This past weekend, as I worked my way through a judging assignment, I had the opportunity to sit down with Pati Mah at ring side and have a chat with her about a problem my boy Kory has been having. Specifically he gets his 2o2o perfectly at home while in our own training field, but in competition he is hurried and unreliable.

She asked a couple questions, and then gave me five minutes of coaching. And I’ll tell you, she set me on a forever training path. Of course I’ll implement what she told me immediately. The forever part is important; what she told me fundamentally changed my understanding of the training relationship I have with my boy in regards to his contact training. I’ll share it with you over time.

But this blog is about coach, right? What makes a great agility coach?

I’ve known for many years that Pati is a phenomenal dog trainer and can put it all together, with objective shaping methodology (rather than the other way around.) The thing that really struck me about Pati this weekend is the unselfishness of her presence. She is accessible and friendly and frank. She gets it.

Right now my concept of the great agility coach is exactly the picture of Pati Mah; both for her clear genius and her unselfish sharing. She is a rare treasure among us.

The Agility Instructor – Summary Paragraph (Rerun)

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[1]. 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.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

[1] Somebody tell Gail Storm, AKC Agility Rep!

11 Responses to “Coach”

  1. Marilyn Steward Says:

    Thank you for sharing this. This reinforces things I already do and gives me food for thought in other areas. Thank you again, Marilyn

  2. Maria Schmidt Says:

    Bud, this paragraph of yours should be given to every dog trainer, instructor and dog school owner. We should read this over every time we go out the door to teach a class. As an agility instructor, we are privileged to be part of our students training and their bond with the animal they love. It’s a game, it’s a gift. I am forever grateful for being a part of the sport of dog agility. And as an instructor (or just as a person) we need to treat everyone with respect and kindness. Thanks for saying it so very well.

  3. sharon Says:

    Great insights and advice from a great coach! Bud is certainly not the only great coach out there, but I think one would be hard pressed to find one better. I have found that Bud walks the talk he gave here. I am a graduate of the U S Military Academy and know a thing or two about leading and coaching; Bud gets the game and the coaching parts. This is why I have driven hundreds of miles multiple times to get coached by this guy. If you have not done it yet, you need to.

  4. Ronni Russell Says:

    I agree with Maria. Every instructor should have this list. I know I’d like to hand it out to my instructor(s) with a few key points highlighted in yellow! : )

    I’m sorry I won’t be able to participate in the TDAA seminar you’ll be giving in Temecula. I’ll be at NADAC Champs. Sure wish I could be in two places at once!


  5. Sharon Says:

    I just finished reading an article by Women’s Soccer great Julie Foudy, commenting on US Women’s National Team Coach Pia Sundhage’s announcement this past weekend that she is leaving the team after 5 years and returning to her native Sweden. After outlining Pia’s many, many accomplishments and detailing how very calm and poised Pia was during the women’s soccer team’s many challenges in the last 5 years, Julie made some comments on coaching that fit right in with what Bud has said above. So I will be so bold as to share an excerpt of Julie’s article here:

    “These key moments help put Pia’s “way” into perspective. As leaders of teams, corporations, families, countries, whatever it may be, we all strive to be calm, confident, positive leaders who try to inspire others into action. It’s easy to do when times are good, but what about in moments of adversity, when there is loss, a setback and/or extreme pressure? How does a leader react? What does a leader do? Because those moments define outcomes. They are the reason a team presses on or a company bounces back. A leader’s reaction to adversity says everything to me.

    And here is what I know after watching Pia for five years. I know I would want Pia by my side in the trenches. I would want Pia smiling and singing as the rest of the world panics. I would want Pia telling me, “Yes, the road is bumpy, but that is what makes the road so special,” when I started to doubt something in life. I would want Pia dancing from the sideline, smiling even when the team was down two goals. I would take a Pia every day in my life to remind me to smile, embrace the moment and enjoy the journey. Dang, we all need a Pia in life.”

    Don’t forget to enjoy having fun with your dog. 🙂

  6. deborahauer Says:

    Very timely, Bud.

    I was at a trial years ago and a friend who I hadn’t seen in a long time excitedly took me over to meet her trainer. The trainer who was, and still is, a “name” in the sport barely acknowledged her. It made a lasting impression – this was almost 20 years ago now. A few months ago I was at a USDAA trial and the seminar presenter scheduled for the next week was running her dogs and joking with the other competitors when a run didn’t quite go as planned. I hadn’t signed up for the seminar then – but I will make a point to watch for her in the future.

  7. Courtney Keys Says:

    Great points – really enjoyed reading this. Interesting footnote as well. 😉

  8. Christine Stephansen Says:

    Good one Bud!

  9. Solveig Says:

    Great that you share this, and I waiting for you to share what you you learned about Kory’s contact training ! I believe I have read “The Agility Instructor” before. Hope you will let me “steal” it and translate it to Norwegian….

    • budhouston Says:

      Sure you can steal it Solveig. It’s almost the same as I’ve previously published. Tho I removed a line about bad jokes. I should love to see your translation (not that I can read it).

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