Message Deliveries & Getting the Most From a Coach

Monday, March 9, 2009

Over the course of my seminar presenting career I know I have helped a lot of dogs by sharing with their owners, the knowledge that I have gleaned from my mentors.  However, there have also been those students that did not hear the message as I intended and, for whatever reason, suffered a bruised ego or hurt feelings. For this reason, you will find people that rave wildly about my workshops and those that pass along warnings of impending horrors.  I recognize that you can’t be all things to all people and that no seminar presenter will be everyone’s cup of tea. I don’t pretend to paint myself with a rose-coloured, blameless paintbrush. My fault lies entirely in my passion. I remind myself every time I teach of the truth that “people will not remember what you say as much as they will remember how you made them feel.”  Regardless of this reminder, I know that I can get carried away with my drive to improve people’s dog training. Without intending to be, I can occasionally may step on toes when delivering my message. However my heart is always in the right spot and luckily for me,  there are far more people that thoroughly enjoy the workshops that those that go home feeling otherwise.

 There are students that just want to be told that they are wonderful and that their only limitations are that of  their dog’s lack of talent. Imagine if Susan Garrett told you, you were amazing and with a better dog your potential would be limitless? I know students have been told that, but I can honestly say it has never come out of my mouth! I believe in the potential of every dog and the only way a dog can live up to his potential is for his owner to recognize his role in the transition. We all need to realize that change is the only way to improve in anything. I have many students that have no desire to be world-team brilliant. They continue to work with me because they want the constant reminders of how to steadily improve as they enjoy time training their dogs. I am not suggesting it is everyone’s duty to make their dog be as good as it could be, only that we should all be careful to not allow pride to limit the education we receive. In order to take advantage of all the knowledge that you are exposed to, take the advise of mental prep coach Terry Orlick. In his book “In Pursit of Excellence” Terry suggests that coaches are humans.  Passionate and caring but deliver messages differently – as athletes, we process the information differently. Our ulitimate role is to process it, and make the change immediately.  The delivery may or not be in the format you would like, but the change in behavior needs to happen, it is why you are at the workshop or why you have the coach.  While dog training, you need to make those changes in your next work session or run, not a week from now or after you digest the delivery and process how you are feeling. Acting on the feedback immediately means you won’t continue to rehearse errors and your implementation of the coaches input will help to heal any mis-communication that may have occurred between you and the coach during the delivery of the message.

For more great tips from Terry check out his website at www.zoneofexcellence.ca.

There was not any one person or situation that prompted this blog post (if any of your are feeling I am writing about you I am not:)). Perhaps I wrote this to prepare the people in Vancouver where I will be teach for 10 days at the end of March:). What is more likely, is that my intend is just to share the tools to help us all to make the most out of any learning situation that happens our way.  

I am grateful to everyone that has spent time with me at a workshop during my 14 year career. I am grateful both to the “easy” students and those that I may have thought at the time, where a pain in my behind. Like anything in life, it is in the reaching of the more challenging students that makes me a better teacher  (or drives me to drink:). If anyone  reading this has felt offended by something I have said at a workshop, please accept my apologize as I am sincerely not the type of person to purposely hurt anyone. Feel free to post your comments, I promise I won’t censor anyone!



  1. I personally am one of the people who raves about your workshops! But I like to have the things I could be doing better pointed out to me in a clear, direct way because that’s the best way for me to get the message and make the change. The only thing that can make me emotional is when I feel that something I’ve been doing has been unfair to my dog, then I get BIG feelings of guilt but I get over it, promise to myself I will change and go play with my dog.

    People are starting to make fun of me for copying you as well LOL At a trial not that long ago I decided to try and start Peso in a stand at the startline after we had watched Feature run – I never heard the end of that one. I’ve decided to stick with a sit to save myself the grief. 🙂


    • Now that is funny Andrea, nothing wrong with a sit that is for sure!

  2. I guess I haven’t met many people who think they are great and their dogs aren’t. The vast majority of the people I have met (myself included) think our dogs are great and we just don’t do them justice. You hear people say it all the time…with a better handler this dog could be great! I don’t want to have my dog run with someone else, I just want to get better as a handler. Almost all of my seminar time is spent on trying to improve my handling so that I won’t let my dog down. And I have improved a great deal over the years, thankfully.

  3. I’ve always said, I don’t work with you (or any other coach for any of my interests, for that matter) because I want air blown up my dress! (Yes, I’m a ranch girl at heart and my dear colloquialisms still come from that spirit!)

