Canines – The Ultimate Relationship Tool

At New Vision Wilderness we have four canines working with our groups. We have three Golden Retrievers at our West Coast location and one more in our Northwood’s program. We are using our canines very strategically in teaching our clients how to work on healthy relationships with the ultimate goal being transferrable attachment. Transferable Attachment is practicing relationship tools with the canines and then transferring those skills learned to healthy human relationships. The unconditional love and loyalty that canines provide make them the perfect animal to work with when practicing safe relationships.

How do we do this?

Our clients hold many responsibilities/daily jobs in the woods including leader of the day, cook, clean, aqua (retrieving water for the group), etc. The Canine Caregiver is another responsibility that focuses entirely on building a relationship with the canine. We focus on our proprietary CASA Treatment Model that stands for Commitment, Acceptance, Security, and Attunement. We believe this is what it takes to help heal early trauma, so we not only focus on those with our clients, but we also teach the clients to focus on these steps with the canines. Committing to the canine includes dedication, devotion, and faithfulness. Our clients show dedication by actively participating in canine related activities on a weekly basis. When they demonstrate interest/desire to learn more, we know that they are ready to move forward with this process.

Once our clients are able to commit, we work on the acceptance piece which includes seeking to understand before trying to be understood, and understanding that the canines are doing their best at all times. This often frustrates the clients when the “dogs are being dogs.” It requires our clients to search and analyze what the canines are communicating. They learn though trial and error. The clients are encouraged to practice different things and watch for the canine responses. Canines are great at providing relationship feedback. For example, if the canine is afraid it will respond with physical distance or other body language cues. If a canine is happy, it will respond with tail wagging and other cues of excitement.

The security and trust part of the relationship comes from meeting the canines basic needs. The canines learn to trust their caregivers when they provide food, water, shelter, exercise, and sleep. They also work on meeting emotional needs (attention and affection), and mental needs (providing boundaries, training, and maintaining). Our clients work hard on the training aspect of the relationship. Because the canines are switching caregivers, this is the most important piece for their mental health. We teach the canine’s basic obedience and once each client has mastered that, we move into items from the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizenship program (AKC CGC). Training requires a lot of healthy assertive communication from the caregivers, and if other communication is used such as passive or passive aggressive communication canines do not respond. This forces the practice of healthy communication styles. Once the clients can move forward with training, they often gain an incredible sense of pride and confidence that is not seen before. Accomplishing appropriate training techniques is a sign of trust in a relationship.

Next is the attunement aspect that consists of the client demonstrating repetition, consistency, responsiveness, availability “here and now,” and harmony. Once the clients are able to demonstrate security in the relationship, the challenge is to keep this consistent. It is okay for breaks to happen in the relationship, but when they do happen we focus on the repair and going back to the acceptance piece. Finally, once the client is able to accept, secure, and attune JOY can now be experienced in this relationship.
All of our clients struggle with different aspects of their client-canine relationship. Some with the initial commitment to the canine program, and some with the mental needs and providing boundaries and training. Often times we can tell exactly where a client is at in their treatment process by observing their relationship with the canine and then incorporating that into their individual treatment.

Meet the Canine Team

New Vision Wilderness Canine - Kingston
Kingston was born in October of 2014 and has been with New Vision Wilderness since September of 2015. He has worked in many of our groups, starting out in Wisconsin then transitioning out to our Oregon branch. He is our most experienced wilderness canine and has worked hard on all of his relationships with our clients. He tends to put in as much effort as the caregiver who is working with him. He also gives great feedback with his body language that can be pointed out by our staff. This is great substance for metaphors in everyday life. Kingston really enjoys his play time when he can run free and begging for people snacks is another favorite hobby. Thank you, Kingston, for teaching valuable lessons while also being a great canine companion in the woods. Keep it up!!

New Vision Wilderness Canine - Tucker
Tucker is an amazing, energetic golden retriever at about 3.5 years of age. He is not our biggest canine, but he sure has strength. All of his energy makes him the perfect fit for the boys’ group in our Oregon location. Tucker loves to chase and catch snowballs during the winter months and then lay close to the fire to curl up for a nap. Tucker is great at his job in both challenging and comforting the boys in need.

Ranger is currently our youngest Pup in the Wisconsin woods at 9 months old and weighing in at 75 pounds. He is quite rambunctious and loves working with our older boys group. He has a big personality and loves to challenge the boys in their relationships with him. He keeps them on their toes, loves to run, and then relax in the sun. He also loves chew toys and going for a dip in the nearest creek. He is a pro at matching the energy level of whoever he is working with.

Diesel came to New Vision Wilderness in October 2016 at about 3 years old. He is a lover and can’t stand to be away from his pack (The Girls Group in Wisconsin). He also likes to push the boundaries often and needs assertive communication and consistency, which are great teaching lessons for our clients. His favorite activities include swimming, playing fetch, and observing the squirrels. He is a big boy weighing close to 80 pounds, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to be a lap dog. Diesel really seems to love his job and knows that he is serving a purpose.

About New Vision Wilderness

New Vision Wilderness (NVW) is a proud member of Calo Programs,, a unique organization comprised of an extraordinary family of programs, all dedicated to healing the effects of early childhood trauma. New Vision Wilderness offers intensive, short-term outdoor programs all focused on cutting-edge, trauma-based Tucker interventions that deliver immediate impact.

All Calo Programs implement a unique and truly relational treatment model based on the science of neurobiology and evidence-based attachment and trauma treatment research. Calo’s proprietary treatment model is pervasive throughout the programs. This unique model facilitates establishing, deepening and maintaining healthy and safe relationships that ultimately lead to co-regulation and Joy. Calo exists to Profoundly Change Lives and Create Joy. To learn more contact Thomas A. Ahern, MA at

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