Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Empathy, Good Eye, Gentle Voice (Plus!)

The latest Dog Agility Blog Event question is "What makes a good agility instructor?" 
(Check out lots of answers at this address:

I believe it takes three traits (plus!):

She needs to understand how the handler and dog might be feeling, and what they need in order to learn the game. Is the dog a high-drive dog?  Does he enjoy the game?  Or does the dog need a special kind of encouragement?  A good instructor will know.   She has had plenty of experience handling dogs, and has gone to many agility trials. 

Is the handler physically capable of manuevering around a tricky course?  Has the handler built a rapport with his canine teammate?  Does the team spend any time practicing on their own? 

Are there other issues being played out on the field?  Handler impatience?  Handler frustration?  Sore dog?  Funky weather? 

In order to have empathy with a student and his dog, a good agility instructor must have....

.....a good eye.
She needs to be able to watch both handler and dog at the same time, as they attempt to get through an agility sequence.  She needs to clearly SEE what is happening.  Once she catches the handler's errant turn-of-shoulder, or the imperceptible change in acceleration....and the dog's reactions....she will be able to share her observations with her student.

In order for the student to HEAR what his instructor says, it helps if she has.....

.....a gentle (yet knowledgeable) voice.
Students have a difficult, if not impossible, time hearing instructions that are delivered with the vocal severity of a boot camp drill sargeant.  A good instructor will know how to share her observations and expertise with a gentle yet knowledgeable tone of voice.  She will offer an alternative approach in such a way that her student will be eager to keep trying.  She walks the course with her students, so that she is available for any questions they may have.   She may offer her suggestions in the form of a question.  She may even walk up to a student and speak to him privately, if she is aware of his shyness or his lack of confidence.

She knows that different approaches work better for different teams, and she will adjust her advice accordingly.  One size may not fit all!


It helps if she has a sense of humor.  Laughter is the best medicine.  Students and dogs can be whacky and fun!  So can agility instructors!

Under an amazing variety of circumstances, a good agility instructor stays in tune with the dogs in her class.  She is aware if one of the dogs is causing trouble in the crating area, and she will give the handler suggestions as to how to deal with it.  She knows when a Big Trial is coming up, which students have entered, and what they may need in order to prepare.   She knows which dogs are happy, and which are not....she can hazard a good guess as to why that is....and try to help them throughout the class. 

Her eyes and ears are always open.  She is attentive.  She is passionate. She is solution-oriented.

A good instructor is always learning.  She will take lessons herself.  She will explore a variety of handling methods.  She learns almost as much from her students as they learn from her.  The best instructors enjoy learning....every bit as much as the best students enjoy it. 

Agility is a life-long learning game.  JOY OF LEARNING is key to having fun!!!!

Riff is a happy dog.  He has a TERRIFIC agility instructor!
PLUS we've been to some awesome privates and workshops
with other talented instructors.  We are very lucky.

PS.  KUDOS to agility instructors everywhere!  Hats off to you, for your marvelous generosity and willingness to work so hard at a tough job.   xoxoxoxoxo!

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