I’m glad that goals and resolutions are not the same thing. Seems like most of my New Year’s Resolutions have some element of pain or depravation involved. When it comes to my dogs’ agility training program, the goals that I set inspire me; they feel good. I look forward to the creating, planning, and execution of my training goals every year. Achieving the goals is just the icing on my goals cake. It’s the training journey that floats my boat.
Since my gig is the sport of dog agility, I’m speaking to those of you that are already pursing the sport as well as those considering it. My objective is to inspire you set some 2018 training goals.
I’m sure that all of you have heard the classic goal-setting clichés a billion times. So many experts say the same things about goals, right? That is only because those classic elements needed to successfully achieve goals actually do work. All of the success that my students and I achieve every year are based on those classic elements.
You already know that a goal has to be clearly defined and broken down into the smallest of achievable tasks. Time in your life has to be carved away from something else to facilitate the goal, and making that effort might not always be easy. You know that you have to keep your eye on the prize and be thoughtful and diligent as you proceed, right? Good. Now let’s apply those elements to agility training.
Breaking Down the Goal: In agility training, my goals are the behaviors I need the dog to know before I can make him go where I want him to go. I need smaller behaviors from my dogs in order to get the bigger behaviors. If my goals are big behaviors — like training the dog how to do the weave
poles before I have the little behaviors down that my dogs need first — I won’t succeed. This is the “define the goal and break it down to small achievable tasks” part of the training process. If I just start training the poles, or any other obstacle for that matter, without having the behaviors I need to have first, I will likely get frustrated and quit. Many goals die on the vine for this very reason.
Small Goals for the Dog New to Agility: Here are a few behaviors that can serve as your initial goals to take you into the future goal of obstacle training.
• Make your dog comfortable being handled, especially by the collar. Make it a goal for your dog to not only accept collar handling, but to actually love it. Short sessions with lots of yummy treats is the key to success.
• Teach your dog to come when you call him — even when there are lots of exciting things happening. Agility makes dogs excited. You need to teach your dog how to listen to you, even if he thinks he can’t or doesn’t haveto. Apply the same theory to recall as you teach a solid sit-stay. Dogs that have a good “recall” (come when called) and solid sit-stay (dog waits for a release command every time) will have an enormous advantage over the dogs that can’t when they start the agility obstacle training.
• Teach your dog to walk and then run on both your left and right side. In agility, your dog must be comfortable working on both sides of your body.
Goals for the Dog Already Doing Agility: If you are already pursing dog agility, you may have a long list of goals. Having too many goals at once can be crippling. Instead of having the typical competition goals looming over you, like achieving certain titles or competing at certain events, make your goals about achieving the behaviors you need to get those things. Your goals may include learning how to be a stronger competitor or getting in better shape to make running and handling easier for you. Don’t make your training goals too generic; be specific. Instead of saying, “I want my dog to go faster,” decide which obstacles you want him to speed up on first, and begin with the ones your dog likes best. The tunnel may be the best place to start building speed, instead of the weave poles. Maybe a fitness- conditioning program is what your dog needs to be faster on course.
If you have made a goal of making certain obstacle performance stronger, be specific. Review your criteria for that obstacle. What small part of the performance can you address specifically? For example, is your dog needing to improve his weave pole entries or his exits? Those issues are separate projects that need specific goals defined. For example, your goal maybe to have your dog exit correctly with you 15 feet away; once you define the goal, you can then make a detailed plan to achieve it.
As you make goals to achieve behaviors with your dog, you must remember to be flexible. Your dog is your pupil. He may need you to adjust your expectations as he learns. I recommend making goals that are comprehension based, instead of time based. Think like this: I want my dog to understand his job under all these specific circumstances and I will take the time needed to do that. Opposed to: I want my dog to learn this behavior in one month.
You are your dog’s teacher. Good teachers have reasonable, well-planned goals for their pupils and are very patient.
Sandy Rogers owns and operates Ace Dog Sports in San Francisco and Sacramento. She is a World Champion and four-time National Champion agility handler. Learn more at AceDogSports.com.
Main article photo by: gzaf