Dog Sports Coaching

As a coach I feel it my job to help develop the right mindset in those who want me to coach them.

A mindset that helps provide the perfect environment for them to progress as a team.

The right mindset can be a complicated thing to find in dog sports, at least in my opinion anyway, but more on that later in the article.

I never enjoy telling someone anything that will make them unhappy, but filling people with what they want to hear may tide them over for now, but come trial day, the reality will fall on them hard, when they have put themselves on the line, when they are alone and it all rests on them at that moment.

Dog Sports Coaching
This is often the toughest part of the training program.

So, this means at times I have to tell people things they don’t want to hear.

Things they do not like and may disagree with, but without this truth, they cannot grow and become what they want to become.

This of course may be exposing the person’s vulnerabilities and fears and this of course is outside of most people’s comfort zone.

In every coaching session, I try and give some of myself to each client, because I ask for so much back.

Yes this means I push, blow the walls out of old comfort zones and give people opportunities to grow. 

Dog Sports Coaching
Our Team motto is “GIVE MORE THAN YOU TAKE”

I aim to teach concepts more than technique and when the clients grasp the concept of the system, they can use it to teach, train and proof any behaviour or sport they choose.

I empower them with a system that gives them a foundation with their dog and this can be used with many techniques.

Something that most people don’t know about the coaching I offer is that, I almost never handle the client’s dog.

This is the opposite in behaviour modification where I will handle every dog.

In performance work I do not want to show clients how to copy me.

When coaching I want the client to create their own magic moments.

That first heel flip they shape, the magic first few incredible heel steps, that problem exercise that comes good when they change that one thing, that rear end awareness that makes turns in heel work look amazing…

Dog Sports Coaching
When training starts to progress you find yourself looking at a dog that excites you about the future!

I don’t want to take that from them and when they catch that moment, the joy they experience is what coaching is about for me.

Dogs that could never be off leash previously, choose to stay with their owners, even when there are no rewards in sight or cues from the owners.

Dogs that had no energy or drive, now prancing along next to their owners, delivering pure happiness through heel work.

Monkey see – Monkey do.

Something I see a lot of people struggle with is, people seeing someone do something and adding it to what they do. May be from a seminar, YouTube or video.

Perhaps this person they are learning from is a “Super Trainer”, but what they did does not work on your dog?

If you are doing this, what you are doing is copying “technique”. What the “Super Trainer” is doing is showing you a piece of his or her “system”.

Things really get confusing, go to dozens of seminars and take note of all the different techniques, head home and throw them at your dog.

This is like getting a few pieces from a hundred jigsaw puzzles and trying to make a pretty picture.

Dog Sports Coaching
Impossible puzzle?

Super Trainers have a “system”.

A system means that one-part links to every other part.

In my system, the same concepts are applied throughout every exercise, so instead of teaching every exercise from start to finish, each new exercise is an extension of another, already learned part of the system.

Clients when progressing very often say, “hey this is just like we taught the X!”.

I did study many trainers a few decades ago and loved many of the techniques they displayed, but nothing seemed to fit ME, and I found myself getting stuck with problems often. The results could be messy, unreliable and just not what I pictured.

I went back to focusing on learning theory, focused more on the dogs in front of me and developed my own system.

This was not easy; it was not instantly rewarding either as it needed tweaking for years.

I did not practice this system when under initial development on client’s dogs either, I don’t feel charging people for me to experiment is ethical, fair or effective.

Imagine if I was reading a book on surgery and asked you to lay down whilst a grab my trusty scalpel?

Not everyone does it this way, in fact few do, and I have come to realise this is because, “Copying is easy; Creating is hard”.

Dog Sports Coaching

Setting goals

There of course are, or should be, an overall goal. There are mid term goals and short term goals and session goals.

So the first step is to break everything down into pieces that we can understand and rehearse.

One part people struggle a lot with is teaching foundations. Teaching foundations is not the cool part of the program to look at, so people want to spend little time on foundations then move onto the cool stuff.

The problem is you can’t build much structure on a weak foundation.

This is where I have to re focus the team back on task, impatient people don’t want to stay on foundations, but until they are right, solid and reliable, there is no point in moving forward.

