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If you follow me on Instagram, you know how much I love my dogs Roscoe and Smudge. I’ve been posting pictures of them since they were tiny pups. #Roscoeandsmudge I’ve had to learn a lot about dog training this past year thanks to them. I found that there are similarities between managing a classroom and managing two ninety pound dogs.

I was a classroom teacher for five years, and I’ve been a substitute teacher for eight. I’ve learned a thing or two about classroom management especially being a substitute teacher. Training dogs is similar to classroom management in that it calls for me to always be in a position of leadership while continuously assessing energy levels.

I once heard a teacher say, “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.” I thought it was brilliant because she let her class know the importance of kindness in leadership, but also strength in that kindness. She let her students know that she was in control thus allowing them to sit back and learn. And as any teacher knows classroom management always comes before learning. Learning can only take place when students feel safe.

Roscoe and Smudge are my boxer/pit mix pups I’ve cared for since they were two weeks old. Now they’re a year and a half. When they were little and I could hold one in each hand training was easy. There was an understanding that I was the leader. Looking back I realize the understanding was there because I knew it. Then Roscoe and Smudge grew and grew! They began to exhibit typical dog behaviors like barking, curiosity toward small creatures, and excitement which resulted in pulling on their leashes. The more they pulled, the less I wanted to walk them. Suddenly I began to question my leadership skills. I started to believe that there was nothing I could do. A dogs will be dogs attitude which was not helpful toward my relationship with them. I started to miss the little pups that listened and didn’t nearly knock me down every time I tried to get the three of us out the front door.

Then I remembered the classroom. As a middle and high school substitute, I walk into a room full students I’ve never met. My job is to manage the class and teach the lesson the teacher has left for me. My years of experience have taught me that being too relaxed or too strict result in disaster. An attitude of strength in kindness is what’s necessary. I must walk in with kindness and calm carrying a positive energy that lets everyone know I’m in charge. Sometimes it’s a complete act. A fake it until I feel it attitude, but most of the time it’s exactly how I feel.

I had forgotten that Roscoe and Smudge are always looking to me to be their leader. The minute I started to believe that their pulling on the leash was something dogs do and I had no control was the moment they took control. That’s what dogs and students do when they don’t have a leader. They take control; chaos ensues because no one feels safe. The good news is that when the energy levels get too high, they can quickly be brought back down through a calm yet strong presence. Take a look at this video for a great example.

Negative energy and positive energy fluctuate with each thought or belief. As long as I’m aware of the energy, I’m bringing to a situation I have control over adjusting it whether I’m in a classroom or training Roscoe and Smudge. It doesn’t mean that I’m always the perfect leader. It means that I’m aware that my thoughts evoke emotions which result in either a negative or positive situation. If my energy is negative, the minute, I sense it I have the ability to change my thoughts which change my emotions, and influence those around me whether it’s dogs or students. Good leaders don’t yell, criticize, insult, or use violence. They understand how to bring positive energy into every situation. They lead through kindness which is a strength far greater and more developed than its opposite. In other words, it’s easy to get angry and yell it’s much more difficult to face your anger/fear and turn it into positive leadership.

It’s not about being perfect. It’s about understanding that if the moment isn’t perfect, you have the ability to change it. Change your energy to change your environment. It works for classrooms and dogs!