Dog Agility Blog Action Day — What makes a good instructor/coach?

Here are 5 things to look for in a GREAT instructor/coach…

1. Has more then one answer to a problem — Every dog is different, and there is no “one size fits all” answer to every training problem. A good trainer will have an alternative solution if their first one doesn’t work.

2. Understands the mental aspects of the game — Agility is a partnership, and if the human half of the team is a mess, it doesn’t matter how skilled the dog is. An instructor who helps the handler manage their nerves, develop positive self-talk, etc, will be doing more to help that team in the long-run then by trying to speed up their dogwalk by hundredths of a second.

3. Recognizes how agility has changed — Agility continues to evolve. Trends in course design have changed, and different handling maneuvers are needed. Weave pole entries are more difficult, serpentines are prevalent, and wraps are becoming more common. A good trainer recognizes this, and will also alter the focus of training exercises to focus on current challenges in agility. While I do not believe a good instructor has to be actively competing, they do have to be aware of what is happening within the sport.

4. Is available to their students — A good coach is going to be there for their students at shows. They may need to answer a question about how best to handle a sequence, or help figure out what went wrong after a run. That means the instructor needs to try to make a point to watch their students. This is a fine line — I certainly don’t think instructors should have to deal with being constantly bombarded with questions so they are not able to focus on their own dog and runs. Nor do I think instructors should dictate how their student should run the course. New handlers have to learn how to analyze the course themselves — a good instructor will teach this, but also be there to answer the occasional question. Obviously, an instructor cannot watch every run of every student, or be at every show, but an instructor who makes an effort is worth their weight in gold.

5. Recognizes when they don’t have the answer — A good instructor will see changes in their students dogs, and realize when it may not be a training issue. The first thing a dog showing a new issue (ie dropping bars, avoidance of certain obstacles, slowing down) should have addressed is potential medical reasons for this. The good coach will recommend having the dog evaluated by a veterinarian to rule out health problems, before starting to offer guidance for training through these problems.

Leave a Comment