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Trainer or Instructor; the difference

By Certified Instructor Dean Marklay

I had an experienced K9 handler attend an ASCT trainer qualification course.  The course consists of a massive amount of education, techniques, and science.  I didn’t know the handler, never met him, though he is certified through both NAPWDA and ASCT.  He had a strong K9 resume and a good spirit. During our first-day introduction session, I mentioned to him that my focus was not limited to him being a solid trainer but also an equivalently prepared instructor. Without any hesitation, his response was, “Oh, that’s something I’m really experienced with.”  I inquired, “Oh yea! Super. What kind of instruction have you done?” I’ve got a lot of experience with K9, FTO, and general instructor.” 


He proudly spoke. I encouraged him and allowed him every conceivable doubt that he was well qualified.  In fact, I had no doubt that he was a superior FTO, K9 handler and was qualified as General Instructor through his POST.  However, I’ve been down this road many times and I knew that his idea of instructionwas not exactly what I had in mind for him. After a few days, I began to integrate the instruction principles with our k9 development and training practical’s.  And then an epiphany hit my excellent student.  “I don’t know this instruction stuff.” He said as we were parting for the day. “I have never been taught this before.”I smiled and encouraged him.  “Don’t worry.  You’ll learn a ton and your teaching will forever change.”  And it did.  By the end of his training, the first thank you I received from him was for the instructional knowledge and techniques.  Now, he is off and running.  And I will say, he is performing to extremely high levels and his students are very responsive. What did I teach him?  What had he not received through his state academy, general instructor class? 


What had 7 years of FTO not taught him about instruction? I taught him how to teach, not how to manage a class.  I laid out for him the methods of measuring his class and student abilities and methods of manipulating the plan to fit each. Essentially, I taught him how to instruct on the Academia level. When law enforcement first began to delve into the applicable world of patrol K9 usage and searched for something different from Bloodhound tracking, the influence was military.


Following WWII, Vietnam, and Korea, law enforcement agencies began to hire veterans. And those veterans who had some experience with the use of dogs carried with them the component of patrol dog/war dog methods.  In addition, they brought in the same terminology from a military application.  Along with that terminology was the term Kennel Master.  Simply put, this position is the overseer of all breeding, acquisition, training, teaching, Etc. Once the veteran's influence for dog usage began to result in beneficial options for law enforcement, the usage of dogs began to grow among agencies.  Thus, an administrator, who wished to place a dog in service, would either acquire his own dog(s) or contact another agency for assistance. 


Soon, there was a market. Shortly after, training expertise was needed to be integrated with the efforts of having a properly trained dog.  At this point in history the term Master Trainer, borrowed from the military, came into play. In the 1960s the main trainer of a typical large agency, where the dogs were housed at a central complex, was usually called kennel master.  Those agencies with single dogs would typically acquire training from someone local or within the state and their title was usually referred to as Master Trainer since the dogs were not housed at a single kennel.As the years passed, the term Master Trainer simply took on the definition as the K9 expert.  And it has stood for a good number of years. 


Today, the vast majority of K9 associations still call the most qualified individuals Master Trainers; a coveted position. Unfortunately, there are individuals who hold these positions, who are indeed true experts in K9 training, breeding, problem-solving techniques, Etc., but who falter in instruction.  Certainly, these trainers can instruct but the instruction often ties only to paramilitary methods, LEO academy course plans and outlines, and sometimes off the cuff methods.  We have all experience it. The classroom is stale, the instructor is monotone, and the material is presented on a screen – perfectly mirroring what we already have in the class hand-out.  There is no lecture to speak of.  It isn’t the fault of the trainer.  Instead, it is simply a lack of exposure to Academic styles of instruction and lecture. In the K9 world, it is the organization that is responsible.


When teaching/instructing, the instructor must be an expert.  That is, he must know the material to be taught, fundamental material to inject when necessary, and advanced material to expound upon for the class.  The academia instructor accepts questions, encouraging those with doubts, and opens the atmosphere to operate as a class learning exercise.  During a lecture, he is succinctly accurate and knowledgeable.


This is the difference between a Master Trainer and an Instructor.  ASCT upholds qualifications that measure a Master Trainer as a true Master at Training and Instructor as one who can take that master K9 knowledge and utilize the academic measures to teach it.  How does one learn to teach through academia? 


By teaching academic classes, College classes, and or having the instruction of those who do teach academia. As I began the story about my student, I revisit the concept, I have an academic education and teaching experience, my student did not.  I want him to be the best he can be and therefore, taught him what I have learned. Because I take K9 seriously, I take this qualification seriously.