Delayed Instruction – a story about teaching

I’ve had a number of people ask me about delayed instruction. If you watch the video I posted where Tammy and Cabri are learning how to target, you may notice that I don’t correct Tammy on her treat delivery until half way into our session. Knowing that doing things the right way makes a tremendous difference, many have wondered why I would delay my instruction. I purposefully delay for two reasons.

1. When learning a new skill, constantly hearing what you are doing wrong doesn’t make for a very pleasant experience. Overloading students with rules and suggestions on how to best teach their dog doesn’t help anyone. It’s far easier to learn and retain things one piece at a time – so I prioritize. What is the most important thing to teach first? Everything else can wait.

2. Experience is often the best teacher. Learning for yourself, through experience that one way is more efficient than another will be far more valuable a lesson than anything I could tell my students.

Recently, on the Clicker Solutions email list (which I highly value and recommend for anyone wanting to learn more about Clicker Training), Douglas St. Clair shared a story from his own life. Doug’s story summed up the value of delayed instruction perfectly and more beautifully than I could. It is with his permission that I offer his story below.

Back in high school I went out for track. We had an exceptional coach. One of the students he coached went on to become a gold medalist in the Olympics. The first week all he had me do was to run laps. He didn’t comment. He answered questions if I asked. He simply said go out and run as many laps as I could. Early in the second week he called me over and made a suggestion about the way I used my arms. Then he sent me back to running laps. He was very low key. Very much not in my face. He was also very very knowledgeable and it became crystal clear when I did what he suggested with my arms. He sold me with that and I was convinced that anything he suggested would bring the improvement it had.

I realized that an important part of his style was salesmanship. He not only told me what I could do he sold me by first letting me do things any way I wanted. Giving me freedom of choice. He made a suggestion that improved what I was doing materially and convinced me that if I did what he suggested my performance would improve.

My point is that part of teaching, leading, mentoring, or coaching can be improved if you choose an approach the sells your student, subordinate, etc on the value of what you tell them.

Thank you Doug.

By allowing students to experience a less effective way of doing things, they can then see for themselves the differences made by a small change. Of course, if a student were ever doing things in a manner that might hurt or confuse their dog I would step in immediately… but in this particular case, Tammy simply needed to make a small change to increase her efficiency and effectiveness. Seeing herself the difference, she was sold on the change.

The training video can be seen at

The clicker solutions email list can be found at


One response to “Delayed Instruction – a story about teaching

  1. As someone who is currently taking training classes with an instructor who teaches “positively”, and uses the “click and reward” method, I appreciate your take on this. Our teacher is great, and she must follow this same line of thinking. I get probably one “correction” per session, and I know I’m doing lots of things wrong!

    But, we are coming along. The Pup is quicker to learn than I, but hopefully I won’t hold him back!

    Like your blog, will visit your other sites.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s