By Sean O’Shea

One of the aspects to keeping our dogs successful (and safe) on walks is the aspect I think that is most overlooked and misunderstood as a training tool…

Space. And how it creates and/or relieves pressure. 

If there’s a crazy person loose in the state next to you, you’re probably not very worried for your own safety. If you hear he’s in your city, you’ll be more aware, but not likely freaking out yet. If you hear he’s in your neighborhood you’re going to be freaking out and likely barricading yourself in your home. If you were outside and he was walking towards you, well, that’s real PANIC TIME!!!

That’s the magic of space. Get enough space and just about anything scary is tolerable. Get too close to something unnerving and panic sets in. Sometimes all you need is a foot or two to be cool, and sometimes it’s a lot more. 

But here’s the thing, it’s not JUST space or proximity that creates the pressure cooker, it’s also observable escape routes (can we safely escape if all hell breaks loose?), and either foreknowledge of the approaching trigger (it’s that dog that always goes ape when we walk by), OR displayed behavior that is unsafe or could be unsafe (a barking, growling, pulling, lunging dog who’s owner has no control).

All these factors determine the pressure your dog (and often you) feel, and can necessitate more space to keep the pressure tolerable, and your dog successful. 

Walking in an open field by a barking dog at 10 feet might be tolerable for your dog. Walking by the same dog (still at 10 feet) if you’re next to a wall and pinned against it might be very different. Walking down your sidewalk and passing a calm, relaxed, polite dog with 3 feet between you might be totally doable. Walk that same sidewalk with a dog approaching that is stink eyeing your dog, tense, and pulling on the leash, and that 3 feet may cause WWWIII. Or, you might even walk by a dog that barks at your dog from across the street, and your dog may be totally cool with it. But if it’s that darn Akita (no offense Akita owners!!) that has been hassling your dog since he was a pup, it might be a very different outcome. 

The point is, the pressure your dog feels, and how he reacts is absolutely situational and contextual. You can’t expect your dog to have a one-size-fits-all reaction. He’s a complex emotional creature, and he’s going to determine the level of pressure he feels – and how he reacts – dependent upon lots of factors. (My hope with this post is to help you understand how all these factors can be in play, so that you’re aware and not bushwhacked (or confused) by them.)

As you’re working through reactivity issues, remember your dog is reacting to perceived pressure/danger/arousal, and your job is to navigate them as best you can in order for you both to be successful. 

Some tips:

-More space equals more comfort. Sometimes just 1, 2, or 3 feet of movement away from the trigger can alleviate the boil-over. 
-Dogs that your dog has developed a grudge with will be the toughest challenges.
-Dogs see and feel being trapped, so be keenly aware of not putting yourselves in no-escape, high-pressure spaces. 
-Dogs see/feel the intent, attitude, nastiness, posturing of other dogs, and act accordingly. 
-Dogs see whether owners have control and whether they are confident or freaked, and act accordingly. 

The ultimate goal is to get you and your dog to the very best space possible, so you’re both able to successfully navigate close encounters of the worst kind –  without having to avoid, use a football field length space to keep cool, and not have a melt down when the neighborhood bully starts barking. But as you work towards this goal, remember to utilize all the information above and be aware of all the possible factors in play so hopefully you and your dog can avoid the pressure cooker. 


By Sean O’Shea

Ok, so here’s an interesting thought. What if even without any actual “training” (meaning all the usual sit, down, place, heel, recall etc) you could massively impact your dog’s behavior and state of mind? What if by simply NOT doing or allowing certain things you could make some great stuff happen?

Well, the good news is, half of our success as trainers isn’t even in the actual “training” we do, it’s in all the stuff we don’t do or don’t allow.

Here’s a quick list for you to enlist to help your dog and yourself be in a better space:

-Simply cut back on all the unearned affection. Play hard to get. Only reward awesome choices and states of mind. Remove the unconscious incessant petting and stroking, make your dog work for his/her interactions. (This is almost always the single biggest contributor to neurotic and poorly behaved dogs.)

-Don’t allow disrespectful space invasions. This includes jumping on you, pushing you out of the way at thresholds, jumping on your lap uninvited etc. Instead, claim your space by using your body – not to hit or harm – but to have a calm, quiet conversation with your dog that your space is valuable and needs to be respected. For jumping you can do this by placing your knee forward when your dog jumps, so that he gets your knee and not you, and so jumping is not rewarding. At thresholds simply block with your body and then walk confidently INTO your dog’s space (and your dog if need be) to move them back. As for jumping on your lap uninvited, simply say “no” and stand up when your dog jumps on you. This will remove him from your space and make this not rewarding. Then remove your dog from the couch. (Bonus points for initially keeping a bubble of space – say 10 feet – around you so your dog works on being more independent and less clingy.)

-Don’t allow or reward demanding behavior. If your dog is barking at you for attention, for food, to play, or to get access to a door, don’t reward the behavior with what the dog is looking for. Say “no” and ignore the behavior. If your dog demands something and you respond you’ve just taught your dog what works to get what he wants. Be careful not to unconsciously reward/allow this.

-Make your dog wait. Simply make your dog wait at moments of excitement or intensity. This could be feeding time, at thresholds, going in or out of the car etc. By teaching your dog to wait for permission from you you teach impulse control, respect, and to look for permission rather than to be on auto-pilot. Conversely, by allowing this you teach your dog to ignore/disrespect you, to be impulsive, and that intensity and excitement gets him what he wants.

-Don’t baby, console, pet, nurture, smother nervous, insecure, frightened dogs. This will only make them worse. Instead, treat them like normal dogs by asking more of them, challenging them to get out of their comfort zones, give them a firm human to lean on, not a soft one to feel alone/frightened with. The way you view your dog emotionally – as a victim who is helpless and in need of rescuing, or as a dog who’s previous rough road necessitates strong leadership for healthy forward motion – will absolutely come out in your behavior towards him, and will be the largest determiner of whether your dog makes positive progress or remains stuck and/or declines. (This is a super hard one for most, due to our innate desire to nurture and help, but the truth is, true help rarely comes in the form of pity, coddling, and feeling sorry.)

-Don’t make your dog responsible for replacing that which you should be getting in the human world. One of the biggest advantages trainers have is being in an emotionally neutral space when interacting. For many owners, their dogs have become a place of solace in a world they often feel unfulfilled in. Oftentimes dogs are replacing the absence of friends, family, lovers, or simply feeling alienated or lonely in the human world. Although we might find using our dogs as an emotional crutch as helpful, this ultimately presents you in a needy, weak state that will cause pushy dogs to become more pushy, nervous/insecure dogs to become more nervous, and neurotic dogs to become more neurotic. The ultimate outcome is often the development of protective or aggressive or reactive behavior. By treating your dog like a dog – in the very best and positive sense of the phrase – you’ll set you and your dog up to be in a much more balanced space.

Once again, this is all the non-“training” stuff you can do (or not do!) that will help your dog’s behavior tremendously. Just being aware and acting on these simple recommendations can change things DRAMATICALLY!!

So even if you’re not going to do any actual obedience work and teach commands, you can still make some major changes simply by first doing no harm.

P.S. Now if you’d like to go even further and make bigger strides, change behavior more significantly, create reliability, and have a deeper, more healthy relationship with your dog, you can visit my website and watch the free do-it-yourself training videos. They’re easy to follow and will help you make some amazing stuff happen.


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Our groundbreaking do-it-yourself training video/PDF training booklet Learn to Train The Good Dog Way: The Foundation is now available for order – watch the teaser below and click HERE to order your copy!


By Sean O’Shea

Even with all the high falutin training tools and time tested training approaches, there’s still one factor that is the wild card. The one factor that can often override tools and techniques: the animal in you. 

Even though we like to think of ourselves as operating from (and in) a higher place – a place of intellect and complex problem solving – when it comes to living and interacting with our dogs, even great tools, techniques, and smart minds can be overridden and ignored when there’s an animal to animal imbalance. 

Here’s how it works: Your dog is taking in all the information you’re sharing. You’re asking him to heel, to place, to recall, to listen, and if you’re using good tools and techniques, you’ll share consequences for your dog breaking established and known rules. But all these commands and consequences are only part of the conversation you’re sharing. 

You’re also sharing who you are fundamentally. The animal in you, all the time. 

And if the animal in you is softer/weaker (nervous, insecure, anxious, fearful, unsure, overly-soft, lacking confidence, or emotionally needy) than your dog’s animal (who might be confident, assertive, pushy, strong-willed, secure, certain), you can run into serious problems. 

Sometimes the imbalance is that the human is seriously compromised in the elements listed above, and the dog takes advantage, and sometimes it’s simply a matter of poor luck. This occurs when a seriously assertive dog shows up in your life. And of course there are all sorts of degrees in between. 

Dogs, like kids, will push what are obviously weak boundaries – because we’re all programmed to push them to see how strong/dependable/safe they are. The parent can’t be weaker than the child, attitude wise, and expect to have the child listen, respect, or adhere to the parents rules and guidance. And so it is with dogs as well. 

All the best parenting tips in the world won’t create a respectful relationship if the parent isn’t able to muster a believable, fundamental strength and balance that the child can buy into. Same with our dogs. 

When I see owners who struggle with dogs that flourish with other handlers, (and if the owners have been sufficiently educated on tools and techniques), I know that there’s an imbalance that the dog is perceiving. A fundamental animal to animal imbalance. 

And that’s the final, and usually the most challenging frontier. To do the hard work of resolving and shoring up our own inequities – the stress, the anxiety, the lack of self-confidence, the uncertainty, the worthiness issues, the emotional holes that make us needy – so we can present a believable and strong enough animal to our dogs, so that listening to us makes sense. 


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Our groundbreaking do-it-yourself training video/PDF training booklet Learn to Train The Good Dog Way: The Foundation is now available for order – watch the teaser below and click HERE to order your copy!


By Sean O’Shea


\ˌprä-pə-ˈgan-də, ˌprō-\

Propaganda is a form of communication aimed towards influencing the attitude of a population toward some cause or position.

Propaganda is information that is not impartial and used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting facts selectively (perhaps lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or using loadedmessages to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information presented.


A few days ago I posted a fairly detailed training video featuring our recent work with Gus, a 125 pound aggressive Tibetan Mastiff. The video chronicled both the owner’s journey as well as ours. 

At the beginning of the video we shared how the owner had already sent Gus to multiple trainers around the country, and although they had professed to be equipped to deal with serious behavior issues, they weren’t able to help Gus or his mom. (One trainer even had to have Gus picked up the same day he had been dropped off for a multiple week board and train because his behavior was so overwhelming.) So his mom was understandably nervous and skeptical about trying another trainer. But she was also having to contemplate some rather dire choices regarding Gus’ future if there weren’t some answers to be found. 

Later in the video we detailed Gus’s behavior when he arrived – growling, multiple bite attempts – as well as our training approach. We listed the tools (prong collar, e-collar, dominant dog collar etc) and our approach/methodology/thought process. 

The goal of sharing a video with all this detail is manifold. One is to give owners with serious dogs hope about the possibilities out there. Another is to advocate for/make others aware of the tools and methods we’ve seen in direct hands-on experience that have helped transform dogs and empower their owners. And lastly, to give tangible information about the process so others trainers and owners can leverage our experience to help advance their understanding, techniques and success. 

So we shared the video yesterday and received a bunch of awesome responses and praise. A lot of it was for Gus’ owner not giving up on him and continuing to look for answers, and others were simply uplifted by the video showing the challenges of a troubled dog – especially one with Gus’ history and danger potential due to sheer physical size –  finding some real help. 

And then in the comments under the video I received this from Ashlee R:

“This is disgusting. He had a distrustful aggressive dog in an unfamiliar situation and STARTS with an ECOLLAR?! Then forcibly crate trains (crate training is supposed to be slow, and an enjoyable and safe process for the dog). Even when he is walking and working on ‘heel’ not ONCE does he reward the dog for heeling. He just says the word and ignores the dog. This is not relationship-building positive dog training. This poor dog is being emotionally suppressed. It’s called learned helplessness. That is not training. He will be returned to his owner with more problems than ever before. This ‘trainer’ needs to stop. He’s seen one too many episodes of the dog whisperer and has an incredibly uneducated, archaic and inhumane methodology for dealing with dogs.  As an animal behaviorist certificated from positive and scientifically backed methodologies, this makes me very sad. If you think that this is dog training, I suggest you research what actual canine ecologists and evolutionary biologists have to say on the subject. Find a methodology backed my professionals that have PHDs in canine behavior. Google Ian Dunbar, Sophia yin, ray coppinger, Patricia McConnell and more. This is just pop science that does more damage than good. Remember, the dog whisperer is a TV show. It is edited. They pick and choose the dogs that go on air. Real animal behaviorist would have a field day with all of the things this man is doing incorrectly.”

Now here’s the thing, I get this message ALL the time! Yes, the names change, and the order or a few of the details are different, but all in all, this is a sort of copy and paste propaganda comment/message/email. They all tend to say about the same thing. The dog is being suppressed. Learned helplessness is occurring. This isn’t science based training. This is dark ages stuff. This is abuse. The inevitable Cesar Millan references. The dog is only responding because he’s afraid. The dog will be a ticking time bomb and be returned home in worse shape then he arrived. And then of course there will be a list of revered trainers/behaviorists/doctors that should be studied/followed instead. 

Me and every trainer I know that is doing great work, real work, saving dogs lives and transforming real problems receives this email or message, or some form of it, all the time. 

And typically I just ban and delete this stuff. It doesn’t even register anymore. But as I was reading this particular message I realized I was incensed. Not for me and my work, or the Gus video, but for you. You the dog owning public. You the folks with troubled dogs, trying to make sense of all the conflicting information. Trying to make informed decisions for your dog through the morass of rhetoric, mudslinging, and fear mongering. Trying to make decisions that could ultimately be the difference between your dog staying in your home or being re-homed, getting help with issues or staying stuck in them, and of course, even life or death. 

I don’t intend to be dramatic, but when you’re dealing with real dog issues – serious reactivity, resource guarding, separation anxiety, dog aggression, human aggression etc – not finding suitable and effective answers can mean dire outcomes. 

So this is why I’m writing this. There’s a battle being waged currently in the dog world. A battle where the Purely Positive/Force Free folks purport your dog’s welfare to be the priority, but the reality is unfortunately something very different. It’s a battle that prioritizes dogma over dogs. Ideology over actual welfare. Agenda over answers. It’s a weird thing to see a large group of folks, who present themselves as dog lovers, leading a charge that ignores tangible reality in favor of a belief system, and sacrifices dogs in the name of science and academia and supposed higher morals. 

But here’s the thing, you’ll never see these folks – not the well-respected and highly-lauded trainer/authors, not the veterinary behaviorists, none of these folks with credentials coming out their ears – show real-life work and real-life results with truly challenging dogs. It simply doesn’t exist. They can’t show results. They never have. Not with serious dogs. 

You have to ask yourself why this is? 

This is maybe the most important piece of information to take from this post. The glaring absence of results, the absence of evidence.  

And in this day and age of everyone having a video camera on their phone, if these folks and their methods are so revolutionary, if they work so well, if they’re so cutting edge, so humane, so scientifically stunning, how come they don’t have any evidence showing all this great work? 

Because it’s all talk. Convenient, well-crafted, smart-sounding, intellectually stimulating, brain-twisting, heart-tugging talk. Talk that is based on manipulating data and cherry picking the science that supports their cause, while ignoring that which doesn’t. Talk that is completely devoid of reality and results, as well as true care, for dogs or owners. (The knowledge of Pure Positive/Force Free trainers recommending even mildly challenging dogs to be put down is legendary, and heart breaking in the dog training world.)

So I write this to help you folks out there who are trying to make sense of this stuff. The folks who show up here after having spent tons of money and time on methods and tools that haven’t yielded any results. Those of you who have heard only horror stories about prong collars and e-collars, and how correcting your dog will create more aggression and compromise your relationship. Or those of you that have never heard about us, or trainers like us, or balanced methods and tools. People who aren’t even aware of these possibilities or options, and who end up suffering unnecessarily or putting their dogs down or re-homing them simply because they haven’t had the luxury of information. 

