Friday, September 28, 2012

Tips For The Novice Agility Competitor

As penance for making one particularly horrible and embarassing mistake at a recent trial that cost a fellow competitor a run, I promised to write up a list of tips for all the other green (and not so green) competitors.  Tips I've struggled to learn in drips and drabs.  Little pieces of advice given by one competitor or another, or a judge, sometimes in painful fashion after I've screwed up.   It's a work in progress, but I have posted it in my sidebar for anyone's use and enjoyment.  Dog clubs are free to use it for a handout.  No strings attached except I'd appreciate a link back to this blog.

Starting out, I thought it would be 3-4 pages, but it's already grown to 9 pages.  There is so much to learn in this sport besides training your dog and improving your handling skills, no wonder I've been feeling so overwhelmed these past 2.5 years.  So much easier it would have been if someone had just handed me a list.  Voila!  My list! 

I've added suggestions from other competitors already, and continue to welcome comments and suggestions.  One experienced competitor observed that we are all still novice in this sport.  We all make mistakes.  It will do us all good to review the rules and especially the etiquette.

Upwards and onward!

Port Allen Trial - September

Maxie, 6 runs, 4 Q's, 2 QQ's, 3 3rd places, 1 2nd place, 32 MACH Points, 6 videos
Lucky Lucy, 6 runs, 1 Q, 9 MACH Points, 6 videos

L to R:  Pepper, Maxie, Willow
with Maxie's 2 QQ's and placement ribbons.
John and I both headed off to Port Allen for our dog club's 2nd 3 day trial this year. Our first experience of pulling off 2 agility trials in 1 year.  I brought the motor home so John, assistant to the chief course builder all weekend, wouldn't have to leave the house at 5 a.m. each morning.  He spent Thursday and Friday nights with me, then went home Saturday night after the RV'ers "BringYour Own Beef" pot luck barbeque to bring our car back across the river.   He caught a ride back to the arena on Sunday morning with Nedra because he drove the U-Haul full of equipment back to BR Sunday night. We didn't want to have to go back across the river and get our car like last year, which took our last ounce of strength after the gruelling weekend.

John worked his ass off.  Two rings, always a course to build, for 3 days.  Few breaks, then pack up the truck and bring everything back to the field.  All I did was manage our RV, our crate space, and ran our dogs, trying to save my hip for my runs.  I didn't video other people, just my own dogs and a few of our novice competitors.  My hip didn't hurt a bit all weekend - must have been adrenalin keeping me from feeling it because it was sore before the trial, and is sore now.

Maxie ran clean the first 2 days but didn't run as fast as usual, walked the weaves, and on the 3rd day he went off course on both runs, attracted by some scent at the back side of the arena.  The first of those NQ's, XS, he ran clean except on the second to last jump he ran completely out of the ring and around the column, but the judge only raised her hand for a refusal of that jump and the score sheet showed Maxie's time and 1 fault.  Why we weren't Eliminated I can't figure.  Here's that run.

On the XJ run, he ran around a jump which was his only fault, but didn't leave the ring.  But the score sheet showed we got eliminated and no time.  I can't figure that out.  Plus which, the video shows that the clock kept running for at least 4 seconds after we crossed the finish line. Here's that run. 

I pat myself on the back that all weekend I didn't lose track, kept on going, never got lost on course. I've changed one tactic.  If my Excellent dogs miss an obstacle, I don't go back to correct it.  I'm NQ'd anyway, but I keep the flow going to encourage speed.  Will this come back to bite me if my dogs start thinking they can skip something?  We'll see. Does it worsen my score?

Lucky Q'd once with 9 MACH points on her first XS run, but otherwise she was not much interested in participating.  It was hot.  Her tongue was dragging. Even when clean, she was always over course time. On one run, a spectator was eating a plate of fried fish at the edge of the ring. She smelled it and ran towards him. DON'T EAT FOOD RINGSIDE is now added to my Tips list. 
I'm still processing both dogs' composite videos, but my microphone is acting up, as is my video editing program.  I'm trying different things, still not satisfied with the programs I've tried.

