E147: Andrea Harrison - "Setting Better Training Goals in 2020"

Happy New Year! Andrea and I talk about reflecting on 2019 and setting goals for the New Year to help you do more and get your brain the right headspace for success.

Transcription 

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we'll be talking to Andrea Harrison.

At FDSA, Andrea teaches classes for the human half of the competitive team.

She is an educator who is passionate about all species, including dogs and humans! Having lived with dogs her whole life, Andrea was an early convert to positive training. She has taken this message to the media many times, including appearances on many TV shows and news programs, as well as in print and on the radio.

She has explored the science of brain research and worked with people of all ages on being successful and on reducing anxiety and stress, using her training in counseling, personality typing, and her own experiences.

When it comes to dog sports, her competitive addiction is agility. Andrea and her dogs have many titles between them, with placements in Regional and National competitions. Andrea has experience animal wrangling for television and more recently has begun to explore scent work.

Hi Andrea! Happy New Year and welcome to the podcast.

Andrea Harrison: Hey Melissa. Happy New Year to you and to everybody, too. It's lovely to chat again.

Melissa Breau: To get us started, can you just remind listeners who your own dogs are and what you're working on with them?

Andrea Harrison: Sure, happily. I live with Sally, who is a Border Collie cross. People who know her refer to her as our Sallynois, because she's a pretty intense girl. She's 12-and-a-half, and she's the dog who did the feature film with me and did tons of agility. She's the last remaining of her siblings, so she's feeling her age a little bit now, but she's bright and cheerful and bounces around the farm, takes her jobs very seriously, cleaning out the horse feed dishes and making sure I get to the barn OK, so she loves doing that.

Samson is Tom's 10-and-a-half-year-old Golden Retriever. I try really hard not to do anything with him because I want them to keep their bond. He's a lovely dog and has had some good separation anxiety teaching for me in our life together.

I have Yen, who's about to turn 8. She's a toy American Eskimo, and she does cuddling and bossing us around are her main roles in life. She does scent work, actually, and she loves doing scent work, so when I want to try something for one of my nosework students, I'll often pull her out, and she's got a really good memory, so she's fun to work with.

And then Dora is our Cairn Terrier cross, and she's quite feral. She's about 7, and I just recently realized I hadn't taught her a down, so my fall project was teaching her to down in a wide variety of settings. I suspect that will come up again, but she's a lot of fun. High, high prey drive, fascinating girl, and really given me some insights into the terrier brain.

Melissa Breau: As the first podcast of the new year, I figured it was a good chance to think about looking back over where we've come from. So I wanted to ask you about that. What are some productive ways that we can look back?

Andrea Harrison: What a great question. You're bringing up one of the things that I think is so important to so many of us, if we want to keep our motivation up, and that's actually record keeping. That sounds a little bit in reverse. You want to keep your motivation up and you want to drive forward, you want to look back, because if you're doing a good job with your record keeping for you, that can really help you see what you're doing.

If you've got videos from the seasons, from your classes, put together a video compilation, set it to great music, post it on Facebook, because just looking through those videos will give you a chance to be like, "Oh, look at all the things I did this year!"

If you've got journals, read through them. Look at the backs of your ribbons and see what you won or what you didn't win or what your score was. Check out the certificates that might have been mailed to you. If you really want to know what you did, you can look at your PayPal or credit card accounts and see what money you've been spending on your dog sports. Check out your Facebook timeline.

All of these things will give you an overview, a picture, of what you've accomplished in whatever the period of time is you want to look at. Some people do that annually, some people do that every six months or every four months. You want to look back because you want to try to inform yourself in your here and now. It's very hard to look forward if we haven't already looked back.

There's this saying that history will repeat itself if we don't study it, and the same thing is true for us. If we want to make progress as dog trainers, we need to know where we were, so that we can move forward. If we don't understand where we were, we're not going to move forward the way we want. You want to be able to inform yourself and set dreams, and knowing what's reasonable is going to be influenced by what you were able to accomplish.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned whether you've accomplished a lot or maybe not as much. Everybody's journey is a little bit different. I'm sure there are some people, who as they look back, are amazed by how much they exceeded their goals, and other people might be a little less excited, or even disappointed by what they managed to achieve. Can you talk about that?

