Lorrie’s Agility Dog Blog

Musings on Dogs, Agility, and Being an Instructor

Knowing Your Destination

One of the items in the agility training journals I hand out to my beginning students is an article about setting goals.  I tell them they need something to work toward if their agility journey is going to be successful.  I won’t make all of you try to endure through the full four pages (I include several examples), but I thought I’d share my tips on successfully setting attainable goals.  They are listed below, but I didn’t put them in any particular order.

 Own Your Goals:

  • Make sure your goals are yours, not goals other people have for you.
  • Don’t set a goal that you are ambivalent about; only set goals you truly want to reach.

Think Positively:

  • Word your goals in positive terms. 
  • For example, “Learn to execute smooth front crosses 90% of the time by the end of the year” is a much better goal than “Quit messing up front crosses”.

Quantify:

  • Make goals concrete, measurable, and within a specific timeframe.

Prioritize:

  • Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many goals.

Put Them In Writing:

  • Writing them down makes you more likely to remember them.
  • Your written goals provide a good record of your success.
  • You can always modify your goals if you need to.

Be Realistic:

  • Goals set too low will not offer a sense of accomplishment.
  • Goals set too high are frustrating and demoralizing.

Break Them Down:

  • Each goal should have as many steps as necessary to help you achieve small successes.
  • Short term goals should lead to achieving long term goals
  • Each goal should have a path that will get you from where you are to where you want to be.
  • Include details in your goals, not generalities.

Review Them Frequently:

  • Remind yourself of what your goals are frequently.
  • Readjust your goals as necessary.

List The Whys:

  • Listing the reasons you want to achieve your goals makes you more likely to want to complete them.

Set Performance vs. Outcome Goals:

  • Outcomes are frequently affected by outside influences or things you can’t control like injury, illness, or event cancellations.
  • For example, if you set a goal to obtain a specific title, and your dog gets injured, you can’t attain that goal.  If you set a goal of having smooth, connected runs 90% of the time, you can obtain the goal whether you have 10 runs or 50.

Visualize:

  • Visualizing yourself achieving your goal helps you to attain it.
  • Visualization is a proven practice technique.
  • Trouble visualizing may indicate that you are not certain you can attain your goal.

Determine Your Needs:

  • What skills do you need?
  • What knowledge or information do you need?
  • What help do you need?
  • What resources are required?
  • What are the obstacles to achieving your goals?

I ask each of my students to give me both short-term and long-term goals.  For the newest people, their long-term is only two months, because they don’t always know if they will want to continue after the first session.  For those who I know are going to continue, I ask for 6-month goals.  I also tell them that they should have a short goal for each week and each training session, even though I don’t ask to see those.  I hope these tips will help you to think more clearly about setting goals for yourself.  You can’t get where you are going if you don’t know your destination!

April 17, 2009 Posted by | Agility, Goals, Mental Management, Recordkeeping, Training | , , , | 4 Comments

The Evolution of a Training Journal

Training journals are a necessity for anyone who wants to be successful at their chosen avocation.  Instructors of competitors in the top echelons of their sport always recommend keeping track of training sessions and progress.  Journals serve as motivators, record books, training guides, organizational tools, places to celebrate achievements, and reminders of why people are involved in the sport they love. 

Recently I totally reorganized the training journals for all three of my dogs.  I have not always been diligent in journaling about my agility career.  In fact, while I was reorganizing, I noticed that there have been long spans of time without significant activity.  What I found fascinating though, was the similarity of the overall progression of each journal, and the fact that they all followed the same basic patterns during the various stages of training.

I strongly encourage (read: require) the students in my beginning classes to keep a training journal.  In the beginning, the journal is mostly a guidebook to help them remember what was taught in class, give structure to independent practice sessions, and reinforce the concepts of learning that they have been exposed to.  I provide a few basic training articles and links, forms for weekly homework, and pre-printed sheets for recording training sessions.   I see students documenting broad, overall achievements in their journals in the early stages – things like “I learned how to teach my dog something new” and “I have much more control over my dog”.  They also record individual skills.  As an instructor, it is fun to see people excited enough to write “My dog learned how to run through a tunnel today,” or “We banged the teeter and my dog was not scared at all”.  The journal at this stage also functions as a communication tool that allows the student to alert me to any issues they are having so I can address them in class or individually.

As the students progress to the next level of training, their journals reflect the progression and mastery of basic skills.  People write about proofing stays, learning handling moves, and polishing foundation.  The focus of the excitement changes from awe that they can actually communicate with another species to pride that they are building that communication to a new level that allows them to perfect their new-found skills.  Statements frequently begin with “We finally were able to…” as people write about breakthroughs.  Focus of the journal turns to preparation for competition.

The journal entries change dramatically when the team starts competing.  The excitement of finally testing their skills means that every bit of information is recorded, every triumph celebrated, and conversely, every disappointment recorded in excruciating detail.  The journal becomes focused on issues to work on to ensure successful competition runs.  Many times students are disheartened when things don’t go as planned.  This is the time to remind them to go back to the beginning and read their journal entries from the early days.  It is very motivating to remember that when training started, the dog was afraid of the teeter, or could “never” hit their weave entries.  Rereading history helps put current challenges into perspective and provides motivation to continue working out the issues that competing uncovers.

In the later stages of a dog’s career, the journal becomes a place to track the minutiae involved with continuously trying to improve the team.  People record obstacle times and work on shaving off fractions of a second on contacts or weaves.  Sequences are performed several times and scrutinized for areas where yardage can be saved.  At this stage, thoughts turn to detailed planning for retraining problem areas and new methods for improving performance.  This is the phase I am currently in with my main competition dog.  I have to remind myself to enjoy the process along with the results.  I still laugh during training, and am still amazed at the depth of communication between us, but I have to remember to record those intangible things in my journal along with the bare facts of my training sessions. 

I have thankfully not yet come to the final stage in my journaling career, but I foresee a time when my last few journal entries will be remembrances of my teammate and our career together.  I can envision writing about the various ways my life was changed by being partnered with the wonderful creature that loved me without question, worked for me tirelessly, and brought me immeasurable joy.  I look forward to immersing myself in the record of our journey together, smiling beneath the tears as I relive our triumphs and heartbreaks.  The final chapter of my training journal will be a testament to the relationship between us that will endure long after our ribbons have faded and my tears have dried. 

April 13, 2009 Posted by | Agility, Recordkeeping, Training | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment