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The new year is a time when many people are setting all kinds of personal and lifestyle resolutions. It’s also a great time to set some goals for what you want to achieve with your dog. These can 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 biggest benefits of setting 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 can be helpful to set goals that you can easily track. For example, if you want to be ready for your dog to earn their Elite Performer Trick Dog title by the end of the year, you might want to make a list of how many tricks you need to teach your dog to achieve each earlier Trick Dog title. Then, you can figure out how many tricks you’ll need to teach them each month to achieve your goal.

Setting smaller goals that can build toward a bigger goal is key to keeping you and your dog on target. If you and your dog have been training in a sport, you might set a 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 or 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.

Australian Cattle Dog puppy learning commands in  the yard.
Stefan Mager

Set Realistic Goals

When setting goals, it’s important to 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 the AKC National Obedience Championship with that dog this year. 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.

To set realistic goals, also focus on things that you can control. You can’t control if you and your dog will qualify every time you step into the ring, but you can decide to train every week and enter a certain number of shows. Measurable and achievable goals are important not only because they help you to stay motivated to keep training but they also allow you to tangibly track the progress you and your dog are making.

Try Something New

If you aren’t sure about what goals you want to set for your dog, 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 can also come up with ways to keep one another inspired and accountable, such as creating 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.

English Cocker Spaniel fetching a ball at the park.

Tracking Progress

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 your calendar each time you train your dog. You can also keep a list on your smartphone to track the different skills you’ve been teaching your dog or a list of skills you 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 track 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 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.

Have Fun

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 yours. 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.

Related article: Why You Should Enter a Fun Match Before Competing in Dog Sports
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Canine Good Citizen (CGC)

This program is recognized as the gold standard for dog behavior. In CGC, dogs who pass the 10 step CGC test can earn a certificate and/or the official AKC CGC title.
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