Goals vs. Dreams: How to set goals for agility and other canine sports

Mental control and dog sports

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Looking back at the dexterity history of my 11-year-old Sheltie, I can easily point to a few places where a new handling technique or different method of training has had a huge impact on our performance in the ring. These major stages in knowledge were a turning point in our careers. In fact, I can go back to Aslan’s record book and see tangible, positive, digital changes in statistics like yards per second, the number of bulging contacts, or the number of knocked bars, and see how these turning points helped our teamwork.

One of the biggest revelations for me was when Aslan was in his third year of racing. We had hit the wall in our qualifying (Q) percentage and tried as hard as we could to fail to exceed 50 percent Q. (“Q-percentage” is the percentage your dog responds to or passes – agility course.) Changes in handling , better deadlines, more practice … none of this helped increase our Q percentage.

Then I came across a series of articles in Lani Basham’s Clean Run magazine about mental control and agility. These articles clarified for me what protects us from a higher Q percentage and the problem was simple.

My soul game sucked.

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I was not a born athlete and I entered athletics late in life. I hadn’t needed to work on a mental game before and had no idea how to build one. Basham’s articles helped me begin to understand exactly how important mental play is in agility. Once I started applying his concepts, I watched the Q level rise from 50 to 80 percent.

Dream realized: 2007 AKC National Agility Championships


Mental games: agility is like golf

Everyone has heard that golf is a mental game. Even those who do not follow the sport religiously hear that the big names in golf go through great cycles in their sport. They have times of greatness and times of very bad play, and we have all heard that these peaks and valleys are caused by the difficult mental aspect of the sport.

What the average dog flexibility athlete doesn’t realize is that a millisecond of agility is needed for the manipulator to maneuver the dog around a narrow course of agility, requiring strong focus, a clear understanding of team goals, and a positive attitude. Any holes in the mental game will turn into mistakes in the ring.

Dexterity is like golf, and strong mental play is a must.

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One of the biggest problems I see in the mental aspect of agility is the lack of understanding between “goals” and “dreams.” I often see hard-hitting competitors and instructors in the agility to deceive “dreams” as “goals” and vice versa. For the agility athlete, it is very, very important to have a solid understanding of the difference between the two concepts, or a severe sense of failure will start to hinder the team. In addition, goals cannot be properly set and maintained if the definition of the word is not fully understood first.

Let’s delve into the volatile of “goals” and “dreams” and learn why their difference is important in agility and other canine sports.


While this article discusses dog flexibility, goal and dream definitions and goal setting concepts can be transferred to any canine sport, such as flyball, obedience, rally, field, discus, dock and more.

Goals vs. Dreams

If I had a penny every time I heard someone misuse the word “goals” for “dreams,” I would be terribly rich. Statements such as “I set a goal to win my master’s title this year” or “My goal is to qualify for the national team this year” are all too common and also wrong.

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Simply put, goals include variables that you have control over. Dreams include variables over which you have no control. Aims equal control. Dreams equal lack of control.

For example, a competitor who says, “My goal today is for Fido to keep all his jumps” is not really a goal. This is a dream. A goal means that the player has absolute control over whether Fido holds his bars up or not. In this case, the competitor does not have full control over these bars. A dog can drop a barbell because it slips. He may drop a bar because he jumps into an extension, not a collection, regardless of the head’s rotating signals. It may drop tape because it is distracted by the camera flash in the middle. It can drop a bar for any number of variables outside the controller’s control.

You may ask yourself, “And what? Why does it matter that the goal is under the control of the leader?”

If a person sets a goal, he also sets himself a potential failure. If I set a goal that my dog ​​will not drop a single grid with agility and then my dog ​​slips and knocks a barbell, I will feel as if I failed to achieve my goal. Too many of these failures will start to play negatively against my mental game. Part of a healthy mental game is to stay positive, but how can one stay positive when goal after goal is “unsuccessful.”

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A better option is to understand that goals are only those things over which one has control. It would be better to say: “My goal for this run is to give verbal signals to my dog ​​in time so that I do not give him information while he is in the air, which will probably cause his legs to drop and fall. barbell. “This statement is a goal. The manipulator has control over whether the verbal signals are timely or not.


The statement “My goal today is for Fido to keep all his jumps” is beyond the control of the leader. It is too vague and allows variables that the processor cannot control. That would be a dream, not a goal.

There is no failure not to achieve a dream. Just trying to achieve a dream with all your might is a success. You can’t ruin a dream. However, there may be a failure to try to achieve a properly defined goal.

So what does the processor do if he has a properly defined goal that he fails to achieve? They try again. Maybe they would reduce the goal to something more within their understanding. Let’s say that the leader aims to give timely signals to his dog to help the jumping bars stay in the whole cycle, but he fails to achieve this goal because the leader gives late signals towards the end of his run. The handler may then decide to change the purpose of “I will give my dog ​​advice on the first three jumps in a timely manner to help maintain the jump bars of these three jumps.” After succeeding with the first three jumps, the manipulator can add more jumps – say five – to the next goal.

