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Finding A Great Coach

Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance.

John Whitmore, Coaching for Performance

John Whitmore, Coaching for Performance

It’s September, as I walk with my dogs, I pass fields that have been harvested, ploughed, and fertilised for next years crops, whilst another is dotted with circular hay bales. A chill in the morning and evening air suggests a change in the seasons, late summer moving into autumn. This season is my second new year, a time of fresh starts and possibilities. As a child it meant new exercise books, all those empty pages and the thrill of picking up the pen to make the first entry. I still love a new notebook today.

This week I was talking with Sarah about her experience of an unsatisfactory dog training consultation, how unhappy it had left her and how little her dog had benefitted from the experience, plus it hadn’t come cheap.

As this has been a year where I’ve invested in extra coaching for myself, and valued the experience greatly, I was reflecting on the differences between great and poor coaching, how we might be able to assess before committing, especially at a time of year when people traditionally sign up for new dog training classes or with a behaviour consultant.

This year I have learned that cost is irrelevant when it comes to evaluating the quality of coaching on offer. Sarah paid well over the dog training average for her experience.

Reviews can offer a clue, but often we don’t know how old the review is, or who it was written by, 5 stars from your Mum might not be impartial! Reviews are often written after a first session when a client feels reassured, but in my experience, we work with people for at least 2 months and many for 2 years.

I’ve found the experts I want to work with from their bodies of work, their books, emails, blogs, articles, videos, podcasting and social media. When it comes to finding someone to work with, I also want to know how they live with their dogs, do they have time to take their dog for a walk, as well as train with them, or are the dogs kennelled, left at home, only appearing for promotional vids.

After assessing the expertise and ethics, I’m looking for a connection. I’ll need to spend time with this person, talk with them regularly and trust them with personal information. Does their personality type suit mine, do we share similar values and ethics, can we work together? From experience once these all match up, 'how much' becomes less important.

What have my great coaches had in common?

Listening skills – listening more than speaking

Questioning - When they have spoken it is usually to ask a question. Questions that have made me think

Personalised – the coaching has followed my needs. No one has imposed a programme ‘that has worked for 100’s of others’ on me. I and the 100’s of others are all different, how can one size fit us all?

Awareness – these coaches helped me examine the truth of my thoughts, look for patterns of behaviour that are no longer helpful.

Practical – it isn’t all about the mind set though. I’ve been given strategies, actions and tasks to complete. Practical applications from their experience.

Feedback – my coaches have followed up, shared more expertise, or used their experience to adjust existing tasks to suit better.

Professional – the terms of the relationship were clear, costs explained up front, appointments kept to time.

How did I feel afterwards?

Sarah told me how disappointed she felt by her coaching experience, especially after she had tried to speak with the trainer to discuss her feelings but had received no response to any of her messages. Unfortunately, dog training is not regulated so you as the consumer have little protection against poor or unprofessional practices.

What you can do before signing up is ask previous clients for their experiences. If I was being asked about my coaching experiences I would say that they left me:

Inspired – knowing what to do next and how to take the first steps

Reassured – someone knows how to do this, and they have done it before

Confident – shown me how to use skills I already have or where to learn new ones

Better Educated – I learned something, learning happened!

The dog training industry has been growing steadily and exploded over the lockdowns, you can find many experienced, dog centred people to help you with your dog’s behaviour, but as always there are some who may not have your dog’s interests at heart. Remember we aren’t regulated and I hope you can use this article to help you make a choice that benefits you and your dog.

Can I help?

As we move into the Autumn, and classes resume I’m excited to see how much people can learn with their dogs. I hope to see you in person or online, learning alongside your dog.

New, Natural Dog Learning classes at The Natural Vet, Thornliebank, Glasgow

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