Setting Goals to Drive Your Training
I am coming back into the office after a week in sunny Orlando, Florida. My youngest dog, Lennon (Ch. Vykon's IXA I'm A Dreamer at Ilannak RI, CGCA, CGCU, TKA, WPD), and I went to The Alaskan Malamute Club of America National Show. It was my first time at Nationals and we soaked up the whole experience from the sunny poolside drinks to entering the Obedience ring for the first time and we had a blast! Several months ago I decided that I wanted to make my Obedience Ring Debut at the national show. And we did!
Winner Winner chicken dinner! Our first time in the Obedience Ring! Lennon showing off his
loot from The Alaskan Malamute Nationals Obedience Trial, October 2018.
This isn't the first goal I have set for my dogs and I. Some goals were smaller like improving impulse control at the front door so I didn't get jumped on when I came home. And some of my goals were big and scary like entering the conformation dog show world for the first time and finishing my dog's AKC Championship completely owner-handled (many people hire a professional handler to show their dogs).
The more goals I set and met the more I realized how beneficial goals were. Goals helped me focus my training plan, work consistently (which resulted in progress), and gave me the feeling of accomplishment when I met this goal (positive reinforcement for me! Yay!). So here are a few tips I have put together for you to help you with your dog training goals no matter how big or small your dreams may be!
STEP ONE: IDENTIFY YOUR GOAL
First you need to identify what your goal is. Think about a behavior that you dislike from your dog, for example their manners around guests and the front door. Then go beyond the problem, what do you want your dog to do instead? Be specific and phrase it in things they CAN do!
For example: I would like my dog to wait at the door (no running out the doorway) and remain on the floor (no jumping) when greeting guests.
Tip: If your goal is big (like entering the obedience ring for the first time) be sure to break that large goal down into smaller pieces (like teaching each individual skill, generalizing behaviors, and chaining behaviors).
STEP TWO: DEVELOP YOUR TRAINING PLAN
Now that you have your goal, how are you going to reach it? In comes your training plan (write it down on paper!). Remember that all behaviors need to be taught in small achievable pieces. For our example here, we technically have two separate behaviors wait at the door (no forward motion through doorway) AND four on the floor during greetings! SO for this behavior we would develop TWO training plans, one for each behavior. Remember that we need to teach the skill and then slowly strengthen the behavior by practicing with the 3Ds (distance, distraction, and duration). You can even separate this larger goal into smaller pieces so you can measure success and stay motivated.
Tip: Write your goals down on paper or a white board. Using stickers (Yes, adults can use stickers) or a written check is very satisfying!
STEP THREE: PRACTICE AND EVALUATE YOUR PLAN
As you are working on your behavior(s) be sure that you are evaluating! Are you having success with your training? I recently have started propping my cell phone up against a window, chair, or the floor and hitting record. If I go back and watch the videos I can often find things to improve! I will catch myself giving extra and unneeded signals with my body. I can see myself delivering the treat in a way that moves my dog away from where I want them. I also can look back at an unsuccessful training session (maybe one where he got frustrated) to help me determine what was going wrong and how I can try to fix it. Video footage will help you evaluate your training sessions, which will advance you towards your goal.
Tip: I also recommend having a white board or piece of paper with your training plan for each day. Again, you can place a sticker or cross off a box after completion! You can even use this visual as a way to see how consistently you are practicing so you can evaluate if you are making progress that is fair based on how often you are practicing.
STEP FOUR: INCORPORATE MANAGEMENT
Out with the old and in with the new! Sounds simple, but remember that while you are working towards your goal, you may need to use management. Management is a tool that allows you to prevent the unwanted from happening and accidentally getting reinforced, while you teach the new behavior that will eventually replace the old.
For our example here I might put my dog on a leash. This prevents him from running away as I open the door. It also allows me to hold my dog far enough away from my guest so during the initial excitement he doesn't jump up on them. This leash prevents the unwanted from happening so it doesn't get reinforced.
A nice photo of Lennon and I at The Alaskan Malamute Nationals in the Rally Obedience Ring.
I just love the connection.
Training a dog whether you are a first timer or a pro can seem overwhelming at times. Setting goals can help you focus your training, which will alleviate some stress and allow you to make progress! So, grab your paper and start setting some goals! We'd love to hear them!