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Hi All!

Last week I signed up for agility classes with a new trainer. She had great brochures and web information and a very professional banner. She advertised that her training area was fully fenced and that there were bathrooms on site. All of this suggested that she was not "fly-by-night," so I decided to try her out. We negotiated an arrangement where I would pay for a single session to try her out before enrolling for the package.

When I pulled up, the training area was mostly dirt and weeds, clumpy. The equiptment was not regulation size. The weaves, (only 6) were 22" and cut in two, not secured and not sitting flat. The tunnel was not sand-bagged. (the instructor said none of the dogs would be fast enough for it to be a problem... She hadn't met my dog yet.)

Since I had driven a long ways, I decided to just stick around and keep my dog off of anything he might get hurt on. Turns out that both student and instructor dogs were plagued by the zoomies. No one made it to a second jump. The instructor's only solution was keeping the dogs leashed. Not really a long-term success plan, but certainly effective.

Has me wondering: How do you screen classes and instructors? What do people look for when chosing agility instruction? Clearly, I should have asked more questions and peeked at a resume.

How do you chose where to train?
 

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When I am choosing someone to coach a sport, I am looking at how successful they have been in that sport, and if their training philosophy meshes well with mine. I teach some
"fun" intro to agility classes, but when I have someone who wants to compete, I send them to a friend who has multi-MACH on her oldest dog and youngest is working at the advanced level now. Her students are also very successful. I've done a bit of novice level agility, but am far from being able to provide smooth handling and strategies like she can. On the other hand, she is not interested in working with people who don't want to compete, so it's a pretty good fit.
 

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I have to agree about working with people who active in the sport. For agility, you want an instructor who has different classes depending on your experience with agility. Foundation classes are a must. I don't think I would recommend an instructor who allows dogs on equipment right away without proper foundation skills. You can really mess with a dog's confidence if they aren't ready for a particular piece of equipment. Safe equipment is a no brainer! You can check with local agility clubs. Most of them have training programs or can refer you to club members who have classes.
 

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How do you chose where to train?
Well, if I had to boil it down to a few rules and preferences, it would be these.

  1. The trainer must have multiple titles on multiple dogs. In dog training, you can't teach what you haven't done. Preferably, I would want those titles and certificates to cover different types of events. So for an agility trainer, I'd like to see a trainer who has titled dogs in, say, both agility and obedience.
  2. The trainer must exhibit flexibility. Of course, every trainer has preferences in how they like to teach certain activities, but you want him or her to be open to a variety of approaches that might work for different dogs and handler. Avoid one-size-fits-all trainers.
  3. The facilities/equipment must be of professional quality, reasonably well-maintained and in keeping with the type of training. Obviously, the facilities and equipment for, say, tracking training or field trial training will be different than for obedience or agility training. But takng that into acount, the general criteria still applies.
  4. The trainer must have appropriate continuing education (seminars, etc). That investment not only makes for better technique, but demonstrates a professional attitude toward their work.

Now for some 'nice to haves':

The trainer should attract a wide range of clientele. Not just beginners, but all levels of competitors. A trainer who attracts both beginners and high-level competitors is generally a good trainer. This has a lot to do with geography so I don't say this is a must have, but it is a plus.

The trainer should have a good professional educational background.

Try to find a trainer who works with or handles - or has worked with and has handled - other animals besides dogs. It doesn't have to be at the professional level, and I'm not saying they should have a menangerie at home - but experience with handling different animals always helps.
 

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Also decide what kind of agility you want to do, and find a trainer who competes in that. Here there's a big following of NADAC people, as well as groups that do AAC/CKC/AKC. The NADAC teachings tend to be more on distance work, not moving when handling or running with the dog, but teaching the dog to run flat out in big open courses. They also don't have a teeter or tire (unless things have changed) but do have hoops on the ground the dogs run through. The other groups teach all the obsticles and more running with your dog, because those courses require it.

I would also ask to go watch a class, many of the groups here use a barn north of the city that's ok in some ways, but if there's a lot of rain, there's a river through the center of the arena. They also have novice classes as well as others at the same time, different areas, but I found the instructor I had for the advanced class often showed up with no idea of what he was going to do, didn't pay attention to what was going on with the dogs that were waiting and so on. The novice dogs would go on zoomies and come flying into the other class areas too, stressful when you have a reactive dog.

Another place that had classes did the 'we'll teach you a TINY bit if you pay us a lot' method. I paid for weave pole classes and there was 15 dogs in the group, and all the instructor did was hold a long line with the dog on a harness while you encouraged the dog to come to you through the weave poles. Usually in the hour we had 5-6 turns at that and stood around the rest of the time waiting for our turn. I would have been better off to invest in a set of weave poles for the back yard, there wasn't anything exciting that was really 'taught'.

It also helps to have a place you can do drop ins, or rent obsticles from to train at home.
 

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Where does this idea of burning down tasks come from? Well, Scrum does indeed encourage teams to be aware of time left by creating a Sprint Burndown chart. But a sprint burndown chart should contain all the work remaining on the sprint backlog not just development tasks. Even when constructed correctly a sprint burndown doesn't really tell you much about where the work is, in my opinion these trend lines are pretty useless. A sprint burndown can mask a team working waterfall-style with nothing made available to test until the end of the sprint. A sprint burndown can also mask a team that is spread widely across a number of features rather than swarming to get a few features complete before starting on the next. It's for these reasons that sprint burndowns have largely dropped out of use across the industry. They take time to maintain and don't give you a lot of information. Nowadays, most teams visualize their work by moving cards across a team board to Done.
 
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