On Friday and Saturday both, I had visitors. Audrey came Friday and Saturday. Nathan and Allison came Saturday morning.  Laura and Portia hung around all Saturday afternoon and evening. 9 year old Portria unabashedly interviewed several dog owners about their breeds, and one of our own club members spent lots of time showing off her Corgi's. I was also impressed with a lady who showed us her Shelties.  I've always been attracted to the dainty ones that look like miniature collies. If Portia gets one of those, I'll be thrilled.  My cousin Lois also offered her a Papillon puppy, 5 months old, but Portia now has Shelties on the brain.

Portia with my Paps
The most encouraging thing that happened all weekend was the interest shown in my new "Tips For The Novice Competitor" paper, which is a work in progress. Competitors shared their pet peeves and gave me lots of encouragement to publish the list. One experienced competitor said "No matter how long we've been at it, we're all still novice.  It would do everyone good to review the rules and especially the etiquette."  I agree.  There's a lot to take in.


I'm running a little faster, with a slightly longer stride. Courses are easier to memorize.  My nerves aren't frayed.  My heart isn't in my throat as I enter the ring.  I don't agonize over mistakes.

Maxie's first 2 QQ's in one weekend was a real surprise.  This leaves only one more QQ to meet my year-end goal of 10.  We're at 493 MACH points now, and my goal is 550.  With 2 more trials this year, we have a good chance of making these goals.

Lucky actually did run her weaves once. She never stopped on the top of the A-frame. She didn't miss any contacts.  That's a little progress, at least.

My goal for Lucky is still the same - to figure what it takes to get her moving in the ring like she does in practice.  For starters, I've entered her in our next trial at 24" and we'll practice at 24" from now on.  She seems to like jumping higher. Maybe this will boost her enthusiasm, and she will get a few more seconds to complete each run. The cooler October weather may help too. She needs 3 more Q's in XS to get her MX title.  We could well accomplish it this year, but with her speed issues, her MXJ can't come until 2013.

Pepper, my livewire 8 lb. Pap, at 11 months old, wasn't the least bit unnerved by the trialing atmosphere.  Crates beautifully. Not shy of dogs or visitors. Tried to mark everything, though. I measured him several times at 11.25", so looks like he may be jumping 12". I hope cousin Lois is right that Paps shrink a bit at about a year old. I'd prefer him to jump 8". When I hooked his leash to our cart going too and from the RV, just expecting him to tag along, I discovered he's a great cart puller.  Here's a little video we took of him pulling, with Maxie and Willow riding in the caboose.  Notice that 46 lb Lucky, in harness, is often on a loose leash, while Pepper is pulling the 50+ lb cart all by himself.  I've got to get him a harness before he strangles himself!  He is unstoppable.

Got a whole month to practice before Kiln, and Pepper just got booted out of Intro up to Beginners.  Got to see what classes are available.

Upwards and onward!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Dog Show Scores

Just got wind of this exciting little website where you can check your dog's AKC scores all the way back to 1999, in Agility, Obedience and Rally.  Just type in your dog's name, and voila!  Especially neat, you get to see a list of your dog's run times in the right hand column, handy for assessing whether they are generally slowing down or speeding up over time, and placement beyond the 1st-4th places.

Upwards and onward!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

My First Cortisone Shot - for Hip Bursitis

Willow hovers over me and seems more alert and
affectionate since I've been hurting.  Her personality
is noticably different.
I got my first cortisone shot last Monday, after suffering another bout of debilitating hip pain that sent me to the doctor for hip X-rays.  This after a 4 month healing period where I didn't train or trial due to hip pain and an inability to run.  I feared the worst, that my hip joints were deteriorating, but NO, my hip bones appear to be fine.  It's just another bout of Hip Bursitis, this one brought about by repetitive motion picking up sticks and raking twigs for days on end after Hurricane Isaac.  My recent blog post about my new mantra - "Llittle And Often Makes Much", took on a new twist.  While the yard got cleaner, my hip pain got much much worse!