Andrea Harrison: For sure, because ultimately everybody's different. We're all human. Everybody who's ever heard me talk hears me say that, "Oh, how very human of you." What you think is really little accomplishment, like, you teach your dog to down and you're like, "That's great, my dog knows how to down, big whoop," I teach Dora to down and she can reliably down when the car's pulling in the driveway, and that's a huge accomplishment for me. That's my massive success for the last two months of training.

It might be a minor thing to a different person or even a different team, me and a different dog. If Yen downs when somebody comes in, I barely think to tell her she's a superstar. Dora downs from all kinds of different places and all kinds of different ways now, and that's a really big deal.

By recognizing when you do accomplish something, it's important because then that gives us cause to celebrate. Finding that good in something can be really difficult, it can be really challenging, so it's important that we figure out what we did that was good, even if we tend to downplay our success.

Say you were trialing all last year and you didn't get one cue. You're like, "I couldn't get a single cue. 2019 just sucked. 2020 is coming and I don't even want to think about dog training." People will be doing that today. I know people listening to this will be thinking that. What they need to remember is they got out there and they trialed. They're already way ahead of all those people who were like, "Oh, I'd like to trial someday," and are not going out. Or, "I'd like to train someday, but I'm not training, I'm not making the time, I'm not making the plan."

It doesn't have to be about competing. It's about doing the action. It's about grabbing that moment to take action. If you do that consistently enough, you're going to start to meet success. And so to recognize even the smallest successes will help you recognize bigger successes.

I don't know if that makes sense, but if you can start small and with a little slice, as you build up, you're going to feel more and more successful, whether other people see it or not.

Melissa Breau: So it's partially about learning how to see the good, even when it doesn't feel like a big thing, and partially about needing to do the small things and appreciate them to build into something bigger.

Andrea Harrison: Exactly, exactly. If you think about it like it like a house built of bricks, because wood doesn't come from the same little cube, but you're building a house of bricks, and you're putting one brick, the next brick, and the next brick, sometimes that wall is going to go up and sometimes that wall is going to go across. It's not going to go up to the roof, if the roof is your goal. Sometimes it's just going across.

But to get the best wall, you need to go both across and up. All that foundation counts. We all want to build the single column of bricks that goes straight up to whatever we're aiming for, and that's OK, but don't forget to celebrate the foundation, the pieces that are going sideways, because they're just going to make your wall stronger and therefore lead you to a bigger and more successful thing at the end of it all.

Whether that's with the dog that you have in front of you today, or whether it's with another dog. Whether it's in dog sport training or whether it's with teaching that you start to do, or a sport that you never thought you'd play and you start playing it. And all of those foundation successes will come back to you.

Melissa Breau: We always hear this idea that we should live in the present. You talked a little bit about this already, but why is it so important that we take the time to look back at where we've come from, and then forward to where we want to go?

Andrea Harrison: That's such a good question. You ask the best questions, honestly.

If you're in the present, that involves being truly mindful and informed and grateful about today. Mindfulness is not singing "Kumbaya" and being happy. Mindfulness is awareness. It's about that concept of being informed and understanding your role in the place.

If you're present, you also need to have goals and dreams to stretch forward to. That's how you reach forward. That's how you ground yourself in the present, because you know things are always changing. You've accepted that there's this evolution of thought in your training, in your methods, in your skill level, in all of those things.

But if you also don't remember and touch back to the past, you're going to struggle to continue to move forward, because again, like we were talking about earlier, that history has to inform the choices we make to move forward.

So the present is the most sensible place to focus yourself. The past lets us remember success, and the future is what excites and inspires us. So to have both bookends to the present make the sense. If you don't have those bookends, it's hard to stay grounded in the present.

Melissa Breau: How do those inner thoughts or those inner beliefs that we have about ourselves or our team, how do those impact this bigger picture? They do impact our training and our achievements. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Andrea Harrison: For sure, because if we've got those thoughts that get in our head, they can be either positive dialogue, a positive way of looking at things and framing things, or they can be negative.

We tend to have a pretty strong negativity bias, just by function of being human. That's one of the reasons I'm so, so vocal about a gratitude practice and all that mindfulness stuff I talk about when we plan and train and life in general, in fact.

But if we are positive or even accepting … say you can't be positive yet. You're in a place where you're just not in a good headspace and you just haven't gotten there. If you're in that headspace where you're struggling still, but if you understand that that's having a detrimental impact on your training, just that understanding, just getting that you are not embracing the fullness, the positivity around you, to make your training as good as possible, just that one little step is actually going to make a difference to helping you be more positive and understanding that you need to take action in order to affect your thinking.

So it's this really weird cycle, I guess, because if we know that we're in a good headspace, we can take a positive proactive action and then move ourselves forward. If we know we're in a bad headspace, we need to spend some time thinking about that to understand that we maybe want to take a change. We want to grab that and do something about it.

Melissa Breau: If we have those inner beliefs as we don't think that they are helping us, are there things that we can do to change them?

Andrea Harrison: Yeah. This is hard because people really grapple with this a lot, because they don't believe me when I say understanding that you are caught up in some negative thinking is going to help you not think negatively. But in fact you have to start with identification.

If you don't understand that you are catastrophising and indulging in limiting beliefs, having negative thoughts override positive thoughts, and all of those things, if you don't get that, you are not going to believe me when I say that you can't change anything but yourself. If you want to change yourself, you have to understand that this thing needs to change.

In general terms, and take my self-help rant under advisement, but not everything is always going to work for everybody, but try a bunch of different things to find the right tools for you. You want to tackle your negative thoughts head-on.

If your beliefs are hindering you or holding you back, you want to think about what those negative beliefs are, so like, if you think, "What's the point of training? I'm never successful anyway," or "Oh my gosh, the judge is looking for me to make a mistake. They like that other team better," or "All my friends are better trainers than me." Think about the people I hang out with, that's the one I call myself on all the time: "Wait a minute. I do stuff with my dogs. I'm all right."

If you know you've got these negative thoughts coming into your head, then you can actually look at journaling them. People will write out their negative thought and set fire to it, or drown it in water, or tear it into a hundred little pieces, and let go of that thought. That's a kind of New Age thing that doesn't always work for me, but I know it's really helped other students.

A list can help people, too, like create an accomplishments list. If you're hung up on catastrophic thinking and all the things that might possibly go wrong when you trial, but you've had successful trials under your belt, you want to focus on those successful trials. What went right? Go look at your ribbon. Create an inspiration board. Give yourself some positivity around you to remind you that you are not all these negative things that your brain keeps grabbing on to.

We are often our own worst critic. We have a voice in our head often, the inner critic, that will sit and nick away at us. It can be so hard to overcome that voice. When I talk to some of the people I've worked with, that inner critic voice is way louder than anybody outside of themselves ever has been. It can be a pretty yell-y voice, and you're allowed to tell your inner critic voice you don't deserve to be treated that way, you need to be quiet, you need to go away.

If I have somebody who's really prone to negative thinking, sometimes I'll say to them, "At 6 p.m., for 10 minutes, give that inner critic voice. Talk back to it. Have that conversation. If it's being negative with you, sit down and say, 'What are you being so negative about? Are you afraid of going to the trial? Why are you afraid?'" It seems weird to have this internal dialogue, you're hearing me talking on a podcast about it, but some people find that if they let those negative thoughts express themselves, then they can actually deal with them.

One of the hardest things is when we suppress those negative thoughts and we don't acknowledge them, and that inner critic can just get louder and louder and louder.

I've got a webinar coming up in January, on the 16th of this month, about imposter syndrome, so I've been thinking lots about negative thinking and limiting beliefs and how we can deal with them, because it all sort of ties into the same big ball. So I'm really excited to have this conversation, as you can tell as I yack away about it.

Melissa Breau: It's an important topic. It's something we have to spend some time thinking about, because in order to choose success in anything, you have to think about what's holding you back, and so often what's holding you back is maybe something that's in your own head.

Andrea Harrison: So often, so often. Somebody will say to me, "I'm worried about the trial because the judge might crowd my dog." We start breaking it down and I'm like, "Why would you be worried about the judge crowding your dog? Have you ever seen a judge do that in that particular sport, or venue, or whatever?" And they're like, "No."

When we break it down, we realize often what's getting in the way is fear. I talk all the time about people moving from the comfort zone through fear, into learning, and then into growth, and unfortunately, fear is one phase that you have to face. You have to be like, "OK, this sucks, but I've got to deal with these fears to get where I want to go." So if we've got goals and aspirations that we want to meet, we have to jump in and do it.

Melissa Breau: For many people, the beginning of the year is about setting goals and resolutions. We've talked about looking back over 2019, and I want to talk a little bit about looking ahead to 2020. While I know that's super-individualized to each person and team, can you talk a little bit about how people can define success, or should be thinking about defining success, and what that looks like for their team?

Andrea Harrison: For sure. I think you and I a couple of years ago talked about New Year's resolutions, and I'm just going to remind people because it's been a while: That's not a great way to goal-set for a lot of us. When you're thinking about success, don't be like, "Oh, it's January, and I'm going to set 15 goals right now!" because only 12 to 20 percent of New Year's resolutions get met, they're considered successful.

So instead of thinking, "I'm going to make this New Year's resolution and I'm going to achieve it, I'm going to train seven days a week," think about the long haul. Remember that you want to be doing this in 90 days, you want to be doing this in 120 days, you want to be doing this in 200 days. So remember to set your goals for success in that realistic timeframe.

One little trick I use sometimes is to tell people to think about framing it around "at least." So instead of saying, "I'm going to train five days a week," say, "I'm going to train at least four days a week." You still want to train for five days a week, but if you set it for at least four, then when you accomplish four, you're not going to be like, "I didn't train five days. I'm terrible." Well, at least I got my four done. I'm OK. I can try to add that next one the next time.

When you're thinking about success, you have to have a pretty clear definition of what success is going to look like for you. Think about peaking performance. Do you have an event coming up? Do you have a championship or a national show that you know you want to get to? Do you know how to qualify for it?

Prioritize. If you've got 52 sports because you do all the things, that's awesome. More power to you. But what's going to be your priority sport for the next six months or year, depending, because some people do different sports in different seasons, and that's fine. But where are you going to put your energy for now? Prioritize.

One of the things to bring into account is prioritize you as well. You are a part of the partnership. So if you've got a dog who's amazing at barn hunt, say … Dora would be a great barn hunt dog, but I don't want to keep rats at home. My husband has said that rats freak him out. I've fostered a few, but always in the basement. We have rats on the farm anyway, so she's got experience killing them, so I really don't want her knowing there are rats in the house. So it's not a sport that's realistic for me and for her to have together.

So remember to weigh you in this success model that you're looking for. And also remember the flipside of that. Remember your dog. Like, if I decided I wanted Yen to be doing dock diving, she's a toy American Eskimo. She's probably not going to achieve success the way a Labrador Retriever might. If it was important enough to me, it might be fine, but you always want to remember that too.

Prioritize what makes sense. What do you have the financial resources for? What do you have the skills for? What do you have the access to trainers for? All of those things. If you don't have sheep, and you don't have sheep around you, you might not want to take up herding. So you want to think about those things.

And it's really hard to think of success if you aren't yet at a point where you see mistakes as information instead of as a failure. If success to you is hinging on never making a mistake, I really would encourage everybody to remember that mistakes are just information. If you're like, "Oh my god, I can't do this because I might make a mistake and therefore I'm a failure," hang on to that thought and rethink it a little. Spend some time with it and see if you can get yourself to, "If I'm not perfect at this thing, that doesn't mean I can't be successful. It just means I need to spend a little more time with it."

I've been talking about this a lot lately: Think of the verb, not the noun. If you want to be the dog trainer, get out there and train your dog. If success to you means being a dog trainer, make sure you give yourself time to do the action and actually train the dog.

Melissa Breau: I love that.

Andrea Harrison: It's a really important concept, and it's one that I hadn't thought about in terms of dog training until recently. I was having a conversation with a friend and we were talking about something that had happened at my other workplace. I was explaining that, and they were like, "You know, Andrea, that fits for dog training too." And I said, "Of course it does," and then I thought, "But I've never said it in this community before."

So go ahead and don't be afraid to work with the verb to get to be the noun. I think that's really important. You know, the process matters as much as the outcome sometimes, and really remember that for success.

Melissa Breau: I'm actually jotting that down because I think that makes a great pullout. That's such an important concept that if you want to be … I like that whole thought. You touched on this idea of "at least," and you touched on a little bit about setting goals, but what should people be thinking about when they're picking their goals or planning out their "dog training" year for 2020?

Andrea Harrison: It's great to have goals for sure, like those big dreams: "I want to go to the Olympics" — we don't have Olympics — "I want to go to the Nationals," and that's super. But in order to move successfully into achieving those goals, it means you pretty much have to plan. Sorry, people. Lots of people out there are, "I'm a weekend warrior. Don't make me plan. I don't want to plan." And it's fine. If you love being a weekend warrior and just doing the local show, go for it.

