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Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Trainer or A Coach?

Well, today's lessons were plentiful. Let me start with the non-dog related and I promise to quickly move to the doggy stuff after that.

I wanted to take a quick moment to acknowledge that they found the body of the boyfriend of one of my young students. He'd gone missing over a week ago. He was a straight A student and while I'd never met him, the fact that he chose 'her' as a girlfriend shows he had smarts, talent and was an amazing person. Out of respect for everyone, I'm keeping names to myself, but suffice to say that all involved were beautiful people. I still can't believe that tragic things happen to good people. It just seems so unfair...

Okay, let's talk about dog training now because I have some good thoughts today!

While in the course of training, a great question came up. Of course this question turned into a dog training philosophical moment and I wanted to share. Here's the scenario - there is someone who uses the words "all right" as their release word. Another person asked "Shouldn't they use a word they don't use in daily conversation?" Now that is a very fair question and after years of experience, I personally agree that in a perfect world, they should. Heck, that is why I now use the word 'free' (instead of okay). HOWEVER, that's MY personal choice and I recognize that may not be a good fit for everyone.

As I see it, my job as a trainer isn't to force onto others what works for me. Instead, it is my job to make them successful, to capitalize on their strong points and to embrace them for who they are. At the same time I  also need to develop and guiding them on THEIR journey.

In the case of the person using the term 'all right', we've had some indepth conversations on the subject. I've noted that there are some drawbacks to their choice of words and I've pointed out that if their dog breaks during the course of a normal conversation (because the handler used the words 'all right)', that they could not (in all fairness) get upset with their dog. They get it. They understand the drawbacks.  They understand the potential pitfalls. 

However, their mind still draws them to the term 'all right'. So 'all right' it is! As a trainer, I have to work with what is natural for my students and not with what comes natural to me. Sure, there are times I guide them down a certain path because I know what's best, but their word choices are completely up to them. They have to manage it, train it and ultimately be responsible for the outcome. As for my opinion, the old saying 'choose your battles' is a perfect analogy for this scenario.

It's important to work with your students. While I may not personally chose to do everything that they do, as long as I've informed them of the good, the bad and the ugly, I've done my job. Later, my job is to help them remain consistent and fair given their choices. 

That's what makes a good trainer a great coach.


  1. So sorry about your young's so tragic.

    As far as trainer/coach? This is SOOO true! I've spent too many cycles trying to convert to a word that it recommended/used by the trainer that just isn't natural to me...and sure enough, in the heat of a run or urgent situation (happens a bit too frequently when living with a house full of JRTs), I revert to the word/command that I use by instinct! Not enough brain cells to process what I should say and get it out when I'm focused on something else.

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