There were goals!  And plans!  And classes!  But sometimes, life gets in the way.

This time of year my official job (the one that pays for the roof over my head and all the fun things I get to do with dogs) gets crazy.  Often there are extra hours to be put in.  There is always extra mental and emotional energy spent.  I come home from work and may only have the enough brain power left to snuggle with the dogs.  I definitely don’t have the mental capacity to set up a training session.

This is okay!  And yes I’m writing this just as much to convince myself, as you tell you.  It’s okay!  Take those moments, get on the floor and just BE with your dogs.  They aren’t going to care that you aren’t training.  They are going to love that time they are getting to spend with you.  Those goals – you can adjust the deadlines.  The class you signed up and paid for and had all the good intentions of doing can wait.  Do what you can, with the energy you have and next time remember that this time of year isn’t a good one to make such commitments.

If life is hitting you out of the blue – the same things applies.  Last year my husband died.  Talk about life hitting out of the blue.  I did what I could, with what I had.

You are good enough.  You are doing enough.  Your dogs love you.  Go hug your dogs.


The next step after setting goals is to evaluate the success of the goals!  We all want to succeed.  But if we set goals that are too lofty, we can easily become discouraged.  If we set goals that are too easy we aren’t going to make much progress.  So what this all means is you must evaluate your goals, and then set new ones!   (It’s never ending!  Vicious cycle of goals!  Remember to reward yourself!)

First goal I set was:

  • I want to train with my dogs at least five days this week.

That one is easy to evaluate by looking at my checkmarks on my sheet and yes I did!  Now for this next week I’m going to make this one a bit more specific, because I’m an English Major (or Word Engineer as one friend called me).  So while I can honestly say I did train with my dogs for at least five days this week, I did not train with EACH dog for five days a week, and honestly I’d rather that be my goal.

So goal for the next seven days:

  • I will train each dog at least five days this week.

That’s better!

Now what about a goal you don’t make?  One of my goals was:

  • By the end of this week I want us to be using five containers and three distractions with him being successful on 100% of the searches.

And we didn’t get there.  This is where you evaluate.  During your training sessions you should constantly be evaluating where you are and whether to take a step back or a step forward, and the same goes for your goals.  Our last session the Golden starting picking up the containers, and not always the hot one!  This is not what I want!  So I had to evaluate and modify on the fly!  First I took out the container he picked up.  I set up again, and he picked up another one.  Was he stressed?  Just running out and grabbing?  And since sadly we can’t read their minds, the best thing I could do was to test out a few theories.  “What if I do X?  Does he still grab?”  I didn’t want to go too long with this, but since after another try he was still grabbing, I backed up.  I reinforced for him nosing the container in my hand.  Then nosing the hot container on the ground.  “Hey, remember?  This is what I want!”  And then I stopped for the night.

So, we did not meet our goal.  And here again is where words come in.  Some would say I failed to meet my goal.  While that’s correct, fail has a very negative connotation.  Thinking of it terms of failure can easily lead to demotivation.  And that’s definitely not something we want!  Instead I look at it as information, and I’m still grateful I set the goal I did because it kept us moving forward!  We kept working, we kept getting better, and now there’s a little detour to work through, but that is dog training!

So even if you don’t achieve the goal, make sure to look at how far you came.  And then…for the next week, plot a new plan!

Goal Setting!

So now that we’ve acknowledged I have dreams and not goals, it’s time to set goals.  I created my checklist on Sunday with very generic goals.


  • Cookie Jar Games
  • Agility
  • Misc


  • Scent Work
  • Recallers
  • Misc


  • Wobble Board
  • Chin
  • Misc

The Misc is to accommodate my own “squirrel” factor in my training.  For example as I’m writing this it’s thunder-storming.  If that continues there will be no agility training tonight, so misc gives me a chance to pick something else to work on and give myself a reinforcing check mark!

But let’s be honest.  These are not goals.  So let’s break this down and make goals!  Have you heard of SMART goals?  The idea is to make goals that are:

  • Specific.
  • Measurable.
  • Attainable.
  • Relevant.
  • Time Bound.

So let’s see how I can take my checklist and make it SMART!

  1. I want to train with my dogs at least five days this week.

Let’s see.  It’s fairly specific.  I could get more specific stating what I want to train, but let’s leave that for right now.  Measurable?  Well if I train for five days this week, that’s measurable and I’ll have succeeded!  Attainable?  Yup, I’ve got seven days in a week.  I should be able to manage five of them!  Relevant?  Goals should be relevant to the direction you want your life and career to take, so since I want to move forward in my training with my dogs I’d say it’s relevant!  And time bound I’ve got it for this week!  Look I made a goal!

But I need to break down the items on my checklist.  I have “agility.”  How incredibly vague.  So, since this Saturday I plan to be doing a Touch N Go run with the Labrador let’s make this a very relevant SMART Goal!

