If you teach dog training classes I’m sure this is a familiar scene:

A student starts to teach their dog to “stay.” Five minutes later, they’re trying to get their dog to stay while they walk all the way across the room.

It’s frustrating for everyone involved. The owner, because their dog inevitable doesn’t hold the stay. The dog, because he doesn’t understand what he’s being asked to do. And the trainer, because we know that explaining why the dog failed is going to be rough.

Which is why I’ve come up with an analogy I love for exactly this kind of situation.

“We don’t expect Kindergartners to do algebra…”

When explaining the importance of teaching dogs in tiny pieces, I like to point to math.

There are a couple of reasons for this — it’s something most people have had to learn at some point. It’s also something many people struggle with; and finally, it’s a subject that very clearly builds on itself, much the same way that dog training does.

Since coming up with this analogy I’ve used it countless times — and it almost always gets the handler quickly nodding along.

When I see a dog struggling because their owners are lumping, I’m careful to go over to have a quiet conversation (since no one likes having their failures pointed out to the class) and I explain that we probably need to break things down a little more for their dog.

Then I roll out my favorite line: “Trying to get him to [insert lumpy thing here] is like asking a kindergartner to do algebra — they need to understand addition and subtraction and multiplication first.”

Usually, I can almost see the light bulb go off for people — of course, it doesn’t stop them from lumping all the time, but it helps them understand things from their dog’s perspective… and tends to make them a bit more receptive when I remind them (the next time) to break things down.