The new year is a time when many people are setting all kinds of personal and lifestyle resolutions. This can also be a great time to set some goals for what you want to achieve with your dog in the year to come. These include small goals like finding time each day for training and grooming or big goals like qualifying for nationals or getting ready to compete in a sport for the first time.
Define Your Goals
One of the big benefits of setting training goals is that you can use them to guide your training sessions with your dog for the year to come. They can help you structure your daily or weekly training time and prioritize which skills and behaviors to focus on and which new ones to teach next. By identifying the specific things you need and want to work on, you’ll be able to enjoy more productive individual training sessions with your dog.
Set Measurable Goals
It’s most helpful to think about setting goals that can be tracked and measured. For example, if you want to be ready for your dog to earn their Elite Performer Trick Dog title by the end of 2022, you might want to make a list of how many tricks you need to teach your dog for each of the earlier titles, and then figure out how many tricks you need to teach them each month to achieve your goal.
Measurable goals are key to keeping you and your dog on target and it’s helpful to set smaller goals/intentions that can build toward a bigger goal. If you and your dog have been training in a sport, you might set a 2022 goal of being ready to compete by the end of the year. You can then set smaller measurable goals like committing to training a certain number of times per week and taking your dog to a new place to train three times a month to work on focus amid distractions. You might also set a goal of entering a certain number of fun matches to help you and your dog get used to what it will be like to compete. Achieving these smaller goals will help build up your dog’s experience, and your confidence, so that you’re both ready to achieve your big goal of being able to start competing by the end of the year.
Set Realistic Goals
When goal-setting, aim high, but also be realistic. If you’ve never even trained your dog to sit, it’s probably not reasonable to have the goal of being at AKC National Obedience Championship with that dog this year. But setting a goal for earning your dog’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) title or being ready to enter them in Novice in Obedience or Rally Obedience might be more realistic.
When setting realistic goals, also focus on things that you can control. So instead of setting the goal that you and your dog will Qualify every time you step into the ring, set goals that you will train every week and enter a certain number of shows. Measurable and achievable goals are important because they not only help you to stay motivated to keep training, but they also allow you to tangibly track the progress you and your dog are making toward achieving your goals.
Try Something New
If you aren’t sure about what goals you want to set for your dog in the new year, a great way to get inspired is to set a goal to try a new sport. Local kennel clubs and training centers often have introductory seminars for different sports, which can be a fun way to try something new with your dog. Depending on the sport, introductory classes or workshops may even be available online, which is an easy way to start building foundations in a new sport without having to leave your home. In addition, AKC’s virtual competition options can be a fun way to experiment with a new sport. Even if the sport isn’t something you become serious about, trying something new can energize you and your dog with training in general. And you might discover a new sport or activity that you really enjoy!
Goals With Friends
If you enjoy training with others, it can be fun to connect with your dog training friends and develop goals together. You and your local or online friends can set 2022 dog training goals and come up with ways to keep one another inspired and accountable. You can create a private group chat or Facebook group for sharing training progress and encouragement. For local friends, you can make plans to meet up and train, and attend classes, seminars, or shows together.
Once you’ve set your training goals for the year, it’s helpful to come up with ways to follow up and track your progress. A very simple way to do this is just to mark on your calendar each time you go out and train your dog. You can also keep a list or note memo in your smartphone to track the different skills you’ve been teaching your dog, or a list of skills you still need to work on. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or pretty—the goal is just to create a system that helps you to keep track of how often you train, and which skills you need to be working on.
If you’re looking for a more involved way of tracking your dog’s training process, try bullet journaling. You can create a bullet journal digitally or use any notebook (blank or lined) and there are many tutorials online. This flexible format allows you to develop a unique tracking system specific to your training goals. Bullet journals can be extremely elaborate or very simple with just daily, weekly, or monthly checkboxes and trackers for marking your progress. They’re a great way to boost your productivity and stay enthusiastic about achieving your goals.
Try not to let other people’s goals impact the goals you set for your dog this year. Just because your training friends have certain goals doesn’t mean those need to be your goals. Focus on what feels exciting and achievable to you. Remember, this is about you and your dog, not anyone else. If at some point during the year you find that the goals you set aren’t working, or are causing you stress, it’s always okay to reevaluate and adjust as your priorities shift and evolve. The most important thing is that you and your dog both have fun.