It was hot. A sweltering 90 degrees in the heat of the day, and the fact that the air remained motionless, the breeze taking the afternoon off, made standing in the direct sunlight feel like we were in the middle of the Sahara.
The bright sun reflected hard and sharp off of the pristine turf, forcing me to shield my eyes as I looked up.
“Will you help me?” I asked the trainer as we walked onto the field.
He stopped what he was doing. Stopped chatting with the other trainers and handlers who had joined our group that day, and made his way across the field to watch me work my obedience.
I had worked with him on and off for the past year, starting with my older dog and moving forward with my new (at the time) pup, Shank, when I first brought him home. I had found him through a friend when I first moved back to California, and as I was searching out a decoy to help me with my herd, I was instantly struck by his demeanor and technique.
Now I’ll be honest, I’m no walk in the park to work with. I’m set in my ways and protective of my training. I’m cautious about who I let work my dogs, because as I see it, my decoy has just as much power in my program as I do. And, when it comes to my training, I’m loud and quite blunt with my opinions, which rarely wins me any fans.
But this trainer was different. He wasn’t a dictator, and when he worked my dog, unlike most, he didn’t let his ego take the wheel. Instead, he offered suggestions, coached, and understood when I pushed back and protected my training. And most importantly, he was willing to go at my pace and didn’t push to rush the process. This was teamwork, and he understood that. (Oh… all of the above, AND he is GOOD… That matters too!)
I moved my dog into position, and he took it seamlessly, gazing up at me expectantly, squinting his eyes ever so slightly to avoid the glaring sun, the pain from which competed with his desire to watch my every move. Together, we stepped forward, practicing our focused heel, making our way across the field in unison.
“Nice. Looks good,” the trainer responded as we moved, giving me the reinforcement I needed to shake the nerves, but not quite getting to the hole in our program just yet.
“Here’s my problem,” I told him, positioning my dog just 10 feet from him so he had a front row seat when the training unraveled. “Watch…”
I showed him where I struggled. Seemed like a minor problem with a quick and obvious solution, but it wasn’t as easy a fix as it appeared.
He stood in front of me and raised his hand slowly to his chin as he thought hard about my plight.
“Try this,” he instructed as he gave me some tactical moves I could use to help fix the hole.
I followed his lead, and my dog faltered a second time, breaking his position and failing to find it again, pulsing for the reward, still remaining focused but struggling to keep straight.
The trainer watched, thought hard, and offered another solution. I followed his instruction, and again my dog failed to understand, failed to comprehend, and failed to find the position we had asked of him.
His failure wasn’t glaring, but it was out of place, not precise, and if left unaddressed it would lead to bigger holes and failures later down the line. I needed to get a handle on it, and I was struggling to work through it alone.
As my dog faltered for the fourth or fifth time, the work we were doing sparked the interest of the group. A semi circle formed around me, trainers from all walks, some new faces and some old, trying to understand the problem and trying to help me work through it. It should have been a simple fix, but for some reason, it wasn’t.
I listened, tried, faltered, discussed, and tried again.
You see, my dog, Shank, is a sharp pup that requires perfect handling, because he’s so attuned to his handler’s tiniest of body movements. This includes the movements which are tricky for me to see and the things I often don’t even realize I am doing. And he’s quick, picking up lessons at lightning speed, lapping up the mistakes just as readily as he does the intentions. But when he understands a lesson, he holds onto it with force, and he rarely falters. For this reason, I knew the mistakes that were being made were mine and not his.
After brainstorming and troubleshooting with the help of the group, trying new techniques and picking apart our problem, the head trainer spoke, offering some criticism of my technique and proposing yet another solution. I listened. I immediately applied his instructions and… success! The feeling of triumph overcame me, and I wanted to scoop my dog into my arms and hug him tight, sweeping the trainer who had solved our problem into our embrace. Well, until reality set back in, and I realized my dog would likely rip his face off if I acted upon my initial impulse. I refrained.
Here’s the story. To achieve anything great, you need a great team. You need to surround yourself with people who can help you get to your goals, people who fuel your vision, people you can trust, and people who can constructively help you work through your problems.
