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Getting Ahead

How can you reach your goals? By Kenneth Tatsch

I recently saw an article in a trade magazine about getting ahead, and could not help but relate it to goals with our dogs. The article was titled "Success & Personal Growth." Not surprisingly, it had no mention of dogs. Nonetheless, I saw the article from the perspective of a trainer and competitor. Perhaps the word success triggered the connection. 

The article presented a simple exercise and some key points that I think directly relate to our activities in dog agility and other canine sports. The exercise was simple:
  • Explain where you are now to your past-self. 
In this step, your current-day-self talks to yourself of five years ago, explaining what to expect regarding both the bad and good things that have occurred while working with your dog. This may help you to gain insight into what you might have done differently to change where you are today. You'll also remind yourself of what you handled well in the face of adversity along the way. 
  • Look back from your future to today. 
Now pretend that your present-day-self is talking to yourself five years in the future. Imagine where you want to be and see what advice your future self might give you to assure you reach your goals. This should give you a positive vision and help you to identify and set concrete goals to strive toward. With a clear view of where you want to be, you'll be more likely to take specific steps to reach your objectives (as well as possibly have a realistic idea of the timeline required to achieve them.)

Goals you set for you and your dog should reflect your values and desires - what you really want, and not what you think you should want or what other people want you to achieve. 

In our daily lives, career and financial goals are perhaps the most obvious targets for achievement, but the theory applies to other activities such as dog agility as well. Perhaps you want to be a regional tournament champion, be atop USDAA's Most Qualifications Earned list for your breed in your region, make the Agility Top Ten, earn a Lifetime Achievement Award, or simply show steady improvement while creating social relationships with others that share a love for dogs. 

Whatever goals you pursue, seek to follow these standards of excellence:
  • Be positive. State your objectives in affirmative terms; say what you will do, rather than what you won't (e.g., "I'll praise successful behavior more as a means of effecting change," instead of saying, "I won't yell at my dog when we make a mistake"). 
  • Set your sights high. Believe in yourself and your dog. Learn to see yourself achieving your goal; don't sell you or your dog short. Just because you haven't accomplished something similar before doesn't mean you and your dog can't do it now. 
  • You can't get ahead if you are not willing to take chances. Have you had a problem on a type of challenge over and over again, be it an "instant down" on the table, taking 10 seconds to complete a dogwalk, coming up one second over standard course time or handling your way through a tight threadle on course? Break each step down, work on good foundation exercises that address your needs in a variety of course configurations, watch your timing and of course, be sure your dog understands what you want. Then, when show time comes, get out of the way and trust your dog to do what you have trained him to do. Without taking a chance, you won't know what you have accomplished and can trust, and therefore you will not know what specifically you need to work on going forward. 
  • Take a step-by-step approach. By taking a step-by-step approach, you can identify what is working for you and what broke down and requires more training
  • Assemble a network that leads to success. Be part of a group that breeds success by setting goals and measuring progress along the step-by-step plan.
    • If you find yourself stuck, seek out new information and advice. 
    • Help other people. By helping others, you can learn as much or more than you would by simply working on your own with your own dog. It also invites a give and take of information.
    • Challenge yourself. Stretch beyond your current stage of development periodically to see how well your training is preparing you for the next step. Get out of your comfort zone and be willing to try something new or work in a different environment to break your cycle when you feel you are not progressing.
    • Develop a good self-description. Be able to explain who you are and what you are working on with clarity in a sentence or two so that others understand what you are seeking to accomplish. 
As in other aspects of life, thoughtful goal-setting and measuring progress toward your goals can lead to more success in dog agility. 

Adapted and printed with permission from an article in First Draft magazine, March 2015.


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