It's been 5 days since the shot, I still have soreness in the hip, I still wouldn't dare run, but I can walk around without pain.  (It's most painful when I first get out of bed or chair, but loosens up after a few minutes.) Doc says I should be able to train and run after a week, and by next week should be able to run my dogs in our Port Allen Agility Trial.  Today I reviewed my blog post from last year on Bursitis and am digging out the Ultrasound Machine to add to my ice pack regimen.

Maxie lies around and waits for Mommie to get better.
Meanwhile, I've hired a young Iraqui War Vet on disability to finish my yard work, in little drips and drabs when he's available, and I'm taking it easy in my TV chair.  Thank God for commercial-free Netflix. Also managed to take a great photo each of Willow, Maxie, and Pepper, gather and fill all the hummingbird feeders, reorganize my pantry and deep freeze, and gather all my darning around me (repairing the dog's stuffed toys, torn pockets, broken zippers, etc). Also got to participate in the 4th Agility Blog Action Day yesterday, which took a whole day. Slow down time can still be productive.

Pepper at 11 months, locked and loaded,
always ready to play.  Those ear feathers
are still coming in.
Took Maxie and Lucky to class last Tuesday, and though I didn't run them, I got a few agility classmates who say they're willing to run my dogs.  And proved again Lucky will run for anyone carrying her ball, Maxie will run for anyone carrying his gizzard treats.  (Why do so many handlers say their dogs won't run for anyone else, or that they can't run anyone else's dogs?????) In fact, both ran like the wind for Sandy, who is younger and runs faster than I do, and handles pretty much like I do.  It was a joy to watch my dogs fly!  A joy to have her declare that my dogs are fast and fun to run. 

Sadly, they aren't nearly so fast for me.  I slow them down.  Need to address that issue one day soon.  I still need a running coach.  And my instructor says I sound angry when calling out obstacles.  Do I?  I'm certainly not angry in the least, but do I need to sound more cheerful?  I've got to look into that. 

Always more to do. Always room for improvement. Never enough time.

Upwards and onward!

Blog Action Day Takeaways - What Makes A Good Coach/Teacher

From 39 other essays posted by agility bloggers for our 4th Blog Action Day - What Makes A Good Coach/Teacher, here are my favorite takeaways, and sometimes a few comments from me (in blue) about why I like this takeaway.  Some give me a new idea, others confirm what I already believe.  In each case, I link to the blog post underneath the passage I like.

An average coach will make you feel his or her greatness. A perfect coach will make you feel yours!

I also believe that you should probably have several coaches or instructors in your agility career.  Not everyone has a diverse enough skill set to teach everything you need to know. . . . Lately my perfect coach/instructor is my dogs and my favorite tool is my video camera.

All dogs are individuals, of course. They’re not all typical (or stereotypical) of their breed; they all need to be treated as individuals within their breeds. But breed matters. Anyone who says it doesn’t, doesn’t Get It. Papillons, for example, need a 4 on contact at the bottom of the see-saw for a safe landing and to drive the board down quickly, so don't insist I put their treat on a target 6" out from the board.  In fact, let me remove the target when it's my turn.

First and foremost, a coach’s role is to provide you with information you currently do not have.  I resent teachers who mindlessly teach me things I clearly already know, which just reveals that they aren't actually teaching ME.  "Place your front cross further out" is useful.  "A front cross is a change of sides", insults me.

What makes a great instructor/coach? Here are some of my criteria:
  1. The instructor must be as kind to the student as they expect the student to be to their dog (for me, only positive training would be acceptable).
  2. They must be kind, empathetic and have endless patience.
  3. There would NEVER EVER be a harsh word muttered towards the student or the dog.
  4. They would NEVER EVER blame the dog for ANYTHING that goes wrong, and they would not accept that from their students either.
  5. No matter what happens on course, a great instructor teaches their students to smile as they leave the course and be kind to their dog.
  6. A great instructor teaches their students to be good losers as well as good winners.
  7. They would never roll their eyes at a student, belittle them or use sarcasm when teaching.
  8. Instructors should never ever tell tales outside of class. What happens in class stays in class. It would be unprofessional to do anything else.
  9. Great instructors gently encourage their students to be more than they think they can be. They never shame them into anything or ridicule their students.
  10. A great instructor will not over face their students. They know how to train reliable behaviors and will break things down into small pieces so the students and dogs gain confidence as they learn and never feel overwhelmed.
  11. A great instructor is not afraid to search for more answers from others who are successful.
  12. And finally, a great instructor will not only answer any and all questions the student asks, they will do so with a smile.
It has always been a mystery to me why some instructors feel the need to shame or belittle students. . . . . .

