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Happy New Year, everyone!
Goal setting is a common activity around the New Year, and so this month’s training challenge is to set SMART goals for yourself and your pet.
SMART goals are…
S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Achievable
R – Relevant
T – Time bound
You may already have a goal for your pet, and let’s be honest, I think we all do. But, let’s go through the framework and see if it’s the right goal for right now.
Narrow down your immediate goal. You’re always going to have your ultimate goal in the back of your mind, but let’s focus on something more concrete to start.
- What needs to be done?
- What are the steps to get there?
- Who will be doing it?
- How will they do it?
- What do I need to complete this goal?
So instead of “I’m going to tackle my dog’s separation anxiety”, it might look like “I’m going to learn what is required to tackle my dog’s separation anxiety”.
Instead of “I’m going to socialize my dog with other dogs”, it might look like “I’m going to look at some resources about what good dog-dog body language looks like.”
Instead of “I’m going to get my dog to listen outside”, it might look like “I’m going to teach my dog to look toward my face.”
Tracking your progress has a number of benefits. How will you know if you are succeeding? How will you know if you need to try something else?
What are some objective measures you can use? Is it time comfortably home alone? Is it the distance from a scary monster? Maybe the number of reactions a day?
Make sure your goal is realistic and attainable. If you aren’t sure, a qualified behavior professional can help you (this one can be very tricky). Remember, we aren’t talking about your mega goals here (although, having those be realistic is also important!). What’s that next benchmark that you are working toward?
For example, at the beginning of a separation anxiety-related behavior modification journey, it might be a realistic goal for your dog to be comfortable with you closing the bathroom door or taking out the trash, but is not realistic to have them be home alone during the 4th of July fireworks.
For a dog that’s afraid of other dogs, it may be realistic for your dog to look at you when another dog is passing on the street, but integrating them safely into a daycare environment wouldn’t be realistic or attainable.
For a dog who hates to have their nails trimmed, it could be a realistic and attainable goal to teach your dog to use scratchboard, but may not be realistic to shoot to do all 4 feet with a Dremel in one sitting.
Consider, is this goal doable? Do you and your pet have the necessary skills and resources? If you don’t have the skills or resources, that points you toward another relevant goal that may need to take priority.
Does this goal matter to you, and does it align with your other goals? Why is this your goal? Does it align with your other priorities?
This can help you make sure that your goals are sustainable and help you to identify areas where you might look for alternatives.
For example: “I need my dog to get along with other dogs because I can’t leave them alone.” You are absolutely right! While working on Separation Related Problems, it’s advised you avoid leaving your dog home alone. But, sometimes, there are other options that won’t drain your resources and align better with your future goals. If your dog needs someone home with them, it might be more realistic to “work to build a relationship with a reputable pet sitter” so that your dog can have some company while you take care of yourself, but you might also find less stress around traveling.
Now this one can be a slippery slope. If you’ve ever asked “how long will it take for my dog to…” you likely got a “well, it depends” answer. And that’s true! There are too many factors for us to predict those bigger goals.
However, creating some time parameters for your goal can also help to ensure you are biting off the right amount for your goals. If you are trying to build a habit, such as “I want to file my dog’s nails two times a week”, you are likely to want a longer time frame, such as a few months.
If your immediate goal is to watch two YouTube videos on dog body language, then a few months might not be the appropriate time frame. Maybe a week or two would be a better fit.
That being said, we want to set realistic goals! If videos are not your preferred learning style, what might take me 20 minutes can take you a very different period of time. Setting goals you can achieve is important!
Wins Along The Way
When we track only to our mega goal, like my dog can be home along comfortably for 4 hours, I can pick up my dog’s food bowl when they are finished eating, I can walk down the street without an explosion, I can make it through a Zoom call without interruption… we lose sight of all the wins along the way.
When that happens, you may find yourself feeling like “nothing is working” and that “you’ll never get there”. When setting goals, we always have that big goal in mind, but the smaller goals are the ones that keep us in the game.
Your goals should be realistic, doable, and concrete so that you can celebrate every step of your journey.
- Do you already have goals for the next year? Are they SMART?
- If not, see if you can make them SMART goals! Are they Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound?
- If you need an extra bit of accountability, share your SMART goals with us on Instagram @PetHarmonyTraining!