How We Can Become Better People Through Teamwork with Dogs

I recently learned of a new book by certified dog trainer, Marissa Martino, called Human/Canine Behavior Connection – A Better Self Through Dog Training that stresses how both humans and dogs benefit from working as a team. The description for Human/Canine Behavior Connection this book reads:

Human/Canine Behavior Connection – A Better Self Through Dog Training is a dog training and personal growth book designed to help you and your canine companion expand as individuals and grow together as a team. This training and behavior modification approach teaches the reader skills and concepts in order to modify four systems: the dog’s response to the world, the owner’s response to their dog, the relationship between the owner and their dog and the owner’s relationship to their world. The book offers: 1. The 10 steps of behavior modification for you & your dog 2. Identifying the parallels between how you and your dog perceive the world 3. Training techniques to modify your dog’s behavior 4. Steps for you to implement in order to promote a deeper connection between you and your dog 5. Exercises to foster a deeper connection between you and your world. Our relationship with our canine companions can be a window into how we relate to the world around us. It gives us insight into what holds us back and shows us where we can expand and connect in our own lives. Enjoy this process, and let the experience of training and behavior modification go deep within yourself.

I was intrigued by Ms. Martino’s perspective and wanted to learn more about her book so I reached out to her and asked her if she could answer a few questions. She agreed, and this is how our interview went.

Source: Courtesy of Marissa Martino

Why did you write Human/Canine Connection: A Better Self Through Dog Training?

When I began my dog training career in 2007, I also started my personal growth journey, arriving in therapy. One day my therapist asked me a question I will never forget. I was struggling during a session, very upset that I had “allowed” regression in my behavior and thoughts. Gently she asked, “What would you say to your dog training client if she and her dog had regressed in their training plan?” I was shocked when she asked the question and even more shocked as I answered it. “I would say regression is a part of learning. It’s a necessary part of the training process.” Wow! If I could channel the compassion and wisdom I had for my clients and their animals when I was speaking to myself, my perspective might shift. 

As I delved deeper, I began to notice amazing similarities between the work with my clients and their dogs and my personal growth journey. The parallels were evident everywhere I looked, providing new learning opportunities on a daily basis. This realization softened my resistance to the process of self discovery. I accepted some hard truths and came to understand that I had been waiting for happiness to knock on my door, all the while ignoring the gifts that life had given me. I’d been focused on what I did not have, where I was not perfect and on my mistakes. How could I possibly have experienced any peace? It was from this expanded awareness that Compassion and I developed a deeper and more personal relationship. I decided that I needed to share this experience with others and that is why I wrote the book. 

How does it differ from the numerous books on dog training that are currently available?

As far as I know this is the first dog training book that is focusing as much on the human (owner; if not more) than on training techniques for the dog. It’s also the first of its kind to help the reader generalize these behavior modification concepts into their own lives and into other relationships (sister, brother, mother, father, partner, wife, etc.).

What is the connection between the well-being of a companion dog and his/her human guardian?

We very much know that companion animals lower our stress, increase oxytocin and keep us physically, mentally and emotionally healthy. I want readers to go even deeper. Who am I with my animal? How do I show up successfully in the relationship with my dog? What areas can I improve? Where else does this show up in my life? In my private practice, I make a lot of human analogies so the owner may understand where the dog is emotionally coming from. There are so many parallels in how we are processing and dealing with the world around us. Why not use the process of dog training and behavior modification as a way to grow ourselves? I have noticed that when I prioritize my personal growth and show up more grounded, my dog responds positively to my energy and from there we work harmoniously as a team.

Why is negative training destructive to a dog and to the bond that is formed between them and their or other humans?

My concerns with using aversives with your dog (or with anyone) are:

— You are not telling the dog / person what you’d like for them to do instead.
— You run the risk of creating a negative association to something that was not intended. If you pull back on the choke chain every time your dog barks at another dog, she may begin to associate the pressure of that choke chain with the sight of the other dog – not with her own barking. 
— It can damage your relationship. Most everyone I know wants to be inspired, motivated and confident, not told how and why they are wrong. Positive reinforcement training builds both the relationship and the skills you are training.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers?

This book and my philosophy are about loving all parts of your dog, yourself and others around you. This is not always easy; however, it’s the path towards a more loving existence. 

What are some of your current and future projects? 

Outside of my private practice, Paws & Reward, I also manage the behavior department at the Dumb Friends League. I manage a staff of 8 people helping 22,000 animals per year. We have many different behavior modification programs to support the animals in our care. Through the Dumb Friends League, I have consulted with other shelters, helping them expand their behavior resources for the animals in their care. I also publicly speak for the Humane Society of the United States and Petfinder as well as teach classes locally in the Boulder / Denver area. I plan on expanding the book into an online course so people have a more interactive and community focused experience while going through the Human/Canine Behavior Connection process. I am excited to connect with people nationally through this course!   

Thanks very much Marissa, for a deeply personal and enlightening interview. I agree with your views on positive training and about the importance of building a loving and reciprocal relationship with dogs that clearly can benefit them and us. Many of these ideas would make for important research projects in the general field of anthrozoology, the study of human-animal relationships. 

I learned a lot as I thought more about how our canine companions and their humans can expand as individuals, and how growing together as a team is a win-win for all concerned. This is precisely how it should be.

Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson); Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation; Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation; Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence; The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson); and The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce). Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do will be published in early 2018. Learn more at marcbekoff.com.

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