A great agility coach applies pressure to students in class, pushes them out of their comfort zone, asks them to hurry to the start line, shouts “please go now!” to replicate the trial atmosphere.  First I've heard of "replicating the trial atmosphere in class".  At the advanced levels, I like it!

A good coach will watch from ringside and mentally will you to work your start-line, reinforce your contact criteria, cue a front cross sooner . . . . . Cue a front cross?????  I've never heard that one.  How do you cue a front cross before you front cross?

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. This is why I offered a Handling Fundamentals class at our club last spring, but it had few takers and was ridiculed by our regular teachers, who claimed they already teach the fundamentals.  But they never taught me shadow handling, body awareness, start line stays, footwork, and games of drive in their classes -- all we did was run sequences.  The only two who took my class had a very respectable Q rate in their first Novice trials!

A great teacher "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.

A great instructor also has an instructor! It's all about continuing education! Never settle for someone who assumes they already know it all and has nothing left to learn. Teaching the same things you’ve taught for years or teaching things the same way you’ve taught for years is just stale.
A great instructor realizes that they are not just training a dog, but a person too! You can teach a dog every complicated move in the book, but if the handler cannot perform those moves, well, you’ve really not accomplished anything.

  1. Passion: a true, genuine passion for what they do. . . . . It’s totally unreasonable to expect your students to follow your lead when you’re not particularly enthused about it yourself. . . . . . Happiness is contagious, it excites the pleasure centres of your brain, so you associate learning with pleasure, not a feeling of boredom or obligation. That can’t not be a good thing.
In conclusion, the really great trainers have loved what they did, but understood their craft from top to bottom and had a sense of balance between learning and success.

