How to Achieve Success With Your Dog: Goal Setting

Make this year the year you train your dog!


It’s the start of a New Year and a new decade so why not make training your dog one of your new year resolutions.


If you are anything like me with New Year resolutions, you start off with good intentions but over time these can fade. To avoid this happening with your dog training I find planning my training and setting goals really helps me to achieve success.


People watch me and my dogs performing doing dog displays and ask my secrets to success. Undoubtedly one of the major contributing factors is this planned training. For me, as someone who trains multiple dogs it works particularly well as I can keep track on each individual dog’s progress. This results in my training sessions being meaningful and helpful to each of the individual dogs.


Writing your aims down really helps solidify your commitment, keep you on track and ultimately your success.

When people first get a dog or puppy, I find they easily focus on their training as they have clear objectives they wish to achieve. Their motivation is usually high initially for about the first 4-5 months, but the problem can be that things start to slack and as time goes on they lose commitment and motivation. 

A key element to success is your focus and to keep on track creating a training plan in the form of a training journal or diary really works. Not only does writing it down help commit you, but it also keeps you focused. 

In fact according to a study conducted by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University of California, you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down!



Setting Long Term Training Goals.


When you set your long-term goals think about what you would like to achieve and jot these down as bullet points. Be specific rather than vague. By this I mean something like:

‘I want my dog to be well behaved’

won’t work.

Instead you need to break down and specify exactly what you mean by this. The old saying ‘the devil is in the detail’ is really apt here.

So instead of ‘well- behaved’ think what exactly do you mean by ‘well behaved’. It might be you want your dog to recall immediately from distractions, walk nicely on the lead, greet people with manners etc.


Step 1 identify the things you want to achieve.


Write down all the things your dog does which you don’t like and wish to change, eg:


  • Runs off

  • Steals food

  • Pulls on the lead


Then write down things you would like to teach your dog to do, eg:


  • Search for items

  • Agility

  • Retrieve

Once you have established your goals you then need to evaluate and ensure that these are realistic. It would be no use having a goal of teaching your dog to negotiate a 6ft scale if they are a Chihuahua! Goals must be achievable.


Setting Short Term Goals


Once you have your goals you now need to focus on each of these individually and evaluate them. Break them down into the steps you will need to teach your dog in order to achieve them.

For example:


The recall from distraction.


Teaching your dog to respond to their name- 

Teaching the recall command and what it means 

Creating a pleasant conditioned association with the desired response

Building in minor distractions

Building in stronger distractions

Changing locations

Once you have established this you need to assess where you are up to at the moment. What does your dog already know? 

Assessing objectively and honestly means you are ensuring you are not missing out teaching your dog any vital component.

Jumping ahead too quick too soon although can feel fantastic ultimately will result in something going wrong and because the essential building blocks are not in place you won’t achieve your long-term goal.


Once you have established what you need to teach you now need to work out how you are going to do it.  It might be that you decide to seek the help of a dog trainer to help you gain this knowledge. 


There are many different ways to teach a dog something but you need to decide on the best method for your particular dog. When you consider this make sure whatever way you decide to teach is fun and rewarding for your dog. Happy dogs who are rewarded for their efforts learn quickly and at the same time you strengthen the bond between you.


When I start I like to take short videos on my phone. These are a great way to record progress along the way. It is really rewarding to look back on them when you have achieved your goal!


It is hard to time plan a dog’s progress when training. This is because each individual dog will respond differently and some things they will find harder to grasp than others.

I personally plan as I go along depending on where my dog is up to. I re- assess things weekly to target my training efforts.