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Finding Great Instruction In Dog Agility

Posted on 09/05/12 17 Comments

This is the third “Dog Agility Blog Event”  for 2012 and is on the topic of  “What makes a good coach/instructor.”

The “ideal coach” is going to be different things to different people. They should be your instructor, your coach and your mentor all in one. Not everyone is going to be all things to all people. Some people prefer a coach with a straight forward approach, no sugar coating. However there is a big difference between “straight forward” and “mean spirited.”  However for me it all comes back to what I feel is the number one attribute of a great coach or instructor.

They care.

They care about your dog and you having the best time possible while you are learning from them. All handling and training is centered around productive fun. They care about your education, about you cultivating a balance between your love of agility with your love of dog training. They are aware of building your confidence and desire while they deliver the messages that are meant to challenge you towards growth in the sport.

You are never just a pay cheque, you are someone they want to light a fire within. To help create a passion that drives you on in your journey, a passion that is evident to all who know you.

This dedication or caring can be demonstrated by their follow up. Do YOUR dog training challenges become HERS? Does your coach tell you “your dog needs to learn how to tug” or does she facilitate that learning by giving you incremental pieces of homework that will eventually lead you to that goal?  Is she creating new approaches to teaching skills to help those who are struggling? Does she take pride in her student’s successes and take ownership for their failures? Is she tickled with pride when you can beat her in competition?

Each of us may need different things from a coach at different points in our agility career but that doesn’t necessarily mean we need a different person to fill the role. However a great coach can still be supportive if the time comes for you to do move onto another instructor.

A coach should have a love and appreciation for the sport at the highest level it is played, even if she doesn’t play there herself. Any instructor that “dumbs” her classes down because she is only wants to teach those that “only want to have fun” is doing a disservice to her students and to the sport.

The last thing you want to do is to start your foundation training with someone that believes “recreational” agility should be taught differently from “competitive” agility. You only have so many hours in a week to train your up-and-coming agility dog. Why waste those hours building a weak foundation that has to be re-worked somewhere done the line. Any instructor that suggests the sport can be taught differently if you don’t have “world team aspirations” suffers from a limited vision. Things like body awareness, shadow handling, foundation jump grids, games of drive and control prior to ever getting on agility obstacles all make the “foundation” agility training so easy. Anyone who attempts to teach agility obstacles first without these elements in place is surely inviting frustration to be a constant companion of both the dog and the handler throughout their agility playing career. Other than the decision to teach a running or a stopped contacts I believe all other foundation training for agility should be the same regardless of the students’ starting place or current goals. A “world team competitor” will pay more attention to detail while training these foundation skills but the same skills during that “foundation” training.

It is my belief that a good instructor does not have to have competed at the highest level of agility in order to be an effective coach for you, but they must have and understanding of how the game is played at that level. There are many examples from all over the world of current elite level competitors (National Champions or World Team members) that all got their foundation training from someone that was never on a world team. Regardless of their own level of success these coaches able to create a higher level of brilliance in their students by understanding what it took to achieve that level of success at the elite level.

Very few newbies will go on to compete at the worlds, but the strong foundation many of these “lesser known” instructors are taking the time to create will take a TON of frustration and failure out of the sport for all of their novice students. Perhaps that up-and-comer moves onto a more experienced coach of international success, but if she does, she moves one with a brilliant foundation which can be built upon, not one that needs to be torn apart and re-built.

Today I am grateful for all of those “little known” agility instructors around the world that care enough about their teaching and their students to continue to be inspired by and create passion for, agility at the highest level even if they have no intention of competing there themselves.


  1. Chuck Pilny says:
    Saturday, July 29, 2017 at 1:33pm

    Just finishing a 2×2 weaves class based on your methods Susan. One dog/handler team that could not weave is doing 12 poles in less than six weeks. A few who took the class to learn the method but with dogs that weaved 12 poles but missed the more difficult entries are now hitting almost any entry angle (even 90 degree sends)!
    Love your videos and methods! Thank you, I think I finally am beginning to understand why I train and run agility. I’m older (72) and never going for the world cup team, but having a ball running in local trials and working, slowing, toward our MACH.


  2. Heather McLeod says:
    Monday, November 12, 2012 at 11:20pm

    Truly inspired…one comment that’s stuck with me for years…is… “why would someone come to you for training, you don’t have any world titles…well, must be doing something right…I do what I do because I love it, and enjoy it. To see a dog come alive that had never played, never chased, didn’t light up. I see the smiles in my students when they see things come together, because they’ve taken the time to listen and learn and be patient. I may need to learn more myself…but, right now, I’ll get them to a certain point, then lead them in the right direction to continue to grow for any Dog Sport.