And this one saved for last, from Bud Huston, a big name agility instructor, really sums it up.  It's long but well worth reading by any teacher who cares to improve, and by any student who needs a handle on what the teacher is going through trying to manage a class or help a student successfully.  Plus, I no longer feel like a maverick trying to incorporate games into my classes, giving homework, using a stopwatch, or suggesting special events or socials.
Care about your students. Learn their names. You don’t know everything; don’t even pretend. Learn some good jokes. Pay attention to their progress. Socialize with their dogs; and give them treats out of your own hand. If you must set them back to repeat a class, allow it to be their idea and praise them for being prudent and clever dog trainers. Give everyone equal value. Allow everyone equal time on the floor. Don’t bullshit them. They come to you for instruction, so be honest. Don’t forget to get them signed up for the next session of classes early; they won’t take it as nagging or selling, but will feel that you honestly care about them. Leave your prejudices about certain breeds of dogs at home. Smile occasionally and laugh often. Always apologize for being stupid. Don’t try to fix everything at once; it’s okay to take the long view. Try to be clever about finding just the right thing to fix or help with. Remind your students from time to time that agility is just a game. Remind yourself from time to time that agility is just a game. Prepare for every class that you teach. Feel free to state objectives and offer handling advice and remedy; but remember ultimately that they come to get out on the floor working their dogs not to hear you lecture. Be humble about your own accomplishments; but ask your students for their brags every week. Be mindful that you know your students in a narrow context – they may contend with drama and tragedy in their own lives of which you are unaware. Always inquire about dogs and family members who have been ill or injured. Be a student of the game. Don’t express extreme political views to your students. Remember that they come to class to chat and socialize not to hear you lecture; so when you must address the class to take a teaching moment, interrupt politely, be brief, and let them get back to chatting and socializing. Be consistent in your training advice. Remember that teaching is a game of repetition. An adult must hear a thing 28 times before it finally sinks in. You have no choice but to be patient; tearing out your hair only loses you your hair. Never chastise a student angrily. You can make fun of a student in a jovial way, but only if you really did have fun with it and only if you are prepared to help your student with your training genius. Teach with games whenever possible. Follow current trends in the sport; collect course maps and study video. Don’t be afraid to cheer for your students and encourage them to cheer for each other. Introduce new students to your classes. Celebrate graduations. Give your students homework. Honor the accomplishments of your students’ dogs. Hang their ribbons in your training center. Give homework. Check to see who’s been doing their homework. Remember that new students often don’t know simple things or fundamental things. Feel free to teach when you are instructing. Remember that nobody absolutely nobody wants to use up class time listening to you brag about your past accomplishments. Be a mentor. Teach from a philosophical perspective. Use positive reward-based training methods. Teach your students to be clever dog trainers. Remember that they don’t learn much when being spoon fed. Problem solving is good. Welcome back students who have been away for awhile. Always start an exercise with the entertainment round in which your students can solve with their own handling choices; otherwise you won’t be so clear on what you need to teach. Don’t be catty in your conversation about people who are not present; it’s a small small world, and it’s not very attractive to the listener. You are responsible for your students’ dogs’ safety. Don’t allow any dog to be terrorized or attacked by another dog. Get rid of aggressive dogs from your program immediately. Always check the safety and repair of your equipment. Provide a clean and pleasant and safe training environment for your students. Remember that everyone wants and deserves basic respect. Always address or speak of other instructors in front of your students with fundamental respect. Keep in mind that some of your students are actually smarter than you and have more education. It might be possible that some of your students are a lot smarter than you and actually have less education. It doesn’t pay to be pompous. Be skillful with students who interrupt, or disrupt, or undermine. Get rid of aggressive handlers from your program immediately. Your other students deserve a safe place to play. It just doesn’t mean any more than it is. Have special events and socials with your students. Encourage a sense of community. When your students arrive for class be sure to say hi to their dogs too. Use your students as the good example when they are. Have a long range vision for your students. Track progress if you can. Keep in perspective that agility is a game we play with our dogs on the weekend in a park.

Upwards and onward!

Blog Action Day - "What Makes A Good Coach/Instructor"

Due to Hurricane Isaac cleanup issues, I missed the September 5th deadline for this 3rd Blog Action Day topic, but I want to write on the topic anyway.  I also posted my Blog Action Day Takeaways here (the favorite parts of the other essays I read).  My own thoughts go thus:

There are no great atheletes out there without a coach.

Watching any sport on TV, it becomes obvious that coaches are necessary. . . . . every athelete has a coach on the sidelines, watching every move, encouraging, rising and falling with the athelete's rise and fall. We see how every olympic figure skater or gymnast without exception gets the pep talk before going into the ring, and afterwards. Every ball game has a coach shouting orders, making notes, giving pep talks.

What makes the athelete great is, first of all, their willingness to be coached throughout their career. If you are unwilling to be coached, you'll never get far.

Finding/being the right coach is another matter.  The great coaches I see out there are not themselves always able to perform the skill. The olympic figure skater's coach is often portly, never in skates, the ballet teachers aren't at the bar practicing, football coaches aren't out there getting tackled.  The coach, it seems, just understands the sequence of steps required to advance, and makes sure your training includes every foundational element you need.  They see things from the sidelines you can't see. They do their best to leave nothing out. A great coach has time to focus on the details of YOUR training, not being caught up in theirs.  The great coach encourages you through multiple failures, places rewards along the way, has an eye for small improvements, builds upon your strengths, works around your weaknesses, and helps you set realistic goals. It's an art form. The great coach understands that the closer you approach excellence, the more sophisticated your skills, the closer to the edge of perfection you strive to get, the easier it will be to fail. The great coach embraces failure as part of the program, and is there for you to try on another day.

It takes another pair of eyes to look objectively at what you are doing. Unfortunately, finding someone willing to watch you that closely, whose opinion you really trust, for that long, isn't easy. It doesn't always require a close personal bond between coach and student.  The coach just needs to know what they are doing, inspire effort, and inspire trust.  Inspiration is 50% of the learning battle.