  • This week every day it’s not raining when I’m home, I will work contacts with the Labrador.

Specific?  I think so.  Working contacts.  Measurable?  Yup.  Attainable?  Definitely.  Relevant and Time Bound are both there.  So I think this is a good goal.

But I’m setting goals by time here.  Some goals need to be set by outcome.  For this I’m thinking of the Golden and scent work.

  • By the end of this week I want us to be using five containers and three distractions with him being successful on 100% of the searches.

I think I like this goal type better in a way.  It meets the SMART criteria, but also has an result involved.  From here I can break my training plan down more.

  • Tonight I will use three containers and one distraction.  If he’s successful 90% of the time, we’ll move to four containers and two distractions.

This type of goal will need more evaluation along the way, but helps one reach an end result rather than just marking off time training.  Is it attainable?  Well, I’m not 100% sure, which is why it will need more evaluation along the way.  With this perhaps I need an overall goal.  Like by the end of August I want him searching a pile of 10 objects with six containers and six distraction objects.  But then I have to think back to my “dream” goals again.  Why did I start teaching this – for the Fenzi Team title.  And for that he only needs three objects.  So the overall goal is the Fenzi Team 1 Title.  I need to keep that in mind when I set my goals for next week, because at some point I need to move on to the other exercises.

But I’m learning to set goals.  I’m trying to take the dreams and make them obtainable.


I have a hard time setting goals.

I have dreams.

Which means I have a hard time breaking things down and setting realistic goals for my training.  This then leads to very unorganized training.  I tried to be better.  I made a nice little table with the dogs names, what I wanted to work on and a place for checkmarks per day.  This was a great start.  Accountability is important.  But I’m not sure it’s enough.  For example for each dog I had “mat” as what I wanted to work on. I want to teach my dogs to go to a mat and stay there until I release them!  But this chart was for two weeks.  Did I expect to have the entire behavior trained to distraction at the end of two weeks?  Or did I expect to have them understand that when I said mat, they went to mat and stayed there for five seconds until I released?  Did I expect them to stay there while I bounced a tennis ball?  While someone came to the door?  It’s easy to say I’m going to train a mat behavior!  Harder to set a realistic goal.

So now I want to do better.  I like my table for accountability.  We all like our gold stars!  It’s visual and something I can check off and feel good about.  But I think I need to do more than this.  Also I need to understand my “squirrel” behavior in training.  Which means — some days I just want to play with something else!  Maybe today I want to take the Labrador out and train some disc!  So this time I put a spot for that on my table.  Sometimes I think training needs to have a little spontaneous fun in it!

But I think for other things I need more concrete goals.  So, I have my table, but then I’m going to have another notebook I think, with the exact goal written out.  For example I’m doing scent work with the Golden.  By the end of this week I want to be up to six containers on his search.  We did five today.  I may need some practice writing my goals.  And I may have to adjust them as I go along, learning what is too much, and what is too little, but I hope that being at least a little more specific will help us move forward.


On June 17 we all woke up like normal and started heading down the stairs, but I immediately realized something was wrong.  There is a sound that my dogs make as they race down the stairs.  It is familiar and one of those sounds you aren’t even aware you’re in tune with until it’s different.  The cadence was off.  The Golden was limping.

This wasn’t a minor limp.  This was a his paw was held up a foot off the ground and he wasn’t going to put it down for anything.  I inspected the leg, and the pad and found no obvious signs of injury.  So, since this was Sunday — off to the emergency vet we went.   We did a full blood panel (all good!), and x-rays.  Nothing obvious so we went home with anti-inflammatory medication to rest.

The next day it seemed worse, so off to our normal vet we went.  By this time it was obvious the ankle was swollen, and we went home with medication and knowing we were going for at least 10 days of crate rest.

Four days later right after he would eat or drink, he’d cough like a piece of food was stuck in his throat.  It was only right after he’d eat or drink.  And at this point he still wanted to eat or drink.  So, concerned that perhaps something was stuck we headed off for another vet visit.  More x-rays and an exam showed only that his throat was a bit red.  So more medications, including an antibiotic.  And then he stopped eating.  And his breathing got raspy.

Now let’s just jump ahead to all the good news — the Golden is fine.  He is back to his crazy, happy, ball chasing, play with me self!  Monday he got released from crate rest (thank goodness!!).  We are taking it slow, but he’s allowed to run and chase balls again!

So what happened?  Was the leg and and the throat related?  We never did a culture on what was going on — had he not improved in a given amount of time we were going to, but he improved.  I think it’s human nature to want answers!  We want to understand what happened.  And often why it happened, though sometimes that answer is much harder.  I have no answers.  Why was he limping — well his ankle was swollen.  Why was his ankle swollen?  No clue.  We can guess, and speculate, but that’s all it would be.  Why did his throat get all red and inflamed?  Again, no idea.  Is there a part of me that still wants to know?  Yes.  I like answers.  Especially clear cut, neat ones.