But if you want to achieve those long-term dreams, those long-term aspirational goals, then just do me a favor and experiment with planning a little bit. I'm not expecting you to fill out a 362-page book tomorrow, but just experiment with planning. Think about what are you going to do when you train next.

What skills are you good at? What skills do you have gaps in? Get yourself a little bit organized. You need to plan and implement those steps to make those big goals possible.

So figure out what systems can help you. Do you need a video camera? Do you need to put a decent floor down somewhere to train? Do you need to get a new kind of reinforcement? Do you need to improve your toy play or your engagement? Where are the things that you can work on to build your whole thing?

I've done this thing called a Success Triangle. If you put success in the middle of this, or the goal in the middle of the triangle, and then around that you're going to have some mindset stuff, which is your attitude and your dog's attitude, you and your dog's fitness for this thing, and on the other side of the success or goal triangle, you're going to have the skills. And so you want to remember to try to touch on all those things in your plan.

It's easy for most of us to do one or maybe even two of those three things. And it can vary. I might be really good at fitness and skills. Well, I guess I'm good at mindset, mindset and skills, but I might not do fitness, which is actually kind of true, now that I think about it. But somebody else might be really good at fitness and skills. And just by remembering that three of those elements have to come together in a plan, that can help us drive forward.

And we're going to remember to prioritize when we plan. You are not going to be able to do everything at once. So if I want to do agility with Dora, which I do in the spring, I think she's ready to start at the age of 7, finally, I talked to Tom and we're going to move the agility equipment out to a little side yard I have so it's closer to the house, because she's not at the stage where Sally was, where Sally was doing full courses, so I took over a 100- by 150-foot field by the front of the property, moved all my agility equipment down there, didn't need to do it as often because she had great skills. As she's retired over the last couple of years, we're going to start using the side yard that's closer to the house so I can do it more often.

So prioritize. Do I need to run full courses with Dora? No, she doesn't even know how to weave yet. So I can build that skill piece by piece. By doing that, by thinking about that planning at the front end of it, you can also start to slice down what you need to do.

How can you break down your goal? I want to do an agility course with Dora, and film it, and put it up on my Facebook page because she is not all that great in public, so I'm not likely to take her to a trial.

How can I get that refined? She's great on the wobble board already, she knows two-on/two-off contact because I can't not train. If a dog's in my house, I'm going to be training it at something. So I've got to figure out how to add a tunnel lane to jump, an actual contact. What supports do I need to be able to make that happen?

So slice, slice, slice it down so finely that I can really see what to do. If you're an experienced trainer, I often suggest that people work from their gaps and holes in their knowledge and fill those in, because they have the insight to be able to know where their holes and gaps are.

But if you're fairly new to training, do the opposite thing. Play to your strengths. If you are worried that you aren't a good enough trainer, by all means plan around your strengths, not around your holes, because if you start to try to plan around your holes, you're just going to put yourself right back into that stuff we were talking about earlier and become negative and hard on yourself and get hung up, and that inner critic is going to get quite loud.

So it's quite OK when you're new to planning and new to training to play to your strengths and not to the holes that you have. And in fact I would say all trainers need to spend some time working from their strengths as well.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned that idea of slicing it down so you can see what to do, and that also ties back into what you were saying earlier about being able to see achievements and see that you're achieving some version of success. If you've sliced it down into tiny enough pieces that you can be successful, it's also easier to see that you're being successful.

Andrea Harrison: A hundred percent, a hundred percent. It's so important. If everybody who is listening to this could just think right now of one thing they're grateful for and one thing they're doing OK at, that would be huge. The universal upswing and the mood would be amazing. That's so important to remember.

Melissa Breau: I wanted to have you talk about the difference between process goals and outcome goals. I know I've heard you talk about them before, and I think they tie in really well to what we've been discussing. Can you explain the difference and what people should focus on?

Andrea Harrison: Absolutely. When I talk about process goals, I'm talking about largely internally driven goals that keep you remembering to use little slices and dices of the thing. When I talk about outcome goals, I'm talking about externally seen, visible goals that measure achievement in an often more standard way.

