Anti-Goal Setting

You would think goal setting with a puppy would be easy. I have this tiny ball of energy who is just jam-packed with potential…but I find myself struggling with putting together a “training plan” for her like I might for Bear.

Eventually, I would like for Epic to compete in rally, agility and herding with me. Less of a priority but still something we will train for are tracking, traditional obedience and carting.

I have friends with dogs that were in the rally and/or obedience ring (and qualifying) by 6 months of age. The dogs appeared reasonably well prepared and not overly stressed so I have no real problems with this.

And yet, when I look at Epic, who has been on this planet for all of three months (and with me for all of three weeks) I can’t imagine going into the rally ring with her in three months. Not because I think she lacks intelligence  or ability but because she is still learning so much about the world around her.

On top of this, there’s the fact that I had so much trouble along the way with Bear and stress at trials that I am hesitant to rush things with Epic. I want her to be comfortable and confident no matter what I ask of her, no matter where we are and for this to happen, she needs to learn at her own pace. As far as I know, there are no shortcuts when it comes to building confidence and I don’t know any dogs who have benefitted from being pushed past their abilities at any point in time.

As a result, I have been working with Epic in in short training sessions through the day on some basic behaviours for a pet, conformation dog or sport dog. Sometimes we work on these things while the daycare dogs are watching /playing from another room, sometimes we work on them at lunch time by ourselves. We have been working on these things at work, at home (indoors and out), and when we are out and about if people want to see what she can do. These behaviours include:

  • housetraining (go pee/poop on cue outdoors)
  • kennel up
  • sit/stand/down
  • come
  • hand touch
  • foot target (2 paws on mat, 1 paw on Easy Button)
  • follow me (lead up to both heeling and gaiting)
  • handling for grooming/vet/conformation ring including body, legs, feet, ears, teeth and nail trimming and, hand stacking.
  • sit pretty
  • spin/turn
  • paws up
  • roll over
  • sit/stand/down for meals, to be released from crate and to go outside.
  • Doggy Zen (lead-up to “leave it” and an overall great self-control exercise)
  • interaction with puppy-appropriate obstacles (ladder, ramps, cavaletti, tunnel, wobble board, fitPAWS equipment)

I’m not working them in any particular order and I’m not overly concerned about practicing everything everyday but we’re working together and most importantly, Epic is learning how to get what she wants (and she wants SO MUCH) by offering me appropriate behaviors.

My business partner also as a puppy who is about a month older than Epic. We haven’t had a huge conversation about our respective training goals but it does not appear that they are in a huge rush to get into the ring either.

If you are reading this and have a puppy now (or added one to your family in the last year or so) do you (or did you) have any goals for your puppy with definitive timelines? I’m curious.

6 thoughts on “Anti-Goal Setting

  1. I have a puppy who will be 6 months old in a couple weeks. I hope that someday we will compete in a variety of sports such as obedience, agility, carting, etc. I have learned with my other dogs not to rush things and although I do training with my puppy everyday, I have no set goal as to when we will be going in the ring (but I know it won’t be anytime soon). My goals right now are to build basic foundation behaviours, teach my puppy that learning is fun, foster confidence and to build a strong relationship and trust between the two of us. I want to have fun with my puppy and enjoy his puppyhood.

    The more I train and trial and watch other train and trial, the more I believe that it is best not to rush into competing. Yes, a puppy may be able to do rally or novice obedience well enough to qualify, but why? They may be able to do the exercises well enough to pass but I don’t think the maturity is there to handle the stress in the long term, especially in a large, slow to mature breed like I have. I rarely see dogs that are put in the ring so young go on to have spectacular obedience careers (although I am sure there are exceptions). I don’t think that puppies need that pressure, they just need to be puppies 🙂

    For myself, if I had to set a timeline for competing in obedience, I would say when my puppy is about 3 years old. But, I really want to do things different this time and have him trained up to utility in obedience before I go in the obedience ring. For agility – the same – about 3 years old. He will not be physically mature until he is 2 so I will not be training weaves or doing full height jumps before then anyway. The only thing I can see us competing in earlier (if we get training for it) is tracking. I think that young dogs can do well in tracking (or nosework) before they are fully mature because it is a “natural” sport. Anyway, time will tell as there are so many factors involved.

    1. You make a very good point about physical work with slow maturing dogs Kim. Right now it seems that Epic’s body is changing on a daily basis. Sometimes it seems like she isn’t coordinated enough to WALK so heeling is out of the question! 😀

      Fortunately, I don’t travel or train in high pressure circles and Epic’s breeder is not pressuring me in ANY way, I’m not really feeling the pressure but it certainly puts a new perspective on the 2 year old dogs I know with a Canadian OTCH (or AKC UD)! I have to wonder if they do or train for anything else in that time! I feel like I can barely keep up with making sure Epic gets the socialization she needs!

  2. I have a 15 month old Aussie puppy who was given to me by a breeder under the condition that she earns performance titles, so I certainly feel some pressure. I definitely am looking to compete with her in Agility and Rally, also potentially Obedience, Herding, and Disc Dog. My goal was to get her CGN, Herding instict test, disc dog proficiency test, and a Rally Novice by the end of the summer (about 14 months). We’ve done about half that (herding test and 2 legs towards ASCA rally novice), but I am happy with her work in Obedience and Agility. I am confident she will pass her CGN, and am just waiting for a nearby test. Especially because we’re training in several disciplines, I’m learning to take it a bit easier. And with at least a start towards titles, her breeder is backing off me a bit. But I will admit, I am most proud of her learning to swim alongside my Labrador! That was my biggest goal of the summer 🙂

    1. Hi Kelly!

      I think 14 months for a CGN, beginning rally and the disc dog retrieval proficiency test is reasonable. I could see that in a year’s time I will have a better feel for Epics strengths and weaknesses and might consider a local rally trial depending on where we are at.

      We are also going to do conformation although she will not be old enough for anything local until after Christmas. She’ll be close to 8 months old at her first show but to be honest I have no real expectations – it will be a first for both of us and I plan on using it to build her confidence in the show/trial environment since I can use bait and my clicker in the ring.

      Epic also came to me on the condition that I would show her and work towards working titles with her but, thank god, no timelines! I also have weekly contact with Epic’s breeder so she knows what we are up to and what skills we are working on and what new things Epic can do.

      he other thing about trialing is that it requires money – both to enter shows and to travel to shows. There is only so much money in our household for trials and a tight budget means I choose local shows and I enter (with Bear) when I think we have a reasonable chance of qualifying. I am not sure what the qualifying/non-qualifying rate is with some of the folks trialing their dogs early. It would be interesting to know.

    1. Oh excellent, I am glad to hear that!

      Around here, Aussies seem to be the most popular breed at herding trials and I think that works in our favor because Aussies and Rotties are closer to each other in their herding styles than they are to Border Collies. It’s so nice to work in an area where the sheep and the judges are used to upright herding breeds!

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