Ep. 4: New Year, New Training Goals

Jan 2, 2019

With the start of a new year, many of us will begin creating trialing goals, such as our desire to obtain a certain title by a certain date.​

In this podcast, we discuss the benefit of designing smaller, obtainable goals that are laser focused on building specific skills for both you and your dog, and how these smaller goals will ultimately help you achieve the "big" goal of earning your desired title.


Welcome to the All About Dogs Sports & Training Podcast. In this podcast, we talk about all things dog sports as well as all things dog training. We'll provide you a behind-the-scenes look at what your instructor may be going through, what your trial officials may be going through, provide you some training tips and much more.

In this episode, we're gonna be talking about how in a new year, we can start designing some trial end goals and how we have to make certain that those are ideal goals and that we're not setting ourselves up and our dogs up for failure. Before we start diving into the podcast, I'm just going to do a very quick introduction to myself.​

My name is Dianna Santos. I'm the Owner and Lead Instructor for both Dog Sport University and Scent Work University. Dog Sports University is an online dog training platform where we provide online courses, webinars and seminars covering such topics as dog sports, such as agility, competition obedience, treibball and tricks as well as good manners courses such as our Family Dog Program, our Perfect Puppies Program, Canine Good Citizen Prep, Real Life Skills, Shaping Behavior and much more.

In addition to being a professional dog trainer, I'm also an approved trial official and have actually worked with a competition organization. So, now you know a little bit about me, let's dive into the podcast.

So, at the start of the new year, it's very common for all of us to start designing some goals, some resolutions, things that we would like to do. And when we're involved in dog sports, one of the most common things that people do is that they will start designing some trial end goals, some things that they want to achieve in that given year in regard to dog sports if they happen to compete.

And that may be that they're going to start competing or that if they are competing, they want to obtain a certain goal as far as a certain title. What I'd like to do in this podcast is to really nail down what I would claim would be a better way of designing those goals, so that you can actually achieve them in training and so that you're not setting your dog and yourself up for failure. Because sometimes when we put out a goal post, it's just so incredibly vague such as, "I want to obtain that title," it can be a little difficult in order to put together a plan to actually achieve that goal.

So, in this podcast, we just wanna talk about some of the better ways that you may be able to design your new year goals, so that you can maybe ultimately obtain that title, but you're actually working towards very specific goal points instead. I'm going preface this by saying I personally have a love-hate relationship with competition. I personally can take or leave dog sports a lot of the time as far as the competing piece. I really enjoy the activities, I enjoy the training part of it.​

And there are times when I really enjoy trialing and there are other times where I find it really super stressful. And a lot of that just has to do with the fact that I get stuck in my own head a lot of the time. My dog is brilliant. If he had a better handler, he would have a lot of letters behind his name. By coming at it from that perspective and because the titles themselves don't hold any inherent value all within themselves in that I need to have a title in order to get up the next day.

That's just not how I'm wired. I can come to the place of putting together goals a little bit differently than someone who really thinks that having the titles is really, really, really important. And it's not to say that either approach is wrong. It's not. What I'm hoping to do in this podcast is just outline some of the ways that all of us can at least do a better job of our designing our goals so that they can actually be obtained. I have actually done the whole thing of saying, "Oh, well I would like to achieve this title by this date." This has never worked for me.

Now, the argument could be made that maybe that's just because I don't have a good approach, maybe it's because I'm competitive enough. Who knows? My guess is going to be that for me personally, and this is probably true for a lot of people is that that goal didn't provide me with a whole lot of information. It was just a date on a calendar that seemed to get closer and closer way too quickly 'til all of a sudden, we were there and there was no way that we were gonna be prepared in order to obtain that goal, in order to do well in whatever sport it may be.​

Whether it be rally, obedience, barn hunt or scent work. So, what I want do in this podcast is to outline some of the things that I've found to have been successful as far as helping me really design some good goals that can be obtained through training and practice that are all pointing towards ultimately ending up at that title. So, the way that this would work is you, of course, will have a big goal. And the big goal can absolutely be the title. So, for instance, in scent work, one of the goals that I would have for 2019 is that we do go back to trialing.

