Dog Agility Blog Action Day; What Makes a Good Instructor?

Dog Agility Blog Action Day, Round 4. “What makes a good instructor?”

There are many given qualities that any instructor of any pursuit needs; knowledge, patience, reliability, empathy, fairness, and the ability to see each student as an individual, to mention a few. Those are all givens, if you don’t have any or most of those qualities you probably shouldn’t be teaching, period.

Past that however, it really depends on what each unique student needs. And even when I say “needs” that could be in a very specific space and time. What I need from one instructor today, may be totally different than what I need two weeks or two years from now.

Personally, some qualities I need in a teacher are assertiveness and the ability to explain what I need to do in fairly graphic detail. I do better with someone that makes me cry than props up my ego. I have a bit of an ego, and I usually need a reality check far more than hand holding.

I grew up being instructed from a fairly young age not just at school but on the back of a horse. For the first 7-8 years of my riding career I rode at the same barn. There were different instructors, and they were all proficient in their own ways, but it was all quite comfortable. I was a big fish in a small pond, one of the more capable riders who was a bit too big for my britches (har har). When we changed barns due to some political fallout that I dont remember much about, I had a fairly extreme change of leadership. Our new trainer was tough, and he didn’t care that I thought my shit didn’t stink. He kicked my ass, pushed me HARD, and took no BS attitude from me. I do remember crying the first time or two he really took off the kid gloves and MADE me work. Shortly thereafter I won an important year end finals event that I had been working up to for years. He was not afraid to tell me what I needed to hear, rather than worrying about upsetting me (or my parents for that matter, god bless him). I only was able to ride under him for a year or so before I was off to college, but I will always be grateful for what he taught me, both equestrian- and life-related.

And really, that’s still how I am now. I don’t want someone who will make me comfortable, I want someone who will challenge me and who I can look up to as having more knowledge than I ever might possess. I wrote last year about the Daisy Peel seminar and how that mentally that was a rough one for me. However, I walked away with a very clear understanding of what I needed to work on and I will going back for more this year in October. I respect her hugely; both as a teacher and as a competitor. To me, that is the ideal. Hurt feelings and bruised egos will fade, but knowledge IS power and I will willingly give a bit of my own self to get it.

I am a teacher now as well, in puppy and obedience classes, along with agility foundation. How this all happened I am not quite sure, but my Dad is also a teacher at heart, so it must be in my DNA. I always am struggling to find a balance between teaching what I know they NEED (particularly in agility) and keeping them engaged and enjoying themselves (the students more than the dogs! 95% of the dogs are easy if you at all know about working with dogs—the people are the tricky part). Especially in agility, there is a dichotomy—people want the “sexy stuff”, but you can’t let them hurt their dogs or themselves either. I tend to err on the side of too conservative when it comes to that (I am sure my continuing students want to scream each time I tell them *again* to practice their sit stays and body awareness and shaping exercises), but I mustn’t be too horrible bad; I just filled another Level 2 Foundation with continuing current students.

I enjoy the challenge of new situations each class and the problem solving that I get to do. I involve the owners in the problem solving, again it is a balance between what I bring to the table and what the student knows about their dog that I may not.

I feel fortunate to be a student and a teacher simultaneously. I strive to be both an enjoyable student and teacher and I hope that I continue to grow on both fronts.

Lastly, I have been in the position of not getting what I need from my current instructor. I am fortunate enough to live in a dense area with quite a few options, so I have continued to find situations that work for me at that given moment in time. However, I also believe that there is validity on going it on your own, if you can find help in some way shape or form—online, occasional seminar, friends to train with, whatever. Don’t get stuck where you know its not a fit for you. If you think you can do better, then you can. I am not going to be the best instructor for every student who crosses my path, I want people to get the most out of their lessons and to truly enjoy their partnership with their dogs. That is why we are all doing this at the end of the day and we should never forget that, no matter what anyone may tell us to the contrary.

All the posts on this topic can be found here. Phin’s next trial this weekend!


3 thoughts on “Dog Agility Blog Action Day; What Makes a Good Instructor?

  1. Yes, this! I love getting my butt kicked once in a while. There is nothing worse than carrying on thinking you’re doing great, then coming up against a wall and having your teacher tell you later that you should have been doing things differently all along but they didn’t want to upset you. So many people get defensive and lash out when they think they’re wrong (I’m not wholly immune to this myself) but the good instructors won’t be afraid to counter you and explain why you need to change/get you’r act together. Of course, they should still explain it to you as an equal and a human being. Berating someone until they lose all confidence is rarely helpful (unless that person is being super irresponsible).

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