Finding Great Instruction In Dog Agility
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 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.