A teacher all my adult life, my teaching philosophy has drawn more from my many bad, uninspiring teachers than from the very few teachers I consider "excellent". Teaching/coaching in an inspiring way is so extremely rare.

We've all had these experiences in grade school.  The teacher
  • ignores you when you raise your hand with the answer, and calls on you when your mind is blank.  What's up with this?  Do they purposely try to embarass you?
  • has favorites who get all the acccolades and attention, while the other students are ignored.
  • lets some kids slide while being hard on others for the same thing.
  • is unprepared, doesn't know what they are talking about.
  • makes their subject so boring you don't want to learn it.
  • sets the pace by the slowest students, boring the advanced students to death.
  • constantly praises the fastest students, making the slower students feel dumb.
  • takes offense at questions, dislikes creativity, fails to recognize innovation, etc.
Let's face it.  Our whole A-F school system encourages our teachers to look for and punish errors, not reward what's right.  What if, instead of marking papers down from 100, we changed their point of view and marked papers up from 0.  70% right instead of 30% wrong.  What if students just got to repeat the failed parts of the test until they aced it, and teachers used their students' failing marks as clues where to teach to.  On my agility NQ's, for example, I usually get 18 out of 19 right.  Once I learned to feel good about how much I get right, I felt more empowered and encouraged to isolate and fix the errors. 

I've pretty much done my best to forget school, but there are indelible memories that stand out, including both good and bad ones:

Praise: My 5th grade civics teacher changed my self-concept within about 5 minutes when towards the end of class, in an idle moment, he played a little word game with the class. He stuck his hand in his pocket and said, "If I say I ain't got no money in my pocket, do I have money in my pocket or not?" Everyone in class insisted he didn't, except me. He finally acknowledged me as the only one who got it right, and made me stand up to explain the double negative, that NOT having NO MONEY, meant he did have money. I finally felt I had some brains. In 5 minutes a teacher can change your self-concept.

Enthusiasm:  My 7th grade geometry teacher was short and dumpy with horn rim glasses and a high pitched voice.  30 kids in her class, and no assistant.  The 2 bad boys sitting at the back made such fun of her, one of them threw an eraser that hit her in the back of the head one day, leaving a dust of chalk in her dark mop of thick fuzzy hair.  She was so busy at the chalkboard extolling the virtues of geometry, she didn't even notice!  "Geometry is everywhere", she exclaimed with her arms open wide on our first day, and set us a homework assignment of counting how many triangles, rectangles and circles we could identify in our houses.  I had never really noticed shapes before.  I was totally hooked on observing my world from then on.  Proving theorums was a challenge, but if we got it wrong, she didn't give an F.  She said go back and reread the chapter, see me after class, until you get it right.  She wanted us all to pass.  I still have my geometry book, and refer to it when I'm arranging furniture, building equipment, planning my garden space, or anything else.  She wasn't personable, sweet or affectionate, but she opened my brain up to a whole new level of awareness.  Her enthusiasm conveyed to me the thrill of figuring things out, and I felt more alive, empowered, amazed, intrigued, and anxious to learn more. This feeling has never left me.  That's what a great teacher does!

Unfairness: My 7th grade biology teacher was Adonnis to me. I worshipped him. I applied myself to every lesson and made A's and B+s for him. That is, until he brought a snake to school and told us we'd get an F on our mid-term exam if we didn't hold the snake. As he approached my desk with the snake writhing in his hand, my throat closed up, I froze in fear, my brain imploded and I ran from my desk sobbing. He shook his head in disapproval, skipped me without further acknowledgment (ever), I did indeed get an F, and I loathed him from that day forward. I made C's the rest of the year. To this day I love biology, but hate snakes, and hate him for shutting me down and devising such an inappropriate test.

