How to make Training Plans attainable by Marie Turner-Bailie

How to make Training Plans attainable by Marie Turner-Bailie

Now we all have made goals for ourselves at some point in our lives. We might even have a New Years Resolution, but how do we go about making it for our dogs? Well it's the same thing and let's face it, it's not about the dog doing the work… It is us. So let's pause and take some time to think about what goals we have for our dogs and how we can set them up for success. Truly your dog can not succeed without you!

The first thing we need to come up with is a goal. We all have big dreams for our dogs! What is your current goal or goals? Is it walking well on a leash, standing or sitting for greetings or even leaving your dog alone and having them feel safe and comfortable? Great, now make sure that the goal is “Do Goal” and not a “Do Not Goal”. Like, I want my dog to not jump on people, that makes sense to us, but is not a great way to set a goal. That's like saying I am not going to Starbucks anymore. Why is my goal to not do something when I can rephrase it and do something like.... I will go to Starbucks only twice a week. My goal for my dog is to have him meet people politely.

Now we are getting somewhere! What does it look like? I want to teach my dog to stand with four feet on the floor or sit for pets. I will go to Starbucks on Mondays and Fridays. Nice right? I love Monday and Friday now! Does having Spike(my imaginary dog) greeting people sound more doable? 

So far we have taken one goal and made it doable and know what it looks like. Next, let's try breaking it down more. It is still a pretty big goal for most dogs!

Here is what it might look like:

  • Big Goal
    • Smaller goals that support the Big Goal which are milestones for you to track success
      • Actions to make smaller goals happen (You can call these smart goals or tasks)

Our Big Goal was to teach our dog (Spike) not to jump on people. The smaller goal might be to teach the dog to sit, teach the dog to walk closer to people calmly, teach the dog to give people space at the door. Now some of your smaller goals could be actions you can do easily, but some still are bigger and need to break down further like teaching the dog to walk closer to people calmly. First has to have a bit more depth like how close and what does calmly look like and in what environment? Picture it in your head and describe what it looks like. Being able to see it will help you narrow down the steps. Breaking down what it takes to get to your goals is important. It helps you know where to start and to see where you have been as you work towards your goals. Write it down and mark it off!

Let’s shift gears and talk about what I call actions. These are the little steps that build up to your smaller goals or your milestones and lead right to the top of your Big Goal. Actions need to have a few things to get accomplished. For that I like to use SMART goals! This will let you set yourself up for success and you can apply them to all of your goals and actions. 


Why did this become part of our check off list for goals and actions? These help us make sure our goals are possible and give us an end date. Let’s apply this to Spike, working on polite greetings, and our Big Goal:

Spike stands politely when being pet by the time of my son’s birthday.

Specific-It’s kinda specific! I know what I want him to do, but where does he do this and what is going on. If it’s a party with a bunch of balloons and 20 six year olds running around that becomes important, right?

Measurable-How many people pet Spike? For how long? Remember Spike is jumping up on people right now so he needs practice and time.

Achievable-I’m not sure yet. It's a great goal, but we might need some work

Realistic-Of course I can see Spike standing politely…

Timely-My son’s birthday is in March and we just started the New Year! Can we get him that well trained by then?

Ok so that doesn’t seem doable! Don’t quit though readjust your goal! Maybe you move it back to the end of the year, you adjust the specifics so that Spike now gets pet by two calm friends instead of six year olds or maybe we push it back a few years. Remember our smaller support goals and how they can become milestones to track? They are there to remind you of how far you came. 

Can I teach Spike to sit for 30 seconds in the living room while my 6 year old pets him by March? Is it specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely? Well that will depend on your Spike or dog, but for this story I think it is much more doable now that I know what my goal is so I can start with the actions like: Teach Spike to sit for 3 seconds 3 times a day 5 times a week. Teach Spike to sit for 3 seconds and add a release cue 3 times a day for 7 days. Teach Spike to sit 3-5 seconds with the release cue 3 times a day for 7 days. Have Spike sit and vary the time between 3-7 seconds with a release cue 6 times a day for 7 days. 

You get the idea!

Hopefully my imaginary Spike and I reach our Big Goal, but by way of our smaller goals or even smaller goals and our many many actions. 

Taking the time to plan out your goals, write them down, have an end date and marking them off make them more achievable for you and your dog. Plus we don’t get stuck expecting the dog to be in a different place than where they are when we haven’t done the work.

We make goals for ourselves, why not make them for our dogs? Set a Big Goal, break it down into smaller and smaller goals and into actions and don’t forget to celebrate the small successes. You and the dog deserve a treat! A trip to Starbucks for a pupachino and Mocha Frappuccino sounds nice! Can you tell what goal I am working on? 

Happy training!

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