Until I learned about process goals, I didn't realize that they were goals. I was like, "Those are just the steps to get to the outcome." When I was a horse rider as a kid, my outcome goal was getting in the ring and winning a ribbon. I was riding other people's horses to qualify them for national shows, and my job was to get those ponies qualified, so I needed to come out of the ring with ribbons in my classes. That was the only goal. Nobody cared if I put down a nice round or not. The goal was get a ribbon.

So, as a kid, my focus on outcome goals really set me up to appreciate the process goal, because now when I think back to some of my best rides, I don't remember the ribbon I had, but I can remember the twelve perfect fences. I presume I got a ribbon, if they were as perfect in my head. But remembering that reminds me that the thing that you carry away with you is often the sense of pride in the accomplishment, as opposed to the actual trophy, podium, ribbon.

Those things are big and huge and worthy of celebration, don't get me wrong, but the process goal that you meet by laying down a perfect run is something that just can't be beat. The outcome of getting a ribbon is lovely, but the process is the feeling of, "Oh my god, that went as well as it could."

I'm sure I'm not the only person who's had the experience of having a not-that-great run with my dogs in agility. I've had some runs that were kind of ugly. A little bit stop-starty, Sally would be barking at me off the start line, it was a little bit pushy-pulley. The thing is that those runs did often win me the class in the cue, because she's very, very quick and very accurate. But they didn't feel good.

And so a process goal leaves you with that feeling of it felt good when you meet it. You're like, "Yeah, that felt right." An outcome goal is just, "I got the ribbon, I got the placement, I got the cue, I qualified for Nationals, I got the number of points required."

A goal can be a bit of both in some ways, in that you can feel good about an outcome goal and you can feel, "Oh shoot, that wasn't great," about a process goal. But you don't actually meet the process goal until you feel OK about it.

A process goal with Dora with this down was first of all just to teach her to down in our training space. Now my goal with her is to generalize it so she can down in a variety of places. That's the process goal.

I haven't set an outcome goal for her, and I guess now that we're talking about it, I probably will, that she can down in ten places under varying degrees of pressure, which I'll define.

But for her, the process goal of the down is wherever I ask her to down. Today we did a down in the barn, we did a down in the bathroom, we did a down in a puddle on the way to the barn. She wasn't happy about that. We need to work on that one some more. We did five different downs in five different places.

That's a process goal, that's what I'm working on, and it's working really well because this helix of process goal to outcome goal takes you from the process goal through learning opportunities where you're going to try things and see if it works. The puddle was a big challenge. I knew it was going into it, but I was like, "If she doesn't do it, I just back up a bit and do it in a snow bank tomorrow."

Next we do performance opportunities, so we put that on the road. We try it when the car pulls in the driveway or when the phone rings or when there's some pressure on it. And then we can get to the outcome goal. It's like this helix that swings around that takes us back to process goals, because when you meet that outcome goal, it's not like training suddenly ends. You don't go, "Oh my gosh, I just won a first-place ribbon. I don't ever need to train again." That's not the reality for it. So we have to cycle back around this helix of opportunity.

The steps to get to your outcome goals vary quite a lot. You and I might have different process goals to get to the same outcome. But the outcome goals are generally the same, like, we want to win the ribbon, we want to get the cue, we want to get the points.

Melissa Breau: Regardless of the type, how do we make sure the goals we're setting are realistic and yet not … for lack of a better word saying it … not "stupid easy," where they're so easy that of course we can accomplish them.

Andrea Harrison: Of course, and the thing is, we're not always going to get it right. We're just not. We're not always going to make sure that … it's not always going to work quite the way we think. We're going to be like, "Oh my god, that was such a dumb goal, I can't believe I bothered setting it," or "Oh my god, I'm never going to get to this goal."

Again, trial and error is ultimately going to be your answer, and that's one of those things where if we have experience, we're more likely to set a realistic goal from the get-go.

If you haven't trained however many dogs, a hundred dogs, to down before, you might not even think that checking if your dog understands to down on a variety of surfaces is important. I know that because I had a Chihuahua, and Chihuahuas are fussy about where they like to lie down. So a hard floor versus a pillow versus outside — they were very, very different things to our Chihauhuas. Very.

So for Dora, it was an easy thing for me to know it was a realistic way to add a little bit of challenge, a little bit to the goals side. Somebody else might be like, "My dog knows how to down," and the first time they ask them to down, it's on a yucky surface, and the dog's like, "I don't know what the hell you're talking about." And that's OK. If that happens, you just have to realize that you're going to have to be flexible and adaptable. If you record-keep, that's going to help you figure out that the goals you're setting are reasonable as well.

Dora heard her name. She's rolling around, she's on the couch beside me and she's rolling around now. She's like, "Oh, oh, oh."

Melissa Breau: Talking about goals and talking about these pieces, people are usually pretty good about going, "This is the thing I want to achieve," of thinking of a goal. But then it comes to actually doing the work to achieve them, and follow-through is often the bane of some of our existence. Can you talk a little bit about keeping ourselves accountable and following through on some of these goals?

Andrea Harrison: For sure, for sure. That's such an important part of it, because if we lose motivation, we lose our impetus to carry on. That's one of the reasons I want people to remember to celebrate the stuff that they're doing that they like. That is actually a very good strategy for keeping moving forward. Reward yourself.

I don't mean go out and buy a gorgeous new leather collar, although that would be nice. It doesn't have to be a big deal. It can be something small, like going for a walk in a favorite park or any of those kinds of things. It doesn't have to be a big expensive thing.

But the motivation's going to come either from achieving goals, so that's one reason people show, because if we're out and we're trialing, that's giving us a new goal to keep us training in-between. A lot of people use shows, or classes at the Gold level in Fenzi, that you want to be able to do it well so you're going to be able to keep going. Some people use classes generally, meet-ups at the park, fun matches. I don't think we do enough fun matches and show-and-gos, and those kinds of things, most of us. Those can keep you all motivated.

Give yourself a way to check in, whether it's with an instructor, or with a friend who's doing a similar training program in the community, or in another community, it doesn't matter.

Create habits around these things that you want to do. If your goal is to train at least four times a week, how can you create a habit to let you train four times a week? Where can you eke out the time? What can you attach your habit of training to that's going to let you remember to train?

Because sometimes honestly what happens with these goals is we just forget about them. Life gets busy, life gets in the way, and we've forgotten that we have this goal, and then we're like, "Oh my gosh, I haven't trained in two weeks." You throw your hands up in the air and you think, "What's the point?"

And the point is you've got a show-and-go in two weeks, so you get back to it. You don't want to be a weekend warrior. You get back to it. Your friend two states over is busy training and remembers to check in with you, and you go, "I didn't train in two weeks, but I'll train tonight."

Those are all the kinds of things that we want to be able to do to keep ourselves accountable. Some people are really good at internally being motivated for accountability. Most of us do much better with a little bit of external drive.

Melissa Breau: One last question, and it's the question I'm asking all my guests lately, so of course I have to ask you too. What's something that you've learned or that you've been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training? In your case I'll even extend it. It could be something else that we talked about tonight.

Andrea Harrison: I think the thing that I've learned specifically about dog training with this reminder of Dora is really the importance of being able to generalize.

When you gave me the out of being able to talk about anything we've talked about, it's still going to be generalized. If you can operationalize these goals that you have, how can you actually concretely do them? And then you generalize them in some way so that the goal is be a better dog trainer.

That's pretty airy-fairy, so you take this one airy-fairy goal and drill down into it, like, what does that actually mean? What does that look like, and how can you put it into effect?

Like, should Andrea get a puppy in the new year? Well, she's thinking about it for the first time in a very long time. Maybe I'm adding a puppy this year. We'll see. But really because of that, I want to be the best trainer I'm capable of being, and to do that, I want to get lots of training in. Dora is great and my other dogs are super, but they're mature dogs. So to operationalize being the best trainer I can be, I'd better have some dogs around who want to play with me and do some stuff.

So I think that concept of operationalizing what it is, and then generalizing to make it happen in as many different ways as possible — those would be the two things that are currently most on my mind, that are central in my brain.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast Andrea!

Andrea Harrison: Oh, it was absolutely a pleasure! Happy, Happy New Year. I hope we all have great years of lots of success in all of our goals, outcome and process.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, me too. Thank you to our listeners for tuning in!

We'll be back next week with Petra Ford to talk to her about the Excellent Obedience series. She's doing a workshop series offered through the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.

If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

Credits

Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

The Number One Reason Teaching Duration Behaviors ...
How to Talk to Your Dog: Becoming Cue Savvy