By: Ashley Majetic
“Teaching is what you do WITH your dog; Conditioning is what you do TO a dog”
Chad Mackin, Dog Training Conversations Podcasts
Think about it for a moment……………..alright, maybe take five or ten minutes. It took me almost a full day to truly comprehend this and make a connection and correlation to what aspect of training I really enjoy. I know the sentence was not intended for how I connected it, but that’s the beauty of this statement. It truly was meant in an attempt to reference Pavlov’s classical conditioning, BUT it meant a little more to me. It is no secret that I love weight pull. I started offering it and teaching it because I saw so many benefits to owners and their dogs. The very thing that drew me to the sport was this talk and hype about “relationship”. My mentor, Jay, kept telling me “you have to BE with your dog, you have to LEARN your dog”. Weight pull is all about relationship and your dog’s willingness to pull FOR you. No treats, collars, or toys. JUST YOU.
OK, I get it… but HOW do I do that? Is there a template, an outline or process that I can follow to get this “magical relationship”? Unfortunately there isn’t. It is a process, a journey more or less that is very individual. Most weight pull folk, at least those who have been in it a LONG time, have some great dogs, dogs that will pull heavy. What I started noticing is that those dogs have been started SO young; they have become “conditioned” to it. It’s like instinctively they know that when the harness goes on- they pull…..…Hard. It is a routine and a habit; it is consistent. In all honesty, it isn’t a bad thing. Those dogs are very successful in the sport. Drag work is conditioning. Less emphasis on obedience, no gear or training tools, just you, your dog in a harness, and a large open space. Muscle memory begins and cardiovascular endurance builds. The “work” put into weight pull is what you do “to” your dog. Conditioning is DOING.
What about teaching? Where is the correlation in weight pull and teaching? WELL- that is what sparked me to write this. THAT very question is the missing piece….at least for me. I could take my dog out ALL day and make her pull chains, car tires, and heavy equipment…. I could “condition” her, and she would do well. I can give her a command and make her do it. Teaching, however, is something that you do WITH your dog. It takes the BOTH of you. You become a team when you learn from each other. You learn how to communicate with one another, what the other one likes and dislikes, how each other “thinks” or views the world around them. You find the relationship component there. The dog’s willingness to pull FOR you, when physical fatigue and mental exhaustion have set in, solely becomes dependent on that relationship that you have built…together. The relationship doesn’t happen overnight, it isn’t meant to. It is built, worked at everyday, constantly trying to improve one another. Every moment in dog training, even weight pull, is a teachable one. You can help your dog learn “right from wrong”, guide them on how to make good and bad decisions on his or her own. You are each other’s greatest teachers, no matter the task or sport. For me, weight pull helped me to see this concept. Teaching is key…(weird, I know.) It isn’t about the weight, the fastest time on the course, or the duration of a “down”. It’s about that “relationship”, mutual love and respect………….. and that can’t be conditioned.