But I will most likely never know.  So I am reminding myself of what matters – he is fine.  He has healed.  He wants his ball!  And is eating dinner.  And wants to train.  This is what matters.

So, I entered three Rally Trials during the weekend of April 14 with the Golden.  He only needed one more leg to earn his Rally Novice Title, which we earned with a very respectable score of 91 (and first place).  The second run that day we earned a score of 95 and first place again.  I never even considered moving him up for the next day, and we earned a 98 (and again first place) on our final run of the weekend.

And then the mental wheels started turning on the drive home, and the question of what did it take to qualify for the Rally National slipped into my brain.  On the drive home I called a friend who looked it up for me – Three scores within the qualifying period of 93 or higher, which meant the Golden was a 2/3rds of the way there.

Many years ago the Labrador qualified for the very first Rally National, and we competed.  And now the wheels in my brain were spinning.  “Oh I probably wouldn’t go….”  It’s in Tulsa in 2019 which is a very, very long drive from where I am.  “But wouldn’t it be nice to be able to say he qualified….”

I overnighted my entries the next day for another local trial.  Again, three trials in two days.  One on Saturday and two on Sunday.  Three chances to get one more score above 93!  I figured those were good odds.

On that Saturday we walked out of the ring with a score of 98 and another first place!  We did it!  We were qualified for the Rally National!  Which meant that the trial on Sunday could just be training!  Didn’t matter what happened, we had achieved our goal!

Only as we left the ring, and friends and other competitors came up to us their comments were things like “Why aren’t you in the other ring with him?” (The obedience ring) and “You need to move him up for tomorrow!”  But, I protested, we haven’t trained those other things!  “It’s just the Advanced signs without the jump, so pivots and fronts without moving.”  And…pivots we have.   “And you can lure the fronts….”  But, but…..  “It’s just an optional titling class….”

Yeah, I responded to peer pressure.  I moved him up.  I told myself on the way home to just keep thinking about it as training.  It didn’t get us anything to stay in Novice since we’d achieved our goal, so moving to Intermediate would give us practice on some of the Advanced signs on leash in a ring!  It was all good.  At least until I remembered there could be an offset figure 8!  There could be tennis balls in the ring!  So then panicked I pulled up the signs and realized there were also new Advanced signs since I lasted competed in Advance!  Wait?  I have to turn right and the dog turns left and WHAT?

After I started breathing again, I realized the Golden knows how to go around me.  We should be able to “fake” it.  I reminded myself to think of it as training, and heading back to the trial.

We came out of the ring with a score of 100, and first place!  Why yes, I was floating on cloud nine!  Our second run there was a Left Turn – Dog Circles Right – Forward (Sign 120).  I should have thought a bit more because I approached the sign and started my left turn, the Golden nicely pivoted with me, so I backed up, said I was going to retry it, sent him around me first, then I turned… 3pts lost, but ONLY 3pts lost!  Score of 97!  Not too bad for a class I didn’t think we had any chance in!

And now of course the brain is thinking, “one more and you’d be qualified for the National for Intermediate….”


Favorite moments from trial this weekend:

First run: The sign was call front, finish left, forward…. I call the Golden front, and apparently paused too long and he decided to finish right. “I’d like to redo that one,” I stated as we backed up. Judge: “I think you should!”

First run: We are in the middle of the spiral, and I remember looking down, and he’s looking up and he’s PRANCING! And he’s THERE! And rocking it! And I remember thinking, “You’re still with me, and you’re prancing! I got the PRANCE! IN THE RING!” And some of the tension began to flood out of me.

Second Run: Right before we went into the ring the Golden was a bit…Himself. Which means he was VERY distracted by the environment. Judge saw it all. Called us in. We managed a score of 95 (and a first place!), and a very nice comment by the judge. I wish I could remember EXACTLY what he said, but it was a congratulations on my handling of him because he’d watched us just outside the ring and said he wasn’t betting on us pulling off a qualifying run and how great we did to earn that 95 and first place! He commented how well I did keeping the Golden focused and on task! (My eyes did flick to his breeder’s during this little speech, as I’m certain she was familiar with it! The Golden is his father’s son!!)

On another run – the sign is just a halt. We heel up, the Golden sits! Only before I can move forward, he pivots around in front of me and hugs me!

We had someone come all the way from CA to compete in our trial and afterwards she came up to me and went on about how we were such a JOY to watch and how it was like we went into the ring a switch was flipped and we were suddenly a TEAM!  While she didn’t know the struggles we’d been through, she took the time to come over and congratulate us!  I hope she knows how much this meant to me!