Know that in sessions I often ask the handler more questions than I answer. Yes I AM testing their knowledge and understanding.

Dog Sports Coaching
When it comes together it looks like this.

If a client has the right expectations of the coaching, they should not expect to hear “your doing great” every time.

When we go through this process, most people and their dogs would universally say, “trailing is easy, training with Steve is tough!

The overall goal…

People come to me with a dream, they close their eyes and see themselves and their dog doing something they currently cant do. Maybe, have never done…

These dreams are usually more important than their friends and family may know, sometimes it is about them rising above any achievement they have previously, sometimes it is their escape from normal life, sometimes it is their “air”.

So I have to convert those dreams into steps, progress and results.

Should you choose me as your coach?

If someone was asking me should they use me as their coach, here are a few reasons I may say, “no thanks…”

You just want to win ribbons – Being coached by me is going to aim at getting you much more than ribbons, you don’t need a professional coach for just ribbons.

You want to beat a certain person or show a certain group! – I am not into politics; I find the people that set this as their goal, are. So, we won’t match.

You want to win at all costs! – I’m not sure you know what winning is, if I can’t help you see more clearly, I can’t coach you.

I need to get my title by 15/??/20?? – Train your dog then set the date, don’t set the date and then force the dog.

I like some of your system, I will take those bits and cherry pick from others – I don’t know how 20% of my system mixes with pieces from other trainers, in fact no one does, this is not a smart way to proceed.

I don’t want to learn the system, I’m just a hobbyist – Then you honestly may be better looking at a good obedience club, they are cheaper than us and will likely meet your hobbyist needs.

I only want a coach who will support and encourage me – I am more the honest, results getting kind of coach, than the support friend.

Dog Sports Coaching
Discussing what we will do and what we did do happens before and after every session.

What I do

I coach people who love training dogs, that laugh through the mistakes and fix them anyway.

People that respect their dog’s abilities AND limits.

I want to help people fall in love with the process, rather than focus on the end game only.

I try and ignite passion in people through learning and progress.

I try and build resilience in people and their dogs.

I am reasonably successful at this, but of course it is important to fit with your coach through every stage of your growth.

I am fortunate at this stage of my career to be able to focus on a group of people and try and help them to realise and achieve their dreams and goals.

A lot of the time I just get to enjoy the ride of emotions with them and with their dedication, loyalty and commitment to the system, hitting the highs is all but inevitable.

Of course I am very careful to remain cool and act like it’s just another day, not letting on that I am just as excited as they are.

I try not to go to trials and watch them, it adds pressure they don’t need and I rarely breathe when they are competing, but that is a secret they don’t know 😉

So it means sitting and waiting for a text!

We always finish with a win or a lesson if we have our mindset right.

And that is where I think I could do with some better skills. Not every time am I successful at helping people develop the right mindset.

The performance dog world can be a difficult and treacherous mine field which can send minds in crazy directions.

When working with dogs you need to learn to be part of your dogs team. Egos have no place here and those with egos can fall the hardest.

Those who resist all the crap learn to be focussed, patient, professional and most importantly, humble.

I have been known to say “I make winners” but that is not entirely true.

Yes I have coached people to achieve hundreds of titles, podium finishes, high in trials, fastest, most precise performing dogs across a multitude of dog sports, but in reality I did not make the winners, I just found them, polished off the rough edges and let them shine.

Not everyone gets it, not everyone gets me, but the ones that do, are super special to me.

About SteveK9Pro

Steve Courtney is a Nationally Accredited Canine Behaviour Specialist, Obedience Trainer, Law Enforcement Dog Trainer and ANKC Breeder. Steve has been training dogs all his life and in these articles he shares with you his experience...

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  1. Super grateful for having had the amazing opportunity to work through Kenz under your guidance. Where we got to would never have been possible otherwise. The changes we got in her were far greater then just a trick for the performance ring. At just shy of 13 years she is still a super willing and extra cheeky girl and still just as reliable as ever when it comes to giving all of herself regardless of distraction. Such a far cry from that nervy anxious young dog who was written off by others at the tender age of 16 weeks. Thanks again.

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