"You Can't MAKE Them do it" ---or can you?
When I was building my Canine Resistance Training (CRT) website, I had to really stop myself from rambling on and on about how most of the value and benefit in CRT is linked to betterment of the human/canine relationship. The problem is, I whole heartedly believe that to my very core. I have seen dogs change, not only in their musculoskeletal development, but as beings.....when they learned what they are truly capable of. I'm not talking about "pounds on a cart" here... I'm talking about their ability to overcome adversity, doubt, and struggle. I teach and prepare all of my clients about the negativity that surrounds a lot of what we do with our dogs within the CRT, and how the negativity evolved, and what we can do about it to try and make this a more positive experience for the dogs...because there is remarkable benefit to low level resistance training. Most of the beginning foundation work of the CRT program may not leave a ton of windows to peer through and see a glimpse of what I am about to refer to.....but if and when dogs and their owners choose to advance and start to work through the Digging Deeper program, there will come a time when this topic will be an important read.
As you dive further and further into anything performance and competition oriented, the focus is now surrounding their ability to perform. Whether you are interested in bikejoring, competitive weight pull, or flyball events... the training sessions are more challenging, both mentally and physically. The demands placed on the dog's body is doubled and now we are truly testing the confidence and relationship we spent time crafting. Performance work, if done with the dog's best interest in mind, is truly fun! In the Building Blocks Foundation Program, we spend much of our time focusing on Progressive Overload and Time Under Tension. We spend a ton of time there because not only are we engaging our type I fibers, but also our mental confidence continues to grow---but HOW? How does it grow? I say it all the time! Someone ask me how ;)
Let's start with this; bear with me on this one.......Neural Adaptations and Muscle Facilitation
When dogs move into performance work with the hopes of competitive weight pull, you may start to hear a ton of people, say that "you can't make them pull". This is the statement most people who compete with their dogs use in defense of the negative stigma that surrounds competitions. Much of the general public is hellbent about bully breeds being perceived or not receiving any more negative publicity than they already do, thanks to our bias media. I can totally get that! I own TWO of them myself! But the snapshots of these powerful dogs pulling hundreds, if not thousands of pounds isn't exactly their idea of "love". So, when the public starts to really point the finger towards abuse and cruelty towards people who participate in competitive events, the defense or rebuttle they have is that "we can't MAKE them do it if they don't want to". That seems really accurate, considering during competitive events in many organizations--- there is no leash attached, no physical contact with your dog. In that moment, the moment of max effort, the dog has to pull because of his love and desire for their person. Sounds so awesome doesn't it?
I used to really believe that---but the more I watch, read, and listen...it's becoming very obvious that I have in fact seen people with their dogs "make" them pull. Just like I have watched dog trainers MAKE a dog learn place with the use of aversive tools, like an electronic collar or heavy leash pressure. I'm not slamming these tools, because I have also seen trainers use both of these tools with respect for the dog. They take time to teach, rather than use coercion and compulsion. So----how can this NOT happen with our beloved competitions in weight pull? Well---it has.
