Understanding friction is paramount in designing resistance training programs; for humans and dogs. Similar to adding bands to deadlifts in the gym, or resistance bands to yoga stretches, varying the drag surfaces and equipment used in calisthenics can better prepare you and your pups for unexpected situations in competition and life.
I remember the first time I showed up to the gym to lift, and bands were attached to the squat bars and I just didn’t understand the point. Not to mention they were completely lowering my overall numbers. It was a complete bummer to my ego. As time went on however, I realized the benefit to variation. Bands added resistance, not necessarily immediate gains, and a substantial challenge to improve them. If I had good technique and posture, the bands wouldn’t slow me down. To my dismay, they certainly added challenge. Each week the color bands would vary, and I was left to record my efforts and learn from them. When a max effort day had come around, my lifts had improved immensely!
As I’ve progressed in my weight pull program with dogs, I’ve adapted these same challenges. We keep notes and journal them and learn from each, and every session. One client said, ‘dragging weights seems to keep dogs honest.’ It was paramount in my beginner classes. Folks who may want competition as their end goal may not even see competition equipment for weeks, perhaps only weeks before a trial. Reason being; if you can drag, drag well, and your dog can show confidence, good form and progress, pulling in a trial setting should be smooth sailing. Many folks do not have competition equipment lying around! Well, most! To put it frankly, no one wants to lug around 2000 lbs for training sessions when the size of dogs varies from 8 lbs to 90 lbs. Instead, friction training is ideal and more beneficial. With dragging as our main focus I can integrate elderly dogs, PT dogs, puppies and competitors all in one class!
Basic physics classes teach us that ground friction makes things move harder than if they were just rolling on wheels. If a dog can, say, drag their body weight in extreme friction (chains in grass), pulling 100 lbs on wheels is a breeze, as is 1000lbs on rails. (Aside from environmental stressors.) In UKC, dogs must pull 8 times their body weight for qualifying pulls. In many cases, based on my personal experience, if a dog can drag his body weight easily on grass with chains or a steel sled, pulling wheels in a trial environment will be simple. There is no big jump in the dogs’ efforts, other than equipment variations. Most students will hear me say, train harder than you trial. Our goal is to make trialing less stressful and simpler than training. This makes trialing fun! Until you’ve seen real trials you may not really understand that you can’t force anything. The challenge that takes practice is, as a handler, identifying when your partner is showing signs of stress, struggle and needing help. Seeing these signs is key in any partnership!
Despite folks thinking weight pull programs are all about ego, I agree that neglecting to see dogs’ stressors and fears, will set you on a very limited path. These folks have yet to attend OUR classes or trials. Good handlers will prepare their pups long beforehand, readying for an event or a goal. Good handlers will withdraw dogs long before their maxes to end on a good note. Good handlers will identify when their pup is tiring, before they quit, so they can use trial help to push the equipment, aiding dogs in thinking they are strong and invincible. Good handlers will learn from every training session, adapting the next session to be more successful. This is just stepping out of your comfort zone! Dogs with low confidence have blossomed with short drag sessions. Dogs with severe dog aggression have found safe outlets outside of judgement and midnight walks. Dogs recovering from major surgeries have used drag work as physical therapy to recover. Dogs with other sports have found ways to stay fit outside of seasons. These are all concepts I try to ingrain into my students practices.
One thing I have learned is there are no absolutes and I stay open minded as my classes progress each year. As a member of the veterinary field, the dogs’ best interests are at heart and I will be the first to tell you your dog is stressed out, should take a break or we need to change our techniques. Healthy dogs and happy dogs are my end game and I encourage overall health to be everyone’s goal. Changing minds one human at a time!
Come join us at Dirigo Working Dogs and other nearby fitness programs in Portland, Maine! Dragging weights and trying something new with your dog may be just what you are looking for! For myself, nothing is more relaxing than a one-on-one session with my girl in the early morning hours (woods of Maine) working out together. You find confidence, strength, and relationship, all in one dedicated moment with your pup. Find your moment today!