As a professional dog trainer, have you ever noticed that when a human-canine couple go through a behaviour modification program, there is quite often a moment, where:
a) The dog has already moved on but the dog owner hasn’t, or,
b) The lack of skills on the part of the dog owner is holding the dog back from reaching their goal.
Yes? Me too! As a clinical psychologist and dog-nerd, this has always fascinated me. To be honest, witnessing the human-canine couple going through a behaviour modification program often reminds me of marriage counselling: The couple has stopped communicating or has never been able to communicate properly, both parties are unaware of their needs and values in their relationship, they engage in unhelpful behaviours and are struggling to engage in healthy behaviours. And most importantly, the couple’ struggles to stay in the present moment and either holds on to the past, or worries about the future.
And do you know what? I have been there. I have been with my dog Luna to a dog trainer, aka human-canine couple’s counsellor. And boy, were we in for a ride! And again, like so many other human-canine couples, we faced a time where I was holding Luna back from moving forward. She was ready to move on, but I was not. My dog was clearly doing better in rehab than I was. I was able to notice this and with the help of a few psychological tools and support from friends and my dog trainer, I was able to overcome my personal obstacles.
As a result of this behaviour modification journey with my dog, Paws In Life’s innovative cognitive-behavioural approach called THE PACT MODEL was born. We called it PACT, because every dog owner (consciously or unconsciously) enters into a pact with their dog when they enter a relationship with it. Kind of like a marriage. And that makes you, the dog trainer, their relationship counsellor, who reminds them of the pact and that they need to be there in good and in bad times.
This article will focus on how dog trainers, aka human-canine relationship counsellors, can use THE PACT MODEL to help their human clients achieve their training goals quicker and more efficiently, and consequently, help the human-canine couple maximize their potential. Just to be clear, THE PACT MODEL only focuses on the human, not the canine, which means THE PACT MODEL should be seen as an add-on to your existing knowledge as a dog professional. In my opinion, dog trainers today have great access to and knowledge about behaviour modification programs for the canine, but less so for the human attached to the end of the lead. Paws In Life would like to change that.
The Evolution of THE PACT MODEL
THE PACT MODEL is based on an evidence-based psychological framework called “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” (ACT). Steven C. Hayes, Kelly G. Wilson, and Kirk Strosahl founded ACT in the 1980s. It is based on relational frame theory (RFT), a comprehensive theory for language and cognition that is an offshoot of behaviour analysis, and which is a very popular therapy method in psychology and coaching. ACT is a very popular approach in psychological therapy and coaching, which has a great evidence-based record. The main aim of ACT is to teach humans psychological skills to handle painful thoughts and feelings effectively, whilst being aware what gives their life meaning and is important to them.
The ACT model used in psychological interventions is quite complex, and is built upon the following keystones:
- Self as Context
- Committed Action
- Thought Defusion
- Chosen Values
- Contact with the present moment
The overall goal of ACT is to help people gain psychological flexibility, being present, and helping them identify what matters to them and acting on it. For the purpose of strengthening the human-canine relationship, I have simplified and adapted the model, and call it THE PACT MODEL.
The Keystones of The PACT Model
The skill to engage with the present moment is often referred to as “Mindfulness”. We spend so much time thinking about stuff that happened in the past, or worrying about things that may happen in the future, that we often forget to appreciate or enjoy the present moment. Mindfulness is a way of bringing us back to experience life as it happens.
Mindfulness is about training yourself to pay attention in a specific way. When a person is mindful, they:
· Focus on the present moment
· Try not to think about anything that occurred in the past, or that might happen in the future
· Purposefully concentrate on what is happening around them
· Try not to be judgemental about things they notice, or label things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
When dog owners are mindful, they:
· Can pay attention to their dog and read the dog’s body language better
· They don’t judge their dog’s behaviour and stay more focussed on the facts, which leads to more a problem-solving mindset, rather than an emotional mindset
· They are more aware of themselves, their body and their environment (e.g. they are more aware of their leash pressure)
· They have more mental clarity and make better decisions (e.g. they remember the dog trainer’s instruction easier)
· They slow down their nervous system and don’t “flood” as easily, which leads to a state of “calm”
Accept your emotions
Accept, open up and make room for painful feelings, sensations, urges and emotions that go hand-in-hand with having to overcome a challenge or obstacles. There will be many emotions involved, especially when dog owners have to face engaging in a behaviour modification program for their relationship with their dog. For instance, if the dog is leash-reactive, there is a high chance the owner will feel embarrassed about their dog. Or they have to grieve that their dog is very different to what they thought it would be.
Instead of fighting emotions, resisting them, running from them, we encourage dog owners to open up about their emotions and make room for them. This does not mean that they have to like or want them! But they have them…so let’s work with them. But it is very important that the dog owner is feeling safe and secure enough to be able to discuss their emotions, as otherwise they will feel judged and close up, and as a result give up on their training.
Choose your values
Values give life a meaning and purpose, so it is important that dog owners know what matters to them. Values give people life direction and represent the compass in their life, especially when life is tough, unfair or out of control. So dog owners get more resilience, more passion and compassion with their dog, if they understand why they wanted to have a dog and how they want to approach their training process. So for instance, if a dog owner identifies “loyalty” as an important value in their life, it helps dramatically if the dog trainer integrates this concept. For instance, the dog trainer could ask the owner “What would a loyal dog owner do in this situation?” Or if the person values “curiosity” in their life, then the dog trainer should make sure to engage the dog owners sense of curiosity in the training process (e.g. explaining the theory behind interventions or giving them little experiments to play with).
As a dog trainer, you can ask the dog owner the following questions and then relate to them in your training:
Why did you get a dog?
What were you hoping to get from having a dog?
What makes a relationship valuable to you?
What sort of person do you want to be in a relationship?
What sort of relationships do you want to build with your family, friends and dog?
What would the best version of you do in this situation? How can I help you be that best version of you?
It is important that dog owners take effective action, guided by their values. People need to follow their internal value compass and set one foot after the other to maximize their full potential. Only then are they equipped to go on a long and difficult journey. People are more successful if their goals align with their values. However, it is important to know that no one will ever reach their “value” as it isn’t a destination. For instance, “curiosity” can be represented in our actions in a journey towards that value. You might say that you have been always a curious person and that your journey in life was filled with curiosity, but there will never be an end to “curiosity”. You will never reach the outcome “curiosity”. It isn’t a destination; it is a way of living. As a dog trainer, it is very important to highlight “the journey” of behaviour modification, and not just focus on the outcome. Because in this way, your client will stay motivated and put in the necessary effort, instead of feeling overwhelmed by the end goal.
This article is just an introduction to the model. In the upcoming weeks and months I will be posting more in-depth articles, and also offer webinars that explain this model in detail and how it could be applied.
If this has made you curious about “The PACT Model”, then please like us on Facebook, share it amongst other dog enthusiasts, and subscribe to our newsletter. Or if you have any questions, simply contact us! We'd love to hear from you,
Birdy & Luna