Talking Dogs Scentwork®

girls set goals

How to survive the dark nights by setting goals

Here in the UK, our clocks just went back. This means that it gets darker earlier in the evenings. For some people, this is a season to dread. More darkness, fewer opportunities to be outside. It’s colder, weather is harsher and life seems that bit harder. If this is how you feel, I hope that I can inspire you to embrace the change in season and make the most of those longer evenings. 

Coming up . . .


Personally, I love this time of year. The autumnal colours make me smile. Being cosy indoors while the rain pelts the windows gives me an enormous sense of comfort and gratitude. And I can walk my dogs any time I want without having to worry about it being too hot or the beaches and tracks being too busy. The fair-weather walkers and tourists have retreated and us hardy locals have the loveliest walks to ourselves again.

This year I’ve decided to set myself some loose goals. If you’ve read my previous post on goal setting you’ll see that I’m somewhat ambivalent about them. I’m not a goal oriented person. But I do appreciate that they can be useful in planning and in meeting aspirations. Hence my term ‘loose goals’. My targets are suggestions of what I’d like to do. But if I find that I’ve run out of time or need to refocus the goals to be more achievable and realistic, I don’t beat myself up. I’m answering to myself. So I’m kind to myself. I will not needlessly add stress or pressure to my life. Instead I’ll do some planning and have some fun. 

Counterproductive goals

Long ago I realised that forcing myself to do things I hated was counterproductive. Case in point is exercise. I’m not a natural exerciser. I understand the importance of exercise. But I also recognise that if the activity makes me miserable I’ll benefit less from it, and am more likely to ditch it at the first opportunity. 

Some activities I love but can’t do. Bizarrely I discovered that I loved spin classes. Brutal, sweaty, cycle-based workouts. I’ve no idea why I liked them so much. Sadly, my dislocating patellas put an end to that particular activity. I also like to swim, but I’m not good at it. I’m not a fan of public swimming pools (too many horror stories fo what floats around in them – and I don’t mean the people) and am too chicken to go wild swimming. 

I love . . .

Active endeavours that I do enjoy are walking with the dogs and jump rope. Right now, I’m loving exploring new areas and finding new walks with the girls. A huge benefit of being self employed is that I can designate when I work. I find work that requires concentration difficult in the afternoons.  So that’s often when we head out on our walks. Engaging in active, physical pursuits at the times when I struggle with detailed, thoughtful tasks allows me to make the most of the whole day.

A few years ago I set myself the challenge of walking 1000 miles in a year. To my great surprise I really enjoyed it. I particularly enjoyed logging my miles in my diary and totting up my mileage for the week and the the month. Calculating how much I had still do to and how much I’d already done was extremely satisfying. 

November goals

So I’m setting myself some monthly goals. Nothing too crazy. For example, I aim to walk 50 miles in the month of November. This is an average of 1.6 miles a day. Really not that much. I have to consider my walking companions too. Don’t want them to get cold and sore and miserable. When the rain is lashing and the leaves are blowing horizontally in front of me, it’s all too easy to opt to stay indoors. Having this goal gives me freedom to do that, but I know that I’ll need to walk further on other days to make up the miles. On the flip side, if I happen to walk more than that on a new walk or when I lose track of time, I can either exceed my goal or take the pressure off for a day or so. 

Get outside

And if you hate this time of year, having an extra reason to go outside could give you the boost you need to pull on your boots, layer up and face the weather. Look forward to the feeling of achievement when you return home. Your dogs have had a great walk. You have pushed through your doubts about going outside and hopefully will feel satisfyingly tired, or invigorated. Either way, being back indoors, warm and cosy knowing that you don’t have to go outside again is a lovely feeling. So that’s my first goal, walking 50 miles. 

Jump rope

I mentioned jump rope. This used to be called skipping! But now it’s taken on a whole new aspect. I was inspired to give this a go when I saw a couple of accounts on Instagram of folks who’d taken up jump rope during the first lockdown. Jump rope isn’t just about jumping over the rope. It’s about coordination, footwork, hand-eye work, tricks and fun. Plus it can be done at home. I started this last summer and have had fun with it off and on ever since. The best thing about it is that I didn’t even think about it being exercise. It just looked like a giggle. The side effect of learning about straddles and running man and side crosses and mic drops is that all the while I’m learning and practising, I’m getting a full body workout. Bonus! 

Jump rope
Beaded jump rope

Not just me

I’ve since discovered that all sorts of folks do it. From crazily talented jump rope teams who compete in national competitions, to older folks (yep, even older than me) who do it in their kitchen. All shapes, sizes and fitness levels can do it. One particularly inspiring woman worked hard on the non-jumping skills while one of her legs was in a cast. And that’s what’s great. Even when I become breathless from jumping, I can still stay active, mentally and physically. So my November goal for this is to have jump rope sessions 4 times a week and to learn a different skill each week. This month’s skills are all focussed on footwork. 

Getting started

If you’re interested in this I recommend these three Instagram accounts (I’ve limited it to 3, I could have given many more!) as they give lots of help, encouragement and inspiration: Skipping with Sarah, Lauren Jumps and Celina Jumps.

Doggy goals

Next goal is all about the girls. I want to make the most of the increased time we will spend indoors. To help me be more focussed, less scatterbrained, I compiled a spreadsheet of skills that I’d like to teach each dog. Cherry, Ella and Ettie all have their own lists of suggested skills and they will all work at their own pace. As much as I like training a bit of this and a bit of that, having a list that I can tick off as we go will help me complete teaching exercises much more. Instead of moving on before the dog has mastered each skill, I’ll wait and help her work through until she is confident and will happily offer the skill wherever we are, whatever is happening. Proofing the exercises is just as much fun as learning them in the first place, so I’m going to make sure we do more of that.

Main goal

My main goal is to have training sessions 5 nights a week. I like the flexibility of having days off. If we’ve been on an extra long walk or have had a particularly busy day, it’s better to rest that train. The majority of skills I aim to teach can be done indoors, specifically because I want to work in the evenings when it’s already dark outside. The exercises I’m going to teach are a mixture of finishing off half learned skills, such Ella’s skateboarding, and brand new skills like teaching Ettie to walk backwards or Cherry to blow bubbles in water. 

stay at home scentwork
Practise your Scentwork skills at home

Scentwork at home

Of course scentwork is a wonderful skill to practice at home. There are so many aspects of my favourite activity to work on without leaving the house. You can increase duration and challenge. Or learn how to work line-ups and frame searches. This is a great time to video your searches so that you can hone in on learning your dog’s body language, the nuances that show you she’s interested rather than giving a full indication. And don’t forget your own body language. Watch the clips back to see if you are helping or hindering during searches. There’s so much to do, the winter months won’t be long enough!

Planning and reflecting

I’ve got more goals, including planning work for next year, cracking on with some side projects and spending more time creating, less time watching TV. In a way, I can’t wait til the clock change back to British Summer Time because that’s when I can look back on all we’ve achieved in those previous 6 months. So let’s do it. Set yourself some loose goals and let’s see what we can accomplish by 27th March. 

If you’re game and would like to share your loose goals with me, I’d love to read about them in the comments. That way we can look back in March to see how we did.

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