Setting goals is an integral part of animal training. If you want to train an animal to do anything, you must first decide what it is you want the animal to do! Perhaps it's as practical as housetraining, as foundational as loose leash walking, or as advanced as search and rescue. The one thing all of training has in common is that first a goal is set and steps are established by which to accomplish that goal.
The relatively common mistake many people make is of setting their goals and then believing them to be static and unchanging. Goals, in my opinion, are the opposite -- they are dynamic and constantly changing. For example, let's say I want to shape my dog to retrieve a pair of socks for me. I know she already knows how to retrieve her toy, so my goal is to get her to retrieve an object (my socks) that I have named for her. Let's also say that in the first few minutes of training, the light bulb comes on and she gets right away that this is the same game only with socks instead of her toy. But, she's having trouble figuring out what exactly "socks" means. "Is it this, Mom? Is it this? Or maybe this?" Now, my goal needs to change -- I don't have to teach her to go get the socks so much as I need to teach her what socks are!
Setting goals means you will have the information to be able to adjust on the fly. Using positive reinforcement clicker training sometimes means our animals are quicker to learn than what we might be used to. And in using positive reinforcement clicker training, it's important to be a step ahead of your animal. So I like to set my goals with lots of steps in them; that way when my dog moves faster or slower depending on the task, I am always able to visualize where we are headed next. I also like to write things down instead of keeping it all in my head where it sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. ;) With a written plan, I have the information available to me when I need it.
So, you want to begin attending dog shows as a family. Where to start? First of all, make sure everyone in the family is interested in going to dog shows. Maybe they each have different reasons for wanting to go, and that's okay -- just be sure they all have the basic interest. Okay, everyone wants to go. Unfortunately we can't ask our dogs, but we can observe them. Does your dog appear to enjoy training, working, hanging out with you? (Be objective! Be careful not to make things more than they are.) Does your dog function fine outside of your home (act similarly to at home, settle easily, potty, eat, sleep relatively normally)? If after objectively answering these questions, determine what it is you and your dog might like to try -- there are many possibilities: rally, obedience, agility, tracking, flyball, earthdog, dock-diving, etc. -- and do your research. Search the internet, get a book, contact someone who competes in that sport and talk to them. If you want/need to take dog training classes, find an instructor/school that you like, who has experience competing in the sport you are thinking about, and start classes.
Once you have your information, set your goals. Remember to write them down and have lots of steps. Have someone look it over for you to see if you've missed anything or need additional steps. I don't think you can have too much detail! (You can email us and we would be happy to help you with this! My experience is with Rally, Obedience, and Junior Showmanship and my husband can help you with Tracking, Scent Work, and Search and Rescue.)
Now you have your family on board and your goals are set -- now start working with your dog and ticking off your goals as you accomplish them. The first time you walk into a ring or onto a field of competition you will probably be nervous, but you will have a wonderful, amazing feeling of achievement. I always look at my dogs and our life together as a work in progress, but I take great joy and pride in everything we do and achieve together. I am most definitely enjoying the journey.