An article in the recent AKC Gazette talked about setting goals to achieve successes in the dog show world. Few of us aim to show a dog through to a breed championship, but it reminded me about the importance of goals.
Setting goals forces us to think about where we are and where we would like to be. We must look at the whole picture and figure out how to move forward to reach those goals. To be successful, goals must be realistic, specific, developed for both the short and long term, and we must commit to them. Long-term goals must start with easy daily and weekly goals.
Thinking about goal setting, I realized the value of goals in our relationship with our dog or dogs. Each dog has a behavior that we would like to eliminate or change for the better and each of us could develop a more rewarding relationship with our dog. By spending time improving or changing a behavior, providing we use positive methods, praise and wonderful treats, we will strengthen the bond with our dog.
I always feel guilty because I spend time training one dog, but not much individual time with the other two. They all love to work and learn. So, I recently committed to a goal of spending at least 10 minutes each day alone with each dog, five days a week. This can be training or playing, taking a walk or grooming, but the purpose is to challenge the dog in some way to always be learning or improving a behavior.
For example, your dog may not like to get his nails clipped. Spending a few minutes each day handling his feet, exposing him to the clipper and maybe just cutting a tiny tip off of one toenail might be the goal for week one. After each session, we would give the dog a treat for his improving behavior, take him for a short walk or play a tug game and talk with him about how wonderful he is.
We might want to improve the dog's basic obedience skills, such as sit, down, stay and come, or it might be teaching some fun tricks -- or best of all, a little of each. We should make a list of these behaviors, make a plan for week one, two, etc. and taking one at a time, get to work. The goal for week one must be teaching the dog to pay attention to us. Without his attention, he will not learn and we will get frustrated and quit working toward the goals.
To teach the dog to pay attention, have lots of wonderful treats in your pocket. Have the dog in front of you and put the treat up close to your face and say "watch." When he looks at your face, give him a treat and say "good watch." When he does that well, extend your arm out with the treat in your hand and say "watch." His eye will follow the treat. Eventually he will look at you -- saying "I want that treat." At that moment, give him the treat and praise him. Eventually, turn away from him and say "watch." He should move to a position where he can look at your face. Give him the treat and say wonderful things to him. This "watch" lesson may take a week or two to learn -- but make a little progress each day. Quit when he has had some success, but before he gets bored. Once you have his attention, you can teach your dog most anything.
The most important goal of all, of course, is to commit to spending time alone with each of your dogs every day. It is not always easy or convenient. It is easy to say -- I just cannot do it today -- and there are days, naturally, when it is impossible. But by setting a goal, writing it down and checking it every day, it will happen and it will become a habit. Your relationship with each dog will greatly improve and you will be amazed with your dog's tremendous capacity and love for learning.
A simple daily goal is to remember to put fresh water out for our pets. The outside water dishes get full of bugs and dust. In this hot weather especially, daily fresh water is essential.
Happy goal setting.
Christy Powers is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.