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How To Be The Best Canine Coach Ever!

Jan 6 / Holly Leake
If you work with dogs professionally, it’s natural to want to be one of the best in the business. 
Sadly, the dog training world is still unregulated, and this has led to a growing increase in new trainers. With such competition, how can you make yourself stand out? Well, it’s just as important to be a great canine coach, as it is a great dog trainer and despite their similarities, they are fundamentally different, so what is the difference?

Well, Gallway, T. (1986) describes coaching as, “Helping them to learn, rather than teaching them”. So, regarding training, we use our own skills to give instruction and impart knowledge, whereas with coaching, we help clients develop their own knowledge and skills, in order to encourage them to reach their full potential. Thus, being a canine coach involves a lot more than being just a trainer.

Observational Skills 

“Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.”- Orhan Pamuk
Observational skills are an important facet of being a great canine coach, in fact training is often unsuccessful when the canine coach doesn’t have good observational skills. We can learn a lot about a dog’s behaviour by observing their body language, however, signals can be subtle. Therefore, we need to practice honing these skills, by studying canine body language and putting our knowledge into practice.

Such skills can apprise us of how a dog is feeling in certain situations, ensuring we respond appropriately to their behaviour. For example, a dog’s body language can reveal if the dog is comfortable learning and whether or not they feel pressured or confused.

If we understand canine body language and have good observational skills, we will be in a better position to teach our clients what each signal means and the importance of reading the entire body in context. For example, if a dog doesn’t seem to be responding to their guardian, we can point out body language and teach them how to recognise how their dog is feeling. When they learn the signs of frustration or confusion, they can reflect on whether they need to up the value of their reward or change the environment to promote learning. When we share our observational skills with our clients, we empower them to respond appropriately to their dog’s feelings and needs, which improves communication.

Social Skills

"If you want people to hear you, speak up. If you want people to listen, speak softer." - Chad Mackin
It is not uncommon for many to choose a career working with dogs, due to the misconception that it will allow them to avoid working with people, however, this is not the case. Being a great canine coach requires social skills, as well as good communication skills. We need to be able to encourage and motivate clients, to ensure they achieve their training goals.

Coaching requires us to have the skills to help clients to achieve personal development, rather than relying on us for training success. In order to accomplish this, we need to avoid being negative or judgmental and focus on the client’s strengths. Clients will not care about anything we teach them, if message is delivered with a cold or harsh demeanour, and they will not find us approachable when they need support. Thus, we need to show empathy and commend their efforts in training their dog. Positive reinforcement is just as effective with people as it is with dogs, because it encourages the learner and makes the process more rewarding. Therefore, we are really training people, not just dogs and this requires us to have good social skills.

Adaptability 

“The answer to any question - It depends on the dog." - Michael Ellis
One of the most important skills to develop as a dog trainer is adaptability and this is beneficial in many situations. When you are first contacted by a prospective client, they may list the dog’s behavioural issues and what they believe the motives are behind them. However, when we conduct the initial consultation, we may discover that the behavioural issues are entirely different from what we initially believed, which may involve behaviour modification rather than just training. This means we must change our plans and think on our feet, which is where adaptability really comes in. We have to factor in the dog’s personal preferences, their breed and their individual needs. Not all dogs are motivated by the same things, and it can be trial and error determining what the dog finds rewarding. Some dogs are responsive to food, whereas others are more responsive to toys and play. No matter the dog you work with, you need to adapt your training to achieve your training goals.

We also need to consider the individual needs of the family, as their personal routine, health and careers may mean we need to adjust our approach. If the training plans you create are beyond the abilities of the client, you can guarantee they will not follow the training. You need to set your clients up for success, just as much as you do for dogs! You may have to provide more support or reduce the pace of training, so that you do not overwhelm the client. Thus, training success is very much dependent on how adaptable you are to both the dog and clients you work with.

“The goal of the teacher is to help create students that transcend the teacher." - Eugene Burger
While dog training and coaching may have similar goals, fundamentally, the methods of getting there, are very different. Canine coaching involves having observation skills, good social skills, and the ability to adapt to the needs of each dog and their family. Doing so means we will have everything we need to not only be a great canine coach, but to create other great canine coaches too!

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