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Go When Ready: Setting Goals for Handler Fitness

Personal trainer Kristen Beck begins a series of fitness articles.

Athletes set goals to achieve success. As a dog agility athlete, you can achieve improved focus, direction and motivation in your fitness plan by learning how to set goals effectively.

The first step is to decide your level of commitment to dog agility. Ask yourself, "What do I like about participating in dog agility? Why do I run my dog? Where do I want this to go?" If your main reason for participating is to enjoy the social aspect of the sport, you will have one set of goals, whereas if you have decided to dedicate your life to achieving excellence in dog agility, your goals will be quite different.  

Once you have a better understanding of your commitment to the sport and the level you want to achieve, you will need to take a look at the athletic skills required to perform agility at your desired level. You will need cardiovascular endurance, speed, agility, quickness, balance and control. The needs you have in these skill areas in turn become a guide for setting your goals on a calendar basis.

Begin with constructing your long-term goals (1-2 years) first, then set your short-term goals (2-6 months). These short-term goals will support and help you achieve your long-term goals. The S.M.A.A.R.T. approach provides structure for your goal setting:

Specific - If a goal is too broad it will be beyond achievement or unclear. For example, if you have decided you want to improve your cardiovascular fitness, then simply saying, "I will walk," is too broad. Clearly define who, what, when and how in order to make it specific: "I will walk for 30 minutes with my dog at 4.0 mph 4 days a week." 

Measurable - You need to be able to chart and document your progress toward a given goal. For example, if your goal is to be faster on course, you may use a stopwatch to time a shuttle run (short sprints with directional changes) once a month to see if what you are doing is working. By setting measurable goals, there will be no doubt as to whether you have achieved them.

Action-Oriented - Keep your goals focused on personal action. In addition to what you want to achieve, formulate how you plan to achieve your goals using action statements that describe weekly goals that support your bigger goals. Begin the statements with, "I will_______________."  For example, "I will stretch all major muscle groups four times this week." 

Adjustable - Your goals should be flexible enough to accommodate challenges that are beyond your control. If you sustain an injury, you may need to modify one of your goals. For example, if your goal is to compete in six trials this year, an injury may cause you to adjust that to three trials this year. Or you may find you are progressing quickly and need to make your goals more challenging. It is important to reevaluate your goals every month or two so that you can adjust them as needed.

Realistic - Start where you are and increase your goals as needed. It would not be realistic or safe to start running sprints if you have not been exercising regularly. You should set some short-term goals (for example, be able to jog for five minutes) that support your long-term goal (be able to run 25 yard sprints within a certain amount of time).

Time-based - All goals should have a deadline. If no deadline exists, then there is no incentive to achieve the goal.  

Important tips to help you get started:

  • Write your goals down. Post them where you can view them on a regular basis. For example, if you keep a training journal for your dog, you could devote a section of the journal to your own fitness and conditioning goals.

  • Prioritize your goals. If you have several goals, you can avoid feeling overwhelmed by directing your attention to the most important ones.

  • Share you goals with supportive friends, family and/or coaches. A supportive environment provides a foundation for success.

  • Reward yourself when you complete a goal. Treat yourself to a massage. Buy your dog that new tug toy you've had your eye on. Anything that gives you a pat on the back is a great way to keep you on the path to continued success.

Setting goals is a wonderful way to give yourself direction and focus. You will find that when you have a plan, you will be a more confident and effective leader and teammate on the agility course. In upcoming articles, I will go into further detail on how to use your goals to achieve the athletic skills you need for your team to succeed. 

Photo by BAS Designs

Kristen Beck CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist - NSCA) is a personal trainer for UNC Hospitals at the UNC Wellness Center at Meadowmont.  For over 10 years she has been working with people of all ages, ranging from the everyday life athlete who may just need some extra motivation to triathletes, marathon runners, tennis players, dog agility handlers, and others. One of her goals is to help people improve their quality of life through exercise and fitness.  Kristen lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with her husband, two-year-old daughter, and her Jack Russell Terrier. She can be reached at



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