    Stalkingly yours,


  4. If Bob can devise a way to teach me how to teach stimulus control to my dog I’d be really grateful. Its my biggest training weakness, I think. Some kind of an exercise I can use to teach him only to offer the behavior I ask for, only when I ask for it. It’s a big challenge for me.
    It’s pretty clear that I dont go to Say Yes for an ego boost, I go there to train my dog, who happens to be a genius (and very handsome). Kathy

  5. I was at the very first camp held in Alberton. Up to that point, I’d only ever trained in a church basement with a lumpy wooden floor. I was working with a dog who I can honestly say was the most timid creature I have ever met in all of my dog-years.

    The days we spent at camp were like heaven. It was, by far, the most illuminating experience of my dog-training life. And I was hooked, even more than I had been before.

    On the last day, as everyone was milling about getting ready to go home (reluctantly, in my case!), I remember Susan saying something that really surprised me. She said “Wow, I think we got through that whole thing without any tears!”

    All I could think was “Tears? Why the heck would anyone be in tears? This was amazing!” (Not wanting it to be over was the only thing I could come up with.)

    A year later, I went back to camp. And there were tears. Not a lot, but enough to be memorable. The tears didn’t arise because of the way information was delivered, or because I felt unjustly criticized. The tears came from hearing a truth I’d been able to deny until three very kind and caring instructors sat me down and put it on the table. They came from the recognition that it didn’t matter how passionate I was or how much I read and learned. And, in the end, they came out of gratitude: for honesty (I don’t think anyone took pleasure from the conversation), for clarity, and for a dose of reality that has served me well ever since.

    Thank you for making me cry, bitch.

  6. I loved it when you told Trudy to “Bite Her”. I was asking for too many hand touches without rewarding. That cracked me up. Bring it on!!

  7. I don’t remember who said it, but I remember hearing from someone that the time to be worried is not when you are being criticised for being bad, but when you know you are being bad, and no one cares enough to criticise!

    • Awesome quote Claire and so true.

  8. I’m with Melanie in that I just assume that my dogs are great and any fault in their performance lies with my mistakes.

    I want to compliment your staff, especially Lynda, who VERY kindly answered several completely non-agility related questions I had about Crate Games. I’ve pretty much gotten out of agility and although I still often send my clients links to your articles about creating a motivating toy and the idea of the recall account, for whatever reason I was too dense to remember that just because my dogs have solid recalls and love to tug and fetch doesn’t mean that there is not a ton of more valuable information in your work for me!

  9. Ack, that posted before I was done…see, it is always MY mistakes My point was that in just two days of reading your blog and watching some videos I have really rethought my training problems with my slightly crazy cattle dog.

    Just like certain dogs coming into your life at just the right moment in time for you to learn something, I think that people work that way too 🙂

  10. So true, so true… You have just put words to my feelings. One of my biggest problem when I am teaching is that I really want my students to understand the handling system, what they did good in a course, what they did “wrong”, how they can improve tigth turns, how they can improve speed, what they can practise at home, and so on, and so on… It’s like I have a picture in my head of the perfect way to run the course, and I really wish for my students that they can run the perfect run. In my eeagerness to explain and move them closer to the goal, I might step on their toes, simply because I tell them what to do (in my opinion in the nicest possible way). I think I will try to explain new students in the fute the message of Terry Orlick but still remenber the clever words “people will not remember what you say as much as they will remember how you made them feel”.

    And by the way… Thank you Susan for sharing all your wisdom in both dogtraining and in life.

    Jane from Denmark

  11. When I heard about your 2006 obedience camp, I posted to my breed list about it, in case anyone else was interested. One private reply I got back was to be careful, or I’d end up in tears at the camp. That was the last thing I was expecting to hear, and having already audited a skills camp, I had a good idea of what to expect at this camp, so I wasn’t particularly concerned. But it did make me think about the camp experience.

    I can think of a few reasons for tears. They may be because a handler has just realized how wrongly they were going about something and has had an epiphany of sorts and the resulting tears may be a combination of sorrow at the realization of how they have been miscommunicating to their dog, and joy at finally having “seen the light”.

    Tears could also result when one gets centred out for their less than stellar training. At the ob. camp, we were working on go-outs, and we were told not to use any type of cue. I asked “what if we already have it on cue?” and at that point, you said “show me your go-out”. So I got my geriatric Vizsla out of her crate and everyone gathered around, including the video taper, as I stood just 5 feet from the wall to show our go-out. 🙂 Because that was the extent of my training a go-out, and you rightly pointed out that I shouldn’t be using a cue until I have the finished product (i.e. doing it well from right across the ring). I remember reading about that at some point, but being centred out like that cemented the idea firmly in my head (thank you!). Afterwards, someone said to me that I was so brave to get up and do that, but I thought nothing of it, because I just knew that I was going to learn something from it, even though at the start I had no idea what that was. No tears at all, but I guess a potential for them in that type of situation.

