“What is possible between a human and animal is attainable only within a relationship.” Suzanne Clothier
It’s the new year, and traditionally we set new goals for ourselves and our dogs. Personally, I set goals for myself, I help my kids set goals and my dogs each get goals. I frequently do self-evaluations to determine if my actions are still aligned with my goals and if not, I adjust. One thing being a college professor taught me was, no matter how perfect your system (lesson plan/training plan) is, you will at some point have to adjust mid stride. Working with dogs is no different.
That being said, write down your goal! Then write out your system for how you plan to reach the goal. Goals are about the results you want to achieve, and systems are the processes leading to those results. For me, it’s easier to have short term and long-term goals, broken down by week, this way I can easily plan daily training sessions. Easier said than done, I get that but hey start by creating small habits today.
Statistically, less than 8% of people who set goals actually achieve them. This is not because the goals set are bad, it’s because the system used in the process is faulty. The act of training your dog regardless if your intention is a better pet or a competition prospect you need a training system in place to reach a goal; i.e. good housemate, loose leash walking, pleasant jogging buddy, competition sports dog…
Once you have a system for training you can build and add to that as your goals shift and grow. For example, if you make training your dog each day a habit, pretty soon you’ll have a trained dog. The flip side of this is, if you make it a habit to ignore certain undesired behaviors from your dog each day, pretty soon you will have a terrible housemate for a dog. My point is, your small habit made today likely isn’t even noticeable but, in a year, it’ll be noteworthy!
Now that you have all these big plans on paper don’t forget you have to crawl before you can walk. In other words, you also can’t teach all the desired behaviors in one session; you need to commit a daily structured connection with your dog. Now before you start listing the reasons in your head about how you don’t have time, remember we’re talking about SMALL changes each day. Therefore, your training sessions don’t need to be long and drawn out, how boring. Instead try dedicating 5-10 minutes a couple times a day to work on a few behaviors. Waiting for your coffee to brew in the morning, have a mini training session with your dog. Need more structure for your system, count out 20 treats in advance to work on your dog’s particular behavior (the one you wrote down earlier, use 10 treats for the behavior practiced, and 10 treats to be tossed for a position reset). Taking notes will help to hold yourself accountable, document what went well and what needs improvement. If you want to really nerd out and obtain raw honest feedback on how you’re doing as a handler, video your sessions then make notes and go from there.
I encourage you to teach your dog a new cool trick or work on something beyond foundational skills (sit, down, speak). Build the relationship and confidence in your dog so that you can go on and try a new dog sport or enter a trial. Remember you should never compare your beginning with someone else’s ending. That dog and handler team showcasing a perfect obedience or agility run worked very hard to get to that point.
Have fun and make the learning process fun not only for you but for your dog as well. Afterall, they don’t get a vote in the goal making selection so the least we can do is be a friend to them and make it fun! If you have a new puppy and you’re not sure where to go from here, reach out to a local trainer, sign up for classes, take classes online, join my trick group here.
Do more with your dog, you’ll never regret it!