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It’s just like riding a bike

by | 13 Aug, 2020

Dog Training Coaching

I’ve noticed a lot of learner drivers on the road recently. One such vehicle had a lovely bumper sticker that read: The more you hoot, the more I stall.

It made me smile, but it also made me think. When I was learning to drive a friend kindly took me out in her just-about-held-together-with-tape VW Beetle.

I was living in Cape Town at the time and for reasons that I can no longer remember she took me to Tamboerskloof for our ‘lesson’. For those of you who don’t know, Tamboerskloof is hilly. It’s perched on the side of Table Mountain. Very hilly. The clutch took really high in that car – your right knee was almost in line with the steering column. That’s awkward enough on the flat, but on a very steep hill with you sliding back on the faux leather seats, for me at that very early stage of my driving career it was impossible. I could not drive that car in that place. My friend, obviously really concerned for the health and safety of both her and her much loved car, stopped the session quite quickly and never offered again. Another friend let me drive her equally run-down Mini and in that I could cope with gear changes. Soon I was driving around confidently, changing gears fluidly while manoeuvring like I wanted to.

The AA gives these friendly pointers on how to pull off in a car:

Prepare – getting the vehicle ready to pull away when the road is clear

  • Press and hold the clutch down with your left foot.
  • Select first gear.
  • Press the gas pedal down with your right foot until you’re at about 1500-2000 rpm.
  • Bring the clutch up slowly until you find the biting point.
  • Be ready to release the handbrake at the correct time.

Observe – showing your instructor that you’re aware of your surroundings

  • Check all around the car looking for anything that might affect your driving plan.
  • Look over both shoulders.

Move – confidently moving the car off when you’re safe to go

  • Release the handbrake.
  • Release the clutch slowly while gently putting your foot down on the gas pedal.
  • If you find you start to move off too fast, ease up on the gas and control the speed of the vehicle using the clutch pedal.
  • Re-check your mirrors and blind spots and move your car to the normal driving position.

That’s a lot of stuff to think about just to get moving. And then you have to steer and keep an eye on the road as well. It’s amazing any of us get proficient at driving!

So maybe we are going about this the wrong way? Lumping too many things together at once?

Think back to when you learnt to ride a bicycle. If you are my age you probably had training wheels that stabilised you while you learnt to pedal and get from A to B while staying on upright on the bike. Once your parent (or you) decided you’d ‘got’ this, the wheels came off and then you probably fell off you bike regularly until you got your centre of gravity sorted out and actually learnt how to ride.

Now kids can learn the other way: learn to balance and steer first, then add the pedal power. Balance bikes like YBIKE don’t have pedals. The focus is on teaching kids how to balance and steer under their own power. Pedals only come into the picture once the gross motor skills of staying upright and going where you intended are mastered.

So back to driving a car – maybe it would be more efficient to learn how to control a car separately to learning how to change gears? Don’t get me wrong – I love to drive a manual transmission car, but automatics are just so much easier.

And how, I can hear you ask, is this related to dog training? Well, I’ll digress a little further and share this:

I’ll bet you didn’t realise you were developing all those individual skills when you were learning to skip! You probably muddled along trying different things until suddenly, there you were, skipping.

You knew what your final behaviour was meant to look and feel like when you learnt to skip. Imagine your poor dog – he hasn’t got a clue where you’re heading when you start teaching him something. They learn so much better if we break behaviours down into small, manageable and measurable chunks that you teach individually.

For our dog’s sake, we need to be a bit clearer in our own minds what we are actually teaching and stop lumping criteria together. But that’s another story for another day.


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Liz is a Certified Trick Dog Trainer and offers private and small class dog training. She uses force-free training methods and believes in developing the handler's skills as much as the dog's. She has worked with many different breeds, ages and ability of dogs. Liz doesn't use a cookie-cutter approach to training – each dog and their human get what they need to meet their goals.