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How to create greater independence – all advice gratefully received

Allow me to tell you a little about my dog, Rusty.

Rusty definitely has some specific needs. If he was sent to school he would come with the benefit of a pupil premium. A colleague was walking in the nearby town of Cullera about twelve months ago and came across Rusty in a closed box next to some street bins. His young son was pointing to the bins animatedly and saying “bow wow”. Despite an effort to ignore what at first seemed like a childish error “no son, that’s not a dog it’s a box!”, he stopped and discovered a grubby five week old puppy who was delighted to have been found. Subsequent vet checks confirmed that the dog was healthy and after a treatment for mites and worms was ready to find a home.

My colleague, who lived in a flat, couldn’t keep him. The dog’s home confirmed that they would take him but that they had so many animals that after a few weeks if he hadn’t found a home they would have to put him down. With hearts of steel my wife and I agreed to take him for a couple of days as a trial and so, twelve months on, he is as much a part of the family as any of us. Which brings me to my dilemma…well, first, a little more on Rusty’s needs.

Rusty is marked on his pet passport as predominantly red setter. This is an error on the part of the vet that I did try to correct but she was having none of my advice. He is the size of a springer spaniel, but with shorter hair. He fetches in the same way as a spaniel might. He has the build and shape of a springer spaniel and the face of a springer spaniel. The vet however, using a slightly twisted logic deduced that due to his colour he was predominantly red setter. I did point out that by the same logic most bananas are therefore lemons but my pleas to declare him predominantly spaniel were ignored.

When we first took Rusty out for walks, being on a lead on the ground was, for him, too far away from us and the separation anxiety would build until one relented and carried him. He is better now with the whole walking business and an advantage of this neediness is that I can walk him off the lead knowing that he can only go a few yards away from me without needing to return. The other day just out of a cruel investigative interest I found myself testing Rusty’s need to be close at all times. I got up from the sofa and walked out of the back door. Without a pause the dog also woke up and trotted alongside. Not only had I not called him I hadn’t even acknowledged him! How long could he walk beside me without receiving any eye contact or verbal recognition? To test I walked around the house and in though the front door, passed straight through the house and out through the open back door. I continued until it was clear the dog was quite happy to continue for ever if it meant avoiding being more than a metre or two away from me. When I sat back on the sofa after five minutes of the same journey he sat beside me as though we had just engaged in the most perfectly normal activity in the world.

A couple of evenings ago he brushed against a guitar that I have standing against the wall. The guitar moved ever so slightly and as it did so gave out a small sound as it scraped across the floor. Rusty backed away in fear from what was clearly a haunted instrument. For twelve months he hadn’t noticed the guitar but now it is a more terrifying prospect than doggy bath time! I only have to pick up the guitar for the dog to back away across the room with his tail between his legs.

And so to our dilemma. What do we do with our dog at Christmas when we return to spend a fortnight with family. The cats are fine. A neighbor can come in every couple of days to feed them and they will probably not notice our absence, but Rusty! Clearly if I cannot find somebody to offer him a home for the Christmas period I am going to have to place him in the kennels. To do so and not completely go into doggy meltdown however, he’s going to need to develop a little more independence and become just a little less needy and reliant. How do I go about doing that with the dog? What can I do to encourage a little more confidence so that he can make it through a ten day absence from us without the separation anxiety driving him completely crazy?

And then, can I use the same skills in school with the pupils. I guess in some ways the problems are similar. Rusty needs strict behaviour guidelines and therefore has a tendency to look to us for permission. We do also behave occasionally like slightly over indulgent parents towards him which perhaps feeds his reliance on us. How do we create that independence in our pupils. Yes, we have strict behaviour guidelines. Yes, our parents are exceptionally caring towards their children. Like Rusty maybe they become slightly too dependent when what we are trying to achieve is self-motivated, independent learners. I found this article that I think is ideal for pupils although I may struggle to apply all the concepts to rusty.
www.creativeeducation.co.uk/blog/index.php/2011/05/independent-learning/

Any other ideas – please feel free to post them in the comments section below.

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