Process Goals vs Performance Goals

This post is from my 12 Things I Learned from My Dogs

Process Goals vs Performance Goals: sometimes the best goals are not achieving xyz title by this date or taking 1st place at nationals.  The best goals are often small, very achievable, and a great way to find success. How long does this take to learn?  A LONG LONG time.  Especially if your heart beats for competition, and you just want to BE THE BEST.

That's where conflict starts, conflict with the dog we have, conflict with our training time, conflict with reality.  The reality is that we can't all be the best ALL THE TIME.  Even if you are the very best (way to be humble about it folks.)  So the push begins to accomplish performance goals: taking 1st at nationals, getting this title by that date, etc.  The problem with performance goals is they shouldn't be your only goals.  If performance goals are your only goals you'll set yourself and your dog up for failure.  

Photo Credit Great Dane Photos

Photo Credit Great Dane Photos

Process Goals are one some of the coolest goals you can set for yourself and your dog.  They aren't about a destination.  They are about HOW YOU GET THERE. 

So for example, I want to achieve this performance goal: have a dog that can walk by any distraction.  Some process goals might be: practice turn 5 times today, go to a low stress/distraction environment, take the highest value treat for my dog, leave with a happy dog who isn't stressed, and smile at my dog while we are there. Small - achievable goals that can be met.  This way you and your dog aren't constantly failing to meet your big performance goal.

Process goals get you to where you want to go.  And research shows that you actually accomplish more and stay more satisfied with lots of smaller goals than the big dreams.  So make some process based goals, you may very well accomplish some performance goals along the way with a lot less pressure. <3

Magic Comes with a Price

The magic switch, the wand wave, the erase button: these all come up in classes or privates and it's common for folks to look for a quick fix. It makes me think about an author named Brandon Sanderson (New York Times best seller) and his Second Law of Magic: limitations are greater than the power.  Which means there is always a weakness or cost associated with magic.  For example, Gandalf (in Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien) defeated the Belrog but at a great price to himself (death.)  Meaning the magic he performed had a great cost.  

What the heck does this have to do with dog training?

Well a lot actually.  There are companies that take advantage of this magic seeking and sell products like ecollars and other aversive training methods.  An aversive may impact dog behavior but the overall cost isn't worth paying.  When you send an electric current through the artery of a dog there is a great cost.  There is damage to the relationship, the dog's trust of you, and an even bigger price of causing a possible negative association to whatever you shocked them for.  Meaning that if a dog is harmed every time they bark at another dog, they most likely will start associating dogs with pain.  Meaning that your dog may not have been aggressive, but you are now creating an aggressive dog.  Magic comes with a price, always.

Positive Reinforcement also comes with a price. However, it's one I'm willing to pay.  When I found agility many years ago, I watched fast flashy dogs run over, around, and through everything they were asked to.  I fell in love with the sport and wanted to start right away.  What I didn't realize was the cost.  Not the monetary cost, but rather the sweat equity cost that came with training my young brilliant and very distracted/over aroused/wild/beautiful hound.  So I became frustrated when a few months training really wasn't even making a dimple in the surface.  We didn't have a good foundation and our training time together hadn't been equal to the magic I wanted.  The magic did come with a very great time equity cost.  AND IT WAS WORTH EVERY MOMENT.

So when you start looking for magic, remind yourself that there is a cost.  Take a giant step back and really think about the price you are willing to pay in training.  The best moments, come with hours of time, sweat, and understanding with your dog.  Magic comes with a price, just make sure it's a price you are willing to pay.

If you'd like to read Brandon Sanderson's full article and law of magic you can do so here: