Don't be Dysfunctional

All of my work with dogs and more specifically, canine resistance training, is rooted within the fundamental understanding that it is "relationship" centered/focused. You won't find parts of my programs that utilize tools as a means of manipulation, coercion, or force to enhance performance, including the leash usage, collar choices and motivation. Fortunately, there are many trainers out there that also share this same guiding philosophy through their work; this core belief that relationship is superior amongst other avenues or philosophies.  Many owners struggle with this idea of what makes a good relationship however, because they simply do not know. It gets disguised as healthy but truly harbors qualities of deceit, manipulation, dominance, and fear.  I stumbled across a model in my readings that speal to human team building but sparked the translation into human/dog relationships. In order to not be a dysfunctional team-- we need to know what constitutes a cohesive team.

In my work with clients, I notice a lack of implementation in building that relationship. Sometimes, as with our day to day human interactions and partnerships, the relationship can't thrive if it is one sided, lacking a solid foundation, or effort is half-hearted. I talk about this because I emphasize the role of the handler in the developmental stages of resistance training. (Yes, I actually focus on my students and their growth into that role). I believe it to be a core concept that deserves some recognition, and very few actually teach it as a separate entity. Learning how to be a primary motivation source, how to recognize the subtle signs your dog may present to you, and to be a strong advocate take some practice and is unique to each dog. Now, I don't know about you, but resistance training takes two individuals; two beings both sharing responsibility in the activity. You, as the owner, share just as much responsibility to the relationship between you and your dog, as your dog does. In fact, some may argue you actually hold a tad more. Now, I know this is a model designed for human collaborative teams, but the similarities are remarkable and noteworthy.

If you reflect on your own personal relationships with the other people in your life, you will notice that these five traits are recipe for effective collaboration and relationship. You may also notice that within those same human interactions, some areas need work---and it is eye opening to realize the weaker areas.  There is also truth in this when it comes to the development of the handler/dog team in resistance training. If you lack or are purely deficient in the base of this triangle, then you can not succeed further up, and obtain the end goal; the results. Whether your results are competition based, or behavior modification--- you must spend time at each level, whatever length of time needed to ensure a healthy effective, cohesive team relationship between you and your dog.

Trust is the base layer, and honestly the most important in my opinion. If you do not have an established, healthy layer of trust--- it is evident that you should spend time here. Whether you and your dog are doing activities to enhance upon this, trust is the fundamental layer. The foundation of your "house", if you will. Without a solid foundation--the rest crumbles with any substantial amount of pressure. I preach the idea of advocacy for your dog during CRT sessions. No one knows your dog best, but you....and if you are not advocating properly or poorly--- your dog will feel this. Trust will be a hard obstacle to tackle, but is is critical. Having an established level of trust will prove beneficial in the coming levels of CRT training.

Conflict is an interesting topic because many owners assume that any type of conflict with their dog is to be avoided, and while no one enjoys disagreements....they are bound to happen. In fact, when we talk specifically about CRT, a lot of dogs enjoy conflict and this provides a healthy vent for those dogs. They enjoy the "grind" that the resistance provides. This is a healthy conflict---and necessary to allow for the health and well being of certain dogs. If you have not spent time building a solid layer of trust between you and your dog---then conflicts about leashes, resistance weights, normal day to day activities can falter and become detrimental. Having trust allows for minimal conflict, or if it does arise, it allows for healthy conflict.

Commitment is pretty self explanatory, but also worth touching upon. I assume that when starting resistance training with your dog, you are already committed to the well being of your furry companion. Developing trust and minimizing conflict or healthy conflict expression, you prove to be committed. A good team or relationship maintains that commitment.

Accountability is referring to you and YOUR DOG. If you have a healthy previous few layers that are routinely worked on and maintained, then you are able to hold yourself accountable for something that didn't go well with your CRT sessions, or training. On the flip side however, you can also plan to be able to hold your dog accountable because his or her ability to handle conflict is much healthier, and there is a thick layer of trust that has been laid.

If you can make it a priority to put effort into your role development as what I call the "cheerleader", you will undoubtedly hit all of these layers and master them. You may have read this and realize right away what needs worked on between you and your dog before you begin your CRT journey. Either way, let it be a guide or a framework so to speak--it will help you and your dog to yield amazing results.





Ashley Sculac