  3. Lisa says:
    Friday, November 2, 2012 at 4:38pm

    I just came across this article. It is what I am learning now as a newbie and so much want to achieve success marked by the bond a handler and dog have in the ring (not the speed). I just wish good foundation trainers in agility were easy to come by. I know what I need in a trainer, but I can’t find it a reasonable distance from me where it can fit into my life schedule. Hopefully, before I make too many newbie mistakes, I will come across that trainer who can inspire me and Bear (my Shiba) onto new heights.


  4. Jeanne says:
    Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 1:22am

    Thanks for this blog Susan. Going to print it out and post it by my computer. One of my students suggested I read it because she said it spoke to her about why *I* am a great agility instructor. I don’t think I meet all that criteria but I sure have instructors myself that do (you, Kim, Lynda)…..thanks for posting this…..what a great reminder of whom I strive to be!


  5. Nicole K says:
    Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 8:58am

    I’m on my way of becoming an Agility instructor and this post really inspired me. I really hope I can transfer my love for the sport to my pupils and let them love the game as much as I do, whether they will compete or just play for fun!


  6. Aptkh1ln7 says:
    Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 7:03pm

    Help your blog into Wall Street !!!


  7. Debra Jones says:
    Sunday, September 9, 2012 at 11:45pm

    …and that’s why I’m one of your grateful students.


  8. Norma Nelson and Brogan says:
    Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 5:45pm

    I am going through a very tough time with my dog Brogan. We seem to have disconnected. He is such a good boy. I just don’t seem to be able to find that instructor/coach that can help me. Oh how I wish I could find the person that would say to me we will find the solution and give me the homework. Everyone always talks the talk but when it comes right down to it the help is not where I can find it. The term fast dog is all I hear. Sometimes it just makes me wants to quit… but I won’t.
    Thanks for the good posts. You truly try to help us all.


  9. Stephanie K says:
    Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 1:52pm

    Fabulous article…I’m a newbie at agility and I must say that your article described our teacher/coach..Hannah A.


  10. Cindy Martin says:
    Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 12:36pm

    Want to say a big THANKS! to my instructors/mentors, Kathy and Amanda Prince in tiny little Toney, Alabama! I am still a huge newbie, having not yet competed with a dog in agility (hoping to do our first trial at the beginning of November!), but from the start, they train and mentor their students at the highest level, not just accepting “beginner” errors as expected, but expecting the best from each of us at the level that we are training. I have learned that many problems go back to not starting out with the basics from the beginning and training specifically and well, and above all to be patient and not rushing the process! The fun is in the journey!!


  11. Carol Morgan says:
    Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 11:28am

    I was so fortunate to have an instructor like you describe as my first agility teacher. She opened the door to an incredible journey for us.


  12. Tina says:
    Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 9:33am

    Loved the part about the recreational vs competitive. I have had many people come to me for class that just want to have fun- or give the dog something to do. I explain I train it all the same and you never know- you may change your mind in the future. I’d say about 99% of my ‘just want to play’ handlers are now competing! Yay!


  13. Siri Weisaeth says:
    Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 5:39am

    Dear Susan,

    I love your blog. You have the ability to lift us all up to an almost philosofical level – time and time again = )

    In my opinion a good familiy pet have an even better chance to perform in the ring, because they are better trained to handle different types of environment.

    After having to kids (of the human type), I have come to love my dog even more. This could obviously be misunderstood ; )My point is that I keep thinking on how well he has handled the new and more noisy and unpredictable environment in our house. My kids love him and treat him very well, but of course two small kids (and some times with friends) puts some strain on a dog at times.

    The interesting thing is that my dog is even better to train now, and I am amazed by the fact that he can focus with some much things going around. It’s me thats comes short at times. So I keep thinking that he has had a raise in his competance, that will gain him overall in training and competition.

    Thanks for your blog.


  14. Ellen says:
    Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 12:19am

    Per Bob Bailey and your previous blog
    “Two factors here- how good is the trainer and how good is the dog. I have a little saying; “training the animal is the easy part.”
    Thank you for training humans to be their better selves.


  15. Mary M says:
    Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 10:49pm

    Love this Susan! And why I so enjoy working with you, thanks for all you do to light so many fires for your students 🙂 I know I find inspiration each time you share with us.


  16. Kathy Mocharnuk says:
    Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 6:49pm

    GREAT POST, it really adds to the fun of the whole game to be taught correctly and it is so easy to feel when someone is really interested and loves dog training or is just collecting a paycheck, having someone who really cares and draws you into their joy is such a cool thing 😉


  17. Kristi says:
    Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 3:52pm

    Once again, dog training seems to be a metaphor for life. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on this topic. So happy that there is now internet access to some phenomenal training!


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