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If the dog knocks on a bar because it slips, takes off early, is distracted by the other ring or any other variable, the handler can still succeed if he concentrates on the specific goal of giving the dog signals in time. This is the goal. The dream is that the dog will hold all the bars up, which includes variables beyond the control of the head. If at the end of the track, the leader has given timely signals, BUT to knock the bar because the dog slipped, the leader can still celebrate the success of a real goal that has been achieved.

Test your goal Creating Skills

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How to set goals

Much has been written with agility about goal setting, but much of what is written does not take into account what the true definition of “goal” is. Before you set goals, take the time to practice writing goals for yourself. Write them down and then look at them. Are all the variables for this purpose under your control or have you written a goal that is really a “dream”. Learn How To Write TRUE Goal Statements. The quiz on the right will help you rethink any goal statements against dreams. Take it for practice and then write some real goals for your team.

If you have a dream to qualify as a national, then you should write down “goals” that will push you towards that goal, knowing full well that there are variables that could prevent you from achieving your dream. You may injure yourself. Your dog may get hurt. You may face financial problems that prevent you from entering the show. The list is endless.

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Instead, set goals that will help you in mini steps to achieve the dream of qualifying for the national team. Remember to make your goals as detailed as possible. One of the statements of the goal can be: “I will take every lunch to work every day and save money on trial recordings.” This will give you extra money that you can invest for more trial entries and thus more chances to qualify as citizens.

Another mini-goal for achieving your dream of citizens may be: “I will work on building a team and focus the exercises with my dog ​​on the door of the ring, not talking to friends.” Another might be, “I’ll turn to RUGA when doing the wrap in this course, instead of waiting for my dog ​​to wrap up before moving.” Another might be, “I’ll give my dog ​​tips to rotate the three back crosses of this course, including deceleration, sideways movement, shoulder movements, hand signals and voice.” All these purposes are under the control of the processor. The success and failure of goals is on her.

All of these mini-goals will be added to help your team’s Q-percentage improve, which will ultimately help your team achieve the dream of making nationals. Each team will need specific goals to achieve their dreams based on the strengths and weaknesses of each team.


Be realistic when setting goals

Be realistic when setting goals. If you are not fully capable of signaling the hindquarters in time, do not set it as a goal for yourself. You will set yourself up for failure, which will then destroy your confidence. Set goals that are achievable, but still stretch your envelope to comfort just a little.

When I was new to the sport of agility, my goals were tiny. “I’ll throw a front cross after jump number four.” I wouldn’t say I’m going to throw a well-worn front cross, just that I’ll have the insides to put that front cross. This allowed me to push myself, forcing myself to make a front cross when I was afraid of fronts, but without forcing myself to fail, setting myself the goal of performing the perfect front cross. I squeezed my envelope out of comfort and still set realistic goals.

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If you are struggling to write realistic goals, talk to your friends and instructors. Have them help you come up with a few goals that you can start implementing. Remember to make your goals detailed and in small steps. Goals help your team grow. A good goal makes you stretch to reach just a little beyond where you are at the moment. Over time, your goals will increase in difficulty until you can look back and see the tremendous improvement your team has made.

Dream of dexterity …..


Let yourself dream

Don’t think about it because dreams are out of your control, you shouldn’t have them. You MUST dream in order to set real goals. What are your dreams of agility? Is your dream to get a beginner title for your dog? Do you dream of a Masters title? Do you dream of MACH, ADCH or another championship title? Do you dream of attending a local competition? How about the nationals? How about worlds? Maybe you just dream of playing agility safely at your agility instructor’s school?

No dream is better than another and everyone has different dreams. But take the time to sit and dream. When you have these dreams in mind, you can begin to set the detailed goals you need to help you achieve those dreams.

Remember, you can’t ruin a dream. Let’s say your dream is to get your dog’s Masters title within a year, but a teenager collapses when your dog performs it. After that, your dog will not approach the titer again without fear for two years. You have not ruined the dream. Your dog has not disturbed sleep. A variable occurred out of your control and bad luck struck. That is all. You can continue your journey with agility with new goals, focusing on training teens and supporting your dog in the ring when she is ready to return. But you can return without the specter of failure hanging over your head and affecting your confidence and self-esteem.

That is why everyone involved in competitive dog sports must understand the difference between goals and dreams. More confidence in the ring will immediately turn into a higher Q degree. The more confident manipulator will also translate into a more confident, happier partner with flexibility.

If your dream doesn’t come true, keep your head high. Your team is not a failure. So long before you even dared to dream.

And you can’t ruin a dream.

More articles on mental control in agility

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To read more about mental control, as it is related to the agility of dogs and other canine sports, click on one of the links below:

Build focus in your mental game of canine agility: Details verses Q

How music can affect the mental game of the flexibility manipulator: Building a playlist of agility