    I also remember at that same seminar, you being obviously irritated by someone who was constantly litterally dragging their dobe around by the collar, and so you took the handler by her shirt and did the same to her. Potentially tear-producing, yes, but also hopefully behaviour-changing as a result.

    What I’m trying to get at is that often tears are a good thing because it means someone has been moved enough by a situation that something good will come of it. They are a sign that either a huge lightbulb has gone off, or that they have been greatly irritated (by what they perceive to be a put-down by you), and we all know that irritation brings motivation along with it to change the situation.

    Not that I’m encouraging you to purposely try to push people to the point of tears, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing that they happen. I look at your camps as “boot camps”. I don’t go often, and they last only a few intense days, so for me, I WANT to get booted in the butt when I’m there, otherwise I don’t feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth. 🙂

  12. There are also tears of humiliation. Sunday in a competition, I was eliminated on the 4th obstacle — for stepping over the end of the dogwalk! I was almost tempted to cry out of self-pity, but then I realised, that is one big mistake I’ll never make again! Someone else with a lot of experience was eliminated for the same thing. My dog didn’t seem to care, he thought it was a very short sequence, starting with a great stay at the start line!

    I got a funny compliment in another run. In the weaves my dog popped out after 6 , on the other side, to look at some staff standing next to the weaves, I called him and he immediately popped in again and drove through the last 6.

    I used the backchaining tip and the tunnel tip.

  13. Great post Susan! I will admit to be a bit flustered at my very first camp with you in 2006 but boy was it a life altering experience. I came away from that camp seeing my dog in a very different light. I have never looked at my dogs or dog training the same way since. While attending camp with you made me see the many flaws in my dog training, it allowed me to grow as a person and even find a deeper relationship with my dogs. My dogs are forever grateful for all the information you have shared with me! And I will continue to strive to be a better trainer and handler for them. You rock, Susan!!

  14. Susan writes: “If anyone reading this has felt offended by something I have said at a workshop, please accept my apologize as I am sincerely not the type of person to purposely hurt anyone.”

    To Susan: Thank you! :-)) (I’m taking this one while I can get it, as it may never come ’round again! :-))

    To Susan, my fellow campers & instructors, ditto!

    As a student I recognized early that Susan is genius when it comes to dog training in general, lateral thinking, and agility.

    As a friend I realize that Susan is human. Brilliant, volatile, caring, her student’s success REALLY matters to her, passionate, a bigger heart than words can say, and officially as of this post, accountable.

    There was always this little framed piece on my grandparent’s den wall. It pictured the cutest little terrier-type dog, and next to it the words:
    “A friend is not a feller who is taken by sham, a friend is one who knows our faults and doesn’t give a damn.” I believe it’s something we all have to remember with all of our friends from time to time, Susan definitely being one of mine. I still have that little plaque on my own wall and treasure it and it’s lesson.


  15. First, I have to preface this with the statement that I really respect your dog training skills and techniques. I give your techniques credit in part for much of the drive I have in my little low drive girl, and have said so to many people. They helped us to the point where we placed in the finals of the USDAA Nationals Grand Prix this year, on our first attempt.

    And when I went to one of your seminars, I thought your skills in presenting in the seminar, while working with the entire group, were excellent. The material and format was also extremely well done. I learned a huge amount.

    However, when you worked with individuals, I have to admit I was less than impressed with your techniques. You used training techniques with the people that you would never use on their dogs … public humiliation and harsh verbal corrections.

    These sort of techniques do work with some people … just like they work with some dogs. However there are other people that shut down.

    What I would ask is that you try to use even half the care you do with the dogs with the people. I’ve got to believe you would get better results, with fewer tears.

    Until then, I will continue to recommend that people go to your seminars to audit, but not to participate. Or that they buy your books, which
    are great training resources, and very entertaining as well.

    With great respect and trying not to offend,

    • Well I did say I would not censor anyone! I appreciate your feedback and your kind words you used to preface your criticism. I tell all of my instructors that a student’s perception is reality. Regardless of what we meant to convey, what is important was how our message was received. I can assure you my intend is never to publicly humiliate anyone. If this was your perception I hope that in the future, should our paths cross, you could step out from behind your anonymity and allow me to address your concerns in person.