As much as you’d like to think so, you can’t train your dog alone.
One of the concepts my friend and former Navy SEAL, Larry Yatch, teaches in his leadership programs is the value of high functioning teams.
“When it goes well,” Larry tells his students, “1 + 1 often equals more than 2. That is the glory of teamwork, and when we operate as a high-functioning team, the impossible becomes possible.”
In fact, as individuals, we all have our own experiences from which to draw, our own skill sets, and our own knowledge base. If we work side by side but independently, we are left with our own skills, and our own knowledge. But together, your experience + my experience = more experience. 1+1=3… or more. This is the idea of Collective Intelligence. And this profound, yet simple concept can propel your dog training to entirely new levels.
Surrounding yourself with a solid team can be tough to do and takes time to develop, but it is invaluable in the success of your endeavors. Here are a few tips for getting this teamwork thing right. Because 1+1 can also equal far less than 1 if you surround yourself with the wrong team.
- Don’t choose your team haphazardly – You need to surround yourself with those who achieve results but who are humble enough to help you learn. Folks whose teaching and training style motivates you and makes you want to be better. And people who you are comfortable brainstorming with and failing in front of, because as we know, failure is a huge part of the process that leads to success. You may have to step out of your comfort zone at times, and that’s okay. But make sure the people you surround yourself with are helping you to be better, and not tearing you down. My good friend and former Navy SEAL, Eric Davis, coaches that, “The people you spend time with… all form a current around you, and if that current isn’t heading in the direction you want to go, you’re going to find yourself stagnant or floating in the wrong direction. That’s why it’s so important to choose [people] who share your goals and watch your back.”
- Stop being right – In order to really reap the benefits of good coaches, and in order to build your team, you need to stop being right, and start being effective. If you’re humble enough to learn from others, you probably realize that what you are currently doing isn’t effective or could be better. “A coach’s job,” Davis says, “is to reinforce what is effective and point out and correct what is ineffective. When you’re a beginner at something, there will be more to correct than there is to reinforce. Get over it. If you’ve never been “wrong”, then you’ve never tried to do anything beyond yourself. If you’re currently not doing anything wrong, then you’re not going anywhere new.”
- Be valuable – If you want to truly reap the benefits of a powerful and valuable team, you MUST be valuable and powerful yourself. When your only goal at your training club or group is to further your own program, people will be less likely to want to help you should you face a challenge or hit a roadblock. However, if you focus on others, on their successes, and on being helpful, you’ll be more likely to get help in return. There is no “I” in TEAM, so don’t take your responsibility lightly.
“When you have solid people around, they help you to grow and to see that which you were blind to so that you can adjust your actions to better suit your ambitions. It’s not just about having people who can hold us accountable for what we do and don’t do, but people who stick with us while we’re figuring shit out. Good people keep us tenacious, and tenacity is what allows you to produce amazing results for yourself and others.” (Read Eric’s paper HERE)
That day on the training field, I benefited from a wealth of knowledge from trainers of various backgrounds and experiences. I stepped out of my comfort zone and worked on something hard… something I had struggled with for countless days on end. Had I not had my trusted trainer and the support of the other trainers and handlers around me, we’d still be struggling, and I’d still be getting frustrated, banging my head against the wall, trying solutions that weren’t working, our training program staying stagnant as a result.
But with the help of my army, people I hand selected because I value their opinions, experience, and ideologies, we pushed through the wall. And as a result, my training surged forward.
If you don’t have a team, get one. Don’t be haphazard about this. Take it seriously, and surround yourself with people who help you do and be better. It may take a few tries to get it right, and that’s okay, but once you’ve found your team, hold on to them with force. And be valuable in your contributions. Show an interest and invest yourself in their success as much as your own. If you do, 1+1 will always equal far greater than 2.
A big shout out to my team, all those who have helped me over the years. To my friends, my coaches, my mentors, my family and those who tolerate me on a regular basis and help me to BE BETTER. You know who you are, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you.
To learn more about the leadership training at Sealed Mindset Leaders, visit their website HERE.
To learn more about Eric’s human performance work, and to read more great articles, click HERE.