That beautiful relationship that I preach about ---well, the relationship has become one sided.... and that side usually is pulling a leash attached to the dogs collar. I stopped saying that.... because I now know, that you CAN in fact, make them pull even when they don't want to. Attaching a leash to the dog's collar and using pressure is in fact--MAKING them pull. Now, I don't know about you----but when I am lifting weights myself, and I am working on pushing through a pretty heavy amount of weight that my brain tells me "I can't do"--- I certainly don't want anyone pulling me in any one direction. I recently had a moment where I was working on squatting 200lbs, the same moment that sparked the idea for this blog . I can vividly remember the feelings that my own body was experiencing, which ultimately led me to have a better appreciation for what I had asked my own dog to do. I remember the pressure in my chest, the tightness in my lower body, the overall sensation of feeling like I was knee deep in cement, and the jolt of energy I had to somehow muster JUST to be able to start moving that bar upwards back to the only "safe" spot I had. The entire time my brain was telling me that I wasn't able to do this, and I shouldn't even try. I can't help but notice the similarities in what we do with our dogs, to human powerlifting. When dogs enter competition, we ask them to pull weight almost quadruple times their body weight. Sport fanciers spend a LOT of time mentally preparing dogs to believe in themselves and that they are capable of their strength. But the same feelings I experienced, or anyone who lifts serious heavy weight, are also feelings felt by the dogs......including the part where their brain tells them, that they can't when the load is heavy enough. This is what competitors "see" when they say, you can't "make them pull". The dog has a time limit and a distance to reach, and they aren't allowed to touch the dogs. The dog needs to move and want to move on his own accord. So, what's with the leashes on collars during practice or training? The dogs are convinced that the weight they have on the cart or sled, is past their ability to move, hence the hesitation and lack of attempts. Putting a leash on them is supposed to help their brains learn to believe they can? The dogs will move forward to avoid or alleviate the pressure around their necks, which then gets the cart moving--so the dog "learns" he or she can move that weight. That sounds about right...
Yeah, not really. It seems right, for someone who thinks that you can't make the dogs pull--- but that was just proven wrong. You can actually MAKE a dog pull-by putting a leash on their collar and applying pressure forward. Instead of properly programming a dog UP to the necessary mental confidence and ability to do so on his or her own willing accord. You can't put a leash on in competition and you shouldn't be allowed to do so in practice either.... BUT what is important to know and understand is that those people who attach leashes to collars in hopes of helping a dog learn their strength....what they are actually trying to simulate is the development of neural adaptation and muscle memory. --- which takes more time and patience and continues to prove why the Building Blocks Foundation is SO important; why low level resistance training is truly the framework.
We all know and understand the concept of muscle memory, or more formally known as neuromuscular faciliation. This refers to the process by which our muscles become familiar with certain motor skills or movement. Just like us, our dog's brain cells, or motor neurons (nerve cells) must move from the central nervous system to the muscle fiber being asked to contract. GOOD solid strength training will help your dog's body to develop muscle memory. With every new movement however, we have to allow our dog's bodies to develop and adapt (what is that concept called?). Once the pathway from their brain and muscle have been established---the response and movement becomes semi automatic---like breathing! Here is where a LOT of confusion starts for people, and where we see people start using the leash in the wrong fashion.... the heavier the resistance and load, and suddenly we have dogs whose brain and nervous system tells them --"This is WAY too heavy---you can't move this!" and they stop trying or don't even try at all. This is where people say that building a dogs mental confidence becomes important--much like one of the highlights of the Building Blocks program as well! This is why programming for performance work is JUST as important and should be treated as a seperate entity. If we rush through this phase, our dogs mental well being will be compromised. We have to allow the same time for adaptation in the brain and pathways when we start giving dogs heavier loads with greater resistance. This is why I never recommend clubs or trainers who put dogs on empty carts out of the gate. If you disagree with this point---probably should read the other material provided in this blog.
My CRT program is founded on the basic concepts of human strength and conditioning, humane and effective training techniques, and a desire to have the best relationship for you and your dog. During no portion of this program, will the weight and pounds become the focal point. Form, integrity, and relationship will always be the goals. I was talking to a woman last week who runs a weight pull club in Pennsylvania---and she said something to me that really stuck out. She stated that in her class, her focus is the dog's performance, always. That is a key word.. performance ....because to understand and better your dog's performance, you need to understand how their body processes work. A strong mind, and the body will follow---there is a reason that is such a powerful quote. When the movements against higher resistance and loads becomes semi automatic as a result of the frequently traveled neural pathways in the dog, it too, will feel semi automatic. Your dog will then begin to feel their strength. Putting a leash on their collar to help them---won't do that for the pathways.
Bottom line---- People CAN and have made dogs pull heavier weight that they feel is too difficult to tackle, so I can no longer defend that statement. Learn how performance is built and how strength and resistance training can be valuable asset when trying to improve that for your dogs. If you don't know how---contact me. All of this is covered in the Digging Deeper Program.