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Goals in Dog Training: Outcome or Behavior – Which Do You Control?

By Niki Tudge

It is important for pet professionals to set realistic, achievable goals for their clients © Can Stock Photo/damedeeso

One of the most common mistakes we see dog training professionals make is to try to impart their goals upon their clients. For example, you may feel that pet dogs should behave in a certain way, have specific skills, do certain tasks or not do other things such as climb on furniture or jump at you on arrival.  News flash: Your clients may not want any of these things, they may have quite different opinions and therefore goals.

To get everyone on the same page and to ensure goals are achieved, I recommend the following:

  1. First, you should provide the client with a Comprehensive Client Information Sheet. This will provide you some clear information on their goals, how they live, and what some limiting factors might be in your work together. Of course, this also includes all the necessary information you need to know regarding the pet dog, their history and their behaviors in measurable terms.
  2. Determine what your clients’ limiting factors are. When it comes to identifying limiting factors, of course, we are talking about choices the client is making or not prepared to make that are preventing them from reaching their goals. These will often be lifestyle choices. Some of their limiting factors may only apply on certain days or at the weekend. While we work with clients of all ages, income levels and family sizes, there are some universal truths that come into play here. And if you’ve been coaching people  for a significant amount of time, then we know you’ll nod your head in agreement. There are just some limiting factors like exercise, consistency, boundaries, philosophy and approach that may be off limits and not worth putting energy into.
  3. You will need to sit down with your client to dig deeper on some of this information and find out exactly what it is they want to do in terms of training their dog and why they want to do it, what is the precise problem and what do they seek to achieve through your services.
  4. Then you need to set realistic, achievable goals. Many professionals seem to think this part is up to the client, but this area also requires your work and skill. Most of the clients you will meet will have poorly defined goals, if they have any goals at all. There goals may also be completely unrealistic given their dog and their lifestyle. They might say they want to have a well-behaved dog but not know precisely what that may look like and what is required of them. Or they might simply be unhappy with their dog and want to change them, but they have not or cannot articulated exactly what that means to them.
  5. You also need to understand the client’s motivation. Beyond having difficulty articulating their goals, they might be struggling with the reasons behind their goals. For example, while a client might be after a dog that is well behaved the real question is why do they really want a well behaved dog. Is it to resolve a problem, to appease a spouse or family, to be safer around their grandchildren or some other personally meaningful reason? Once the emotional reason is determined it is much easier to get a commitment from the pet owner and then use that as a motivating factor towards achieving the goal as you move forwards. From here, you are better able to help them.
  6. When you help clients agree to the program goals be mindful of the difference between outcome goals and behavior goals.
    1. An “Outcome” goal is the main outcome or objective that one hopes to accomplish through the training program. For example, “the dog will walk nicely on a leash without any pulling or lagging. One of the key characteristics of an outcome goal is the fact that you nor the client can directly control the accomplishment of the goal as it’s the end result of a series of other things that have to be put in place first.
    2. Whereas “Behavior” goals are the steps taken to accomplish the outcome. For example, when the outcome goal is “the dog will no longer beg at the table” the related goals maybe that the pet owner will now have to change their behaviors and set time aside each day to crate the dog prior to family meal times and provide the dog with a stuffed Kong. One of the key characteristics of a behavior goal is that the client can directly control the goal as it’s an action your client must choose to do each and every mealtime.

Let’s not create and set goals that will require far too much willpower from your clients. They will either beat themselves up each day for being a willpower weakling and failing with the training program or they will create an environment that doesn’t require so much willpower and this environment may not include you and your services.

About the Author
Niki Tudge PCBC-A AABP-CDBT AAPB – CDT is founder and president of the Pet Professional Guild, The DogSmith, a national dog training and pet care license, and DogNostics Career Center, and president of Doggone Safe. She has business degrees from Oxford Brookes University, UK and has achieved her DipABT and DipCBST. Recently, she has published People Training Skills for Pet Professionals – Your essential guide to engaging, educating and empowering your human clients, Training Big for Small Businesses, and A Kid’s Comprehensive Guide to Speaking Dog, and co-authored Pet Training and Behavior Consulting: A Model for Raising the Bar to Protect Professionals, Pets and their People.

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