That would be goal number one. And goal number two would be that for one of the competition organizations, which is NACSW, that we would obtain our NW2 title, which is the level two title. So, that is a big goal. But from that, what I need to do is I need to figure out well, why are we obtaining that right now? What is missing? What is missing training-wise? What is missing skill-wise? Why is it that we don't have that already? What is it that we need to do as a team, both on the dog training side and on my skill side together, what is it that we need in order to obtain that title?

And this is where I think designing some very specific goals will help, so for instance, for NW2, you're gonna be dealing with more distractors within the search area, so we would need to have a very specific exercise set up where we are working on those kinds of things where now there are distractors within the search area itself. So, then we have a general premise, but now you need to break that down into smaller goals.

An example of that would be I would like my dog to work a container search where there is two distractors out within the container search and he successfully finds the hide without hitting on the distractors. Perfect. And then from there, you can start making it a little bit harder. There's going to be five distractors out and there's only going to be one hide. He successfully finds the hide. He does that, great. That goal is checked off.

Then, we wanna do it within a time limit, then we wanna do it when he's both on leash and off leash. Then, we wanna do it where the hide is actually blind to me where I don't know where it is. So, I hope you can see that even with this very simple example, that's starting with the big goal of we would like to obtain our NW2, you can then from that, figure out what your actual actionable goals would be. And then, from there, you can make it even more specific where you can actually come up with a game plan of how it is that you're going to be developing your training program so that you can obtain those skills.

And the key here is that it shouldn't just be focusing on the dog. Nine times out of 10, with dog sports, it's a team effort. It involves both the dog and the handler. You both have to be showing up and doing well. You have to have good skills. So, you want to make certain that you're focusing on both. You're not putting all of your emphasis on the dog and you're just kinda sitting at the sidelines saying, "Eh, well we'll figure it out."

You wanna make certain you're working on both of you. So, to take another dog sport as an example, one of the things that I would like to do this year is to get more involved in our rally and our competition obedience trialing and a lot of that's gonna depend on my body, whether or not it decides to cooperate or not. But instead of just falling back on that excuse, so saying, "Well, there's a really good chance that my body isn't going to cooperate, so we're just not even gonna try." This year, I'm actually going to put a training plan in place where we are going to at least training wise be prepared to go into certain trials.

Whether or not we actually make it on trial day is an entirely different question. That all depends on what my body says that day, but it's no longer going to be an excuse of saying, "Well, you know, we don't need to perfect this stuff, because I probably won't be able to do it anyway." Just recognizing that if this is an important goal that we have to work on it and it's going to require work. I'm going to have to make certain that I have a certain period of time of practicing these specific skills that I am videotaping my practice sessions, that I'm seeing where things could be improved, where it is that there are weaknesses either within the training itself or even with my own handling.​

What am I doing with my body? So, particularly with rally or a competition obedience, one of the things that I tend to do when I'm heeling, is I'll tend to look over my shoulder down at my dog. And what that does, it pushes him back, because I'm looking backwards. The other thing I've had an issue with is having a very good rhythm when I walk and that can make things very difficult for the dog, because they're constantly flowing between a fast walk and a pace and a trot whereas if you can just find a really good rhythm, it makes things a lot easier for them.​

So, what I would need to do, because we would like to go forward and actually compete in both rally and competition obedience is I need to do two different things: I need to work on my dog skills, so that he understands the various things that he would need to do both at the entry level of that dog sport as well as a level ahead of it, because you never wanna just prepare for the bare minimum. You don't wanna go in there just by the skin of your teeth.

You want to be able to go into that trial knowing that your dog could actually enter the level above and do well. That way, it's easy peasy. So, I need to work on those things with him. A lot of it's just cleaning it up and finessing stuff. But a lot of it's gonna be on me, that I need to make sure that my handling skills are up to par, that I'm doing my piece. So, those are the kinds of things that all of us can do where if you have said to yourself, "I want to obtain this title in 2019," that's great, that's fine, but what is it you're actually going to do to obtain that title?

And then be really brutally honest about it. Where are you right now? Where will you and your dog be able to go within a reasonable period of time? And it very well may be that you may not be able to obtain that goal within that time frame and that's okay. That's one of the big things that I think a lot of us put way too much pressure on ourselves and our dogs, because we're worried about the calendar and a lot of the calendar stuff is because we're worried about other people. So, we're thinking about what other people would think about us, whether it be our dog's breeder, whether it be our friends, our colleagues, whatever.

None of that matters. You wanna make certain that you're doing this in a way that both you and your dog can be successful, you're not biting off more than you can chew and you're designing goals that are actually obtainable. So an example of an unobtainable goal would be if you had just purchased a 12-week-old puppy from a breeder and you wanted to obtain your OTCH or your MACH within that year. That's not going to happen.

Now, are there people who have done a MACH in a year? There are. It's really very rare and it's not a really good idea. You're not gonna be able to get your OTCH in a year. It's just not gonna happen. It doesn't mean that you and your dog are bad. It just means that it's gonna take more time to develop those skills. So, make certain that you're being realistic with your goals. Don't shoot yourself in the foot by asking what would take normally two, three, four years of skill building to be jammed all into one for no other reason than to say that you did it in that time frame.

You're just gonna drive yourself crazy, you're gonna make it so that your dog hates whatever activity that you're doing and it's probably not gonna work out for the best. Just be realistic with these sorts of things. Design goals with the undercurrent that you're going to enjoy this. The one thing about dog sports is that this entirely elective. You don't have to do any of this. It's supposed to be fun, even for people who do this for a living. They enjoy doing it, even if this is what they do in order to pay the bills. They still like the sport. They still enjoy it.

Don't design goals that are basically guaranteed to make you miserable at the end of the day, because they're so incredibly difficult. And that also doesn't mean that your goals should be really gimme, like, "Oh, I'm gonna get up and I'm gonna feed my dog a treat today. Oh, I did my goal." You know, there has to be a balance. But make certain that it's being realistic, you're keeping in mind all the various things that are gonna go into obtaining that goal and then it's not just such a broad thing such as, "I'm going to obtain this title by this date."​

That's not going to help you. You need to be able to break that down into very specific skill sets that both you and your dog are gonna have to work on and ideally when you're designing your goal, you have an idea of how it is that you can then obtain that goal and you may even wanna break it up into smaller steps. The more short-term goals you can set, the better it is. Because that way, it feels as if you're making progression. If you only have giant goals, it's never going to feel as though you're getting there.

It's gonna be like three months down the line, you're gonna be like, "I'm nowhere even close to where I wanna be right now." But if you actually break that up into smaller pieces, you can keep track of it whichever way works best for you, on a piece of paper, on your smartphone, however. But just jotting it down, we've done this, we've done that, we've done the other thing. You know what, we're making pretty darn good progress.

But by also keeping track of it, you can see when you're back sliding. You can see when you're not on track. You can see when you veered off the path completely and you ended up in Osh Gosh Land. So, the whole premise behind this is with the start of a new year, a lot of us are gonna start making goals and we're gonna be saying how we would like to do this, that, and the other thing. And there's nothing wrong with that.

All I'm suggesting is that we be a little bit more mindful of it, particularly when we're interested in competing. It's great that people do a reset and that people have nice, fresh eyes in the new year and there are things that they would like to try and do with their dog. Maximize on that positivity and this is coming from someone who is a lifelong pessimist, but maximize on the fact that you do feel this sense of revival. Maximize on the fact that you are excited to try these new things.​

That you are excited to try to obtain these different goals. But set yourself and your dog up to succeed by breaking those up into smaller pieces, so that you can actually obtain them.

So, I hope you found this podcast helpful. Thank you so much for listening. Happy training and we look forward to seeing you soon.

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