  16. what a great post….

    the first time i had the pleasure of susan’s brilliance in dog training was in 2004…

    it was an eye opener for me and i was very dissapointed at the end of 5 days when the seminars were finished…

    after the seminars i did hear from a few that didn’t get much out of it… this i couldn’t comprehend… but maybe they needed to have more of an open mind..

    i have attended many seminars/workshops not all Agility related, and although i may not agree with what the instructor is trying to tell me, i will always look for the positive even if i walk away with one small thing that may help me and my dogs then it was worth it.. and i have never yet walked away without anything… because i go in with an open mind…

    Thanks Susan for sharing your knowledge, i know for me it is very much appreciated… and you are more than welcome to tell me what i suck at anytime… As don’t we all learn by our mistakes… and if i am attending a seminar it is to find out how my training is going, and i for one would be dissapointed if i wasn’t told what i wasn’t doing properly…

  17. My first camp was overwhelming and very exciting. I was 16 with an 18 week old Beardie/Border mix. Boy oh boy did we learn a lot! I was lucky enough to go out for dinner with the group of instructors, and was asked why I decided to go with a mix. My response was “I didn’t think I could handle the drive of a Border Collie”. I remember Susan laughing and saying “I hate to break it to you, but I think you’re going to have your hands full anyways.”

    What I found so great about the camp was the push to be better. I have always been a person who likes to be right. However, I was used to being “right” from the beginning. Failure wasn’t enjoyable for me, and for the longest time I couldn’t bounce back and try again. Susan, along with the entire Say Yes team really helped me see that you have to put into a situation what you want out of it. Not only in dog training, but in everything you do.

    I leave tomorrow for my second camp! I cannot wait. However, on a student’s budget, Heist is staying home and I am going with a mind ready to absorb all I possibly can.

    Tears, I know that I would shed some myself if I were to experience camp again with Heist. Simply because, I know right now, typing this, I have let him down. I have let our black and white criteria become grey at times. I have let expectations slip. Tears come when you know you’ve messed up and could have avoided it. When you have the knowledge but choose to leave it on the shelf.

    Thank you Susan!

  18. I read this article with interest, Susan. I have come to your blog via a roundabout way, and it is good to see how open you are about discussing matters relating to dog agility and things pertaining to the sport.

    It is obvious from your blog how passionate you are about the sport, and keen to enthuse people and help them become better dog handlers. And it is easily seen from the responding posts how many dog handlers you have inspired, and encouraged on to better things.

    Because I have no experience of your seminars or know anyone who has attended them to get a better viewpoint, I wondered about a couple of things, and hoped that you could perhaps provide further background. Do you think that, sometimes, in your enthusiasm to encourage people, for example, to believe that “the only way a dog can live up to his potential is for his owner to recognize his role in the transition”, you could sometimes, in fact, be sending the wrong message to someone who has been struggling for years with their dog, and is perhaps on the point of giving up, and actually needs recognition for what they have achieved rather than what they haven’t? Do you think that some owners hearing this message may in fact give up in despair, and blame themselves for letting their dog down, when, in fact, the very opposite may be true? And that this feeling of failing their dog may damage the perhaps very positive relationship that they had. I am assuming, and this may be a wrong assumtpion, that your opinion of the dog’s potential and weakness of the the handling technique is based on what you have seen of the dog and owner over the course of a seminar or lessons, and not on the longterm history and relationship of the dog and owner, and should be seen in this light.

    I do not mean this post to be critical, or, if you feel it is, that it is taken in the spirit of positive criticism, and would be interested in what you feel about the points raised.

  19. Hi Oopsa, seems to me Oopsa must be a second cousin to anonomyous:) Thank you for your input, a different viewpoint since, as you have written, you haven’t seen one of my presentations so a unique opinion from others that have posted. I think your points are valid for some presenters however within the context of my seminars and camps, I provide the tools to facilitate the transition I am suggesting. The students that can see the joy I have for helping everyone in attendance succeed, go away from my workshops feeling energized to start to work on the plan of action I have laid out for them. This is evident, for example with my camp starting tomorrow morning. Of the 22 students in attendance for 2 people this is their 2nd camp, for 5 it is their 3rd, for 3 people it is their 4th camp, for 9 it is their 5th camp and for 3 people in attendance they have come to 10 or more 3-4 day camps with me. I am not diminishing the feelings of those that may have not seen this joy, only suggesting none of us can be everyone’s cup of tea!

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