Dealing with Failure

That’s right, I said it… the dreaded “F” word. FAILURE.

If you’ve been following the CRT programming, I place an enormous amount of emphasis on your supportive role as your dog’s cheerleader and coach. Please note that bolded word implies you are also responsible. We spent much, if not all, of our time making sure this work is fun for them and our expectations do not revolve around a number or weight. In the Level 1 program, it’s all about slow and steady build up. We don’t utilize challenging terrain or resistance weight for a variety of reasons,( perceived resistance, physical conditioning, etc), but mainly because these novice dogs aren’t prepared to handle the failed attempts….MENTALLY. Now, I am not saying your dog is a fragile cupcake, but in a way I very much am. My dog was….for sure. She’d meet ONE second of hardship on a weight we were using for resistance and look at me with sad puppy dog eyes like “mom, I can’t do this”. Expecting me to save her, and honestly, I did. I learned very quickly that she was in fact, training ME.

Now, I knew damn well she could move that weight, because I logically understood that ten pounds shouldn’t be able to stop a fifty pound bull in a china shop. In that exact moment however, she was convinced that weight wasn’t moving, and as we all know from psychology, the mind is our most powerful tool. She would lay down, stand there in protest (for what seemed like hours), and just wait for me to end the exercise. She had learned that if she gives up, I’ll make it easier or simply take off her harness. I had inadvertently taught her to quit. Confidence through self efficacy is another huge benefit of resistance training regularly with your dog, and I sure as hell wasn’t doing that any justice. We lead them through failures, not avoid them. (and that goes for all dog training). Challenge is necessary for growth in training and it can’t always be “butterflies and rainbows”. Learning to overcome self doubt was the most valuable lesson I could give her.

Failure can be a number of things and have a variety of contributing factors. Failure ISN’T just not successfully completing a pull in competition. A dog is failing when he or she struggling with self doubt. Not struggling, because that happens, but teetering on the moment “I can/ I can’t”. As the handler, only you know this about your dog. Each dog is individual in this process, hence why I preach it is relationship centered. Know your damn dog. Failure is often preceded by the TIME for which you allow that dog to struggle with the doubt that will decide if he or she is successful. Knowing how far to push and for how long…… that is YOUR responsibility. It’s also why you shouldn’t be rushing to get to heavier weight, or sleds or competition. You NEED to spend time at the foundational work to prepare for failure. Now, failure can and will be influenced by mental and/or physical fatigue of the dog. I’ve seen in many cases, the dog not feeling it’s best that day, which results in sub par performance, competition or not.

Failure is normal, and as I stated before.. it’s actually quite necessary for growth. CRT is a dual effort, therefore when the dog “fails”, you have too. With that being said, it’s never the dog’s fault… the try or the attempt is what matters most. I tell my students that your dog is never to feel disappointment. In my book, I do not even allow for it. Every second they spend with you, doing this work (regardless of your reasons for wanting them to do it) is to be commended.

If you are out doing a session and you hit a weight that becomes too much for the dog to handle and successfully complete, there is nothing wrong with dropping weight to an easier pace that allows them to end that hard training on a positive note. You haven’t failed the training if the dog becomes fatigued, or stumbles on the cliff of doubt…….you FAIL in training when you don’t recognize those moments and try to power through them. The Digging Deeper programming is intense, and that is the program where you get to see if your patience and consistency pays off in creating mental resilience in your dog. Failure isn’t a bad thing. It will happen, as it should. It should happen however, when the dog in front of you has learned to fight the resistance 😉

Your dog can fail a weight, even fail the distance……but above all costs, you work to avoid creating a failed mindset.

Ashley Sculac