Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Teacher's Pet

This post is about what makes a good teacher/coach and is part of Dog Agility Blog Day.  Go here to read more posts on this topic.

Lots of skills involved in being a good teacher or coach but I think the most important one is the teacher/coach's ability and willingness to guide the student towards their goals and to help them with their goal setting.    If there's no clear objective, even if that objective is as simple as coming to class and enjoying time with their dog, the learning process becomes frustrating and a waste of time.  If someone shows up to an intermediate level handling class and states that their goal is making the world team then a good instructor will encourage some smaller, more realistic goals for that particular 6 weeks of class.  This did happen in one of my classes and 8 years later that handler has not made any significant progress towards making the world team.  Nothing wrong with aiming high but unless you're naturally talented and/or have an amazing dog that will compensate for you then you've got a journey ahead of you and a good instructor will guide you towards breaking it down if they know how to get there.

For me another important skill for an instructor teaching a class or seminar that I'm attending is time management.  Nobody likes paying a lot of money and driving a long distance to a class or seminar then getting very little ring time because the instructor is paying a disproportionate amount of attention to a few people.  It's o.k. if someone is struggling with a concept and they get more time on a particular exercise but then their next turn in the ring should be short to make up for it.  Not everyone comes to a class or seminar with perfectly equal skills but a savvy instructor will know where to pick her battles and when to tell a student to move on and work on something at home.

A good instructor will have experience with lots of sizes and types of dogs.  Breed is not important, dogs of all breeds display the same ranges of behavior and I think some people get too tangled up in the importance of that, but experience and success with dealing with high drive, low drive, easily distracted, easily stressed, easily overstimulated, etc. is important in a class type situation.  However this type of instructor is admittedly going to be difficult to find.

Good communications skills are essential as well.  I don't mind a long winded explanation for a concept if it's justified but I think these days some instructors over-complicate things in order to look clever and sell us on their training/handling methods.  I was at a seminar last fall and loved the simplicity with which the instructor explained things.  This year I was at another seminar and ready to bash my head in over the 15 minute explanation for the same concept that the other instructor had explained in one sentence.

Beyond these basic skills I think we all have individual preferences for what we want to see in a teacher based on our situation.  I want an instructor that's had some success on a national level, has an excellent eye and can help me with my timing with my super fast dog. I like an instructor who pushes me outside my comfort zone and comes up with handling puzzles that make me think.  I like trying new things and experimenting so I like a teacher who is creative and thinks outside the box.  I can deal with my dog's various behavioral issues myself so I don't care so much about having someone with those skills.  I don't care for raging egos or people who use aversive training methods or people who want to force a training method on me that I'm not comfortable with because I feel it will harm my dog's motivation or enthusiasm.

Obviously other folks will have different needs and wants for an instructor.  Luckily there are so many instructors and options for learning with online classes and all the books and videos available these days.  It may take some time and trial and error but eventually we find that perfect or close enough learning situation and it’s a wonderful thing.  I love going to lessons and seminars as much as I love trialing.  Learning new things and improving skills is such a rush for me.  A huge thanks to all the wonderful instructors, both local and out of town, who've helped me over the years.  Thanks to all of you, I've truly enjoyed my journey and look forward to more.

Give yourselves all a nice big juicy bone.


  1. wow, good points and the time management thing is a class is so huge, GREAT POST-THNX Kathy with Liz/Breeze/Cricket

  2. A good collection of things for someone to ponder if they're also pondering becoming an instructor. Nice list.