Skill-Building and Pride Building: My 4 years of Honors English in High School introduced me to classical literature, writing, diagraming sentences, studying style, devices, etc.  The 2 teachers were hard on us.   Every punctuation or spelling error lowered our grade point.  We learned to pay attention real quickly because anyone who dropped below a C average was bumped out of Honors and someone else given your spot.  It was devilishly hard and there was lots of homework but we didn't want to get bumped -- it was an honor to be in there.  These teachers, while curt, stuck up, opinionated, and sometimes playing favorites, awakened a sense of pride in us of being intelligent, captains of our fate, masters of our souls, responsible for civilization.  They made life seem extremely precious and important. On the last day of High School, the last words Ms. Gomez spoke to us was "Good Bye, Good Luck, and remember the world is your oyster, make of it what you will".  48 years later, I'm still pondering what she meant by these words.

Communications: My11th grade chemistry teacher was so dry, dull and boring, I flunked the course. My only report card F in high school. Of course my parents blamed me for not applying myself but I still maintain, it was his fault entirely. Chemistry is a fascinating topic to me to this day, he was simply unintelligible.  His communications skills were so poor, his demeanor so suspicious of everyone, he was totally unsuited to teaching. 

Negativity/Defensiveness:  What is it with teachers who say, on the first day of class, that "Most of you are going to flunk this course."  I have had several college instructors tell their classes that.  They should be immediately fired.

Now on to my thoughts on agility teachers/coaches.

In agility training:
I want my teacher to create a comfortable environment where I feel safe and welcome.  I don't want be frowned at, ignored, snubbed, intimidated, yelled at, barked at, or for my teacher to waste my time.  I want to feel like the teacher knows I'm there and is glad to see me and my dog. I don't want to hear how much the teacher loves somebody else's dog or breed, or "not liking little dogs, big dogs, long-haired dogs, or whatever". I don't want my one hour class or all day seminar to consist mostly of sitting around waiting for my turn.  Get people lined up and keep the class moving. When it is my turn, I want my teacher to pay attention to me, not be off chatting with someone else.  I don't want to be interrupted during my attempt at a sequence, rather, watch me, comment on what I did, praise what's right, suggest improvements, and let me try again.  Give me pointers, but don't insult or deride me in front of my classmates.  Don't praise the star pupil every time and give them multiple turns, then say nothing to others and cut their turn short.  Likewise, don't spend all your time with the weakest/slowest student. This happens over and over. Keep the class moving.

If you're teaching a seminar, have a wireless lapel mike and PA system, so everyone on the field can hear you. Then, even while you're out on the field coaching one particular student, students on the sideline can benefit from your coaching.  It will also save your voice.  Our club has our own, but I think seminar instructors would do well to invest in this equipment.  So would judges in AKC's FAST class. It should be mandatory equipment. No telling how many times the scribe misses the judge's call. A decent system with a rechargeable battery runs around $2-300.

Ask me what my goals are.  Pick up on the nuances.  Teach me in baby steps.  Push when you see an opening, not whenever something pops into your head.  Be fair.  I know, it's a whole lot to ask of any coach/teacher, but that's what a teacher is.

I've noticed in my preschool teaching, some kids automatically present roadblocks to learning.  The can't focus, don't take even the smallest suggestions well, are too sensitive, refuse to be coached, come at everything with an "I already know how to do this so I don't need to listen to you", or "it's too hard I'll never get it right".  Whether cocky or downtrodden, the class clown or someone with an enormous chip on their shoulder, these extremes are among the hardest to teach, and both lag behind in their progress.  That's not the coach's fault, and it's hard to figure the causes because these students don't always have the biggest life challenges.  I've come to think learning attitude is partially programmed into one's DNA.

In any case, some teachers are best suited to working with gifted/talented students, older students, young children, others work better with mentally, emotionally or physically challenged kids. A great coach for one student can be a lousy coach for someone else. Also, a novice student should not expect to command the time and attention of a world class coach.  There not being too many experts at the top, the trickle down system is essential and works.  Find someone who knows more than you do.  When you learn to their level, move up.  In every case, I believe it is each teachers' responsibility to position themselves to work with the right students based on their own gifts, or be willing and able to change their tactics depending on who they are working with. Teachers unsuited to their students can do a lot of damage.

On the other hand, eventually, sadly, the student must also inspire the coach. . . . . the way our dogs inspire us. Another Blog Action Day subject might be "What Makes A Good Student."

Upwards and onward!