instructor is to communicate basic learning principles—about reinforcement, timing, criteria, cues, generalization, and more—to novice students. But we are limited in the amount of verbal explanations we can provide. Extended lectures lead to bored and noisy dogs. If we challenge ourselves to be creative, we can devise teaching approaches that are brief, memorable, and effective. Metaphors, analogies, parables, and anecdotes can convey broad or advanced concepts meaningfully. Cartoons can also express ideas succinctly; just think how much impact a political cartoon can have.

This presentation will be an exercise in generative thinking. It will attempt to spark your own ingenuity and give you fresh ideas for classes that may have become stale after years of repetition. Come prepared to learn innovative instructional tools that can bring life to your teaching.

Learning objectives:

  1. To learn to use language in creative ways to convey jargon and complex training concepts to students
  2. To become familiar with several forms of narrative devices that instructors can use to simplify and clarify their information

This Session will focus on:

  • Teaching as performance art
  • How to be “sticky”
  • Metaphors and analogies
  • Stories and parables
  • Perspective shifts
  • Humor
  • Avoiding clichés
  • A few examples of concepts we can use as practice

Kathy Sdao

Kathy Sdao is an applied animal behaviorist. She has spent more than 30 years as a fulltime animal trainer, first with marine mammals and now with dogs and their people. Kathy received a master’s degree in experimental psychology from the University of Hawaii. The United States Navy then hired her to train dolphins for open-ocean tasks. Kathy next worked as a marine-mammal trainer at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Later, Kathy co-created Tacoma’s first dog daycare facility, where she began teaching clicker training classes.

Since 1998, Kathy has owned Bright Spot Dog Training. Services include consulting with families about their challenging dogs, teaching private lessons, and mentoring professional trainers. Kathy is proud to be an original faculty member at Karen Pryor Clicker Training’s ClickerExpo conferences.

Kathy has traveled extensively across the United States, Canada, and Europe, and to Australia, Israel, Japan, and Mexico, educating students about the science of animal training. Her first book, Plenty in Life Is Free: Reflections on Dogs, Training and Finding Grace was published in 2012.