I write this not to drum up business or celebrate our training victories, but to simply do my part to try to tell the truth. To try to balance out the imbalance of the rhetoric. There’s a battle going on for sure. My goal is to try to help share information and results and to pass that help on to you. I don’t care if you hire us, hire someone across the country, train your dog yourself, or even if you prefer the Purely Positive approach. (It’s actually great for training certain behaviors, teaching new things, and can be helpful for cupcake dogs.) My goal isn’t to get you to buy-in to my method and approach or even balanced training as an approach. My only goal is that you have the luxury of all the information out there, that you get to see all sides of the story fairly presented, so you can make a decision that is informed and that resonates with you. A decision that isn’t based solely on cleverly-worded propaganda. Propaganda that leverages the PERCEPTION of science and academia while ignoring real-life results and real-life success. I want you to be able to make whatever decision feels right and makes sense, but I want you to have both sides of the story before doing so. 

The propaganda machine has been doing an awesome job of trying to shame and scare those (both trainers and owners) that use a balanced approach into hiding, into being afraid to tell their stories of success. They use fear to scare owners – that you will destroy your dog and your relationship, or that you’re just a bad person. They use fear to scare trainers – they show up in hordes on trainer’s FB pages and blast them for being cruel and barbaric. They spread information all across the Internet about how barbaric these tools and trainers are. (Who hasn’t seen the famous embedded prong collar picture that is supposed to show the damage a prong collar can do to a dog in training – meanwhile that was a prong collar that was left on a dog for months, if not years to create the same results embedded harnesses and flat collars create.)

I typically try to steer clear of the controversy and madness, but felt it necessary to jump in here. It makes my blood boil every time I see dogs and owners struggling and being sold a bill of goods that aren’t helping them. Ultimately the decision is up to you. And like I said earlier, I’m okay with whatever decision you make – really, I am. I just want to make sure you’re aware of all the information out there, and are able to weigh it and process it and then come to whatever decision feels right for you and your dog. 

I guess the entire point of this blog post is just to make sure that dog owners are aware that the propaganda machine is at work. That there is a movement and agenda that is out there working overtime to affect your feelings and choices, and that this movement cares more about its movement than it does you or your dog. So just make sure you’re an informed consumer, and not being swept along a river you didn’t even know was trying to pull you and your dog in. 

P.S. And for those who have been following Gus’s story, ironically yesterday when I posted the Gus video his mom also sent a detailed update email (he’s been home for a good chunk of time now) later that day. Here it is for those that might be curious about what was said earlier in this post (learned helplessness, fear training, suppression, and ticking time bombs never looked so good!), and to give you a different perspective, the owner’s perspective:

Hi guys,
This is long overdue but have been very busy here at work.  We are seasonal so the summer season is 24/7 for us until October.
I don’t know where to start, and how to express the amazing transformation of my world with gus, but here it goes.
When we left Los Angeles, we drove straight through to Abq, 13 1/2 hrs.  We stopped for a couple of potty breaks, and never had to use the e collar.  He heeled like a cream puff.  
We checked into our hotel, The Marriott in Abq. and entered into the elevator. (This is the first time he has ever been in an elevator)  I was ready to pop him if he made any moves, and then the door opened on the floor just before ours. We were standing in the corner of the elevator when 3 men entered. I broke out into a sweat, but Gus, he paid no attention to the strangers who entered into this small box with him and his mom. The men just admired how well behaved Gus was.  As we arrived on our floor, I let out a big sigh of relief. I was so proud of him. I placed a towel at the foot of my bed on the floor for him to place and sleep all night.  He slept with his collar on just in case.  When I woke up the next morning, he didn’t move at all!
When we arrived in Red River, our home, I got right to work.  No days off, no resting, no play days.  
I wasn’t sure how he would react once back at home, if he would test me, ignore my commands or what. We practiced our recall for 20 minutes in the house. I had to pop him a couple of times, but got him back into place. He’s fully aware that I have the power now, and he has to obey me.  
At this time, I didn’t have a crate that he could fit it, so I contained him the living room.  I know I know.  While I was out of the house,
I put him in his place command position on his bed, (Not mine) and hours later he was still on his bed.  
Day 2, we walked 2 1;2 miles up to the ranch. He was in again, a perfect heel. If he fell out of his heel, maybe a head forward or behind, all I had to say was heel, and he adjusted without a pop.  
When we arrrived at the ranch, we went to the meadow, and practiced recall.  Excellent!  We did this for maybe 30 minutes. I was about 50 ft away from him and
most times he didn’t move until called. I am so estatic with this, because before training, when I called for him, he would just look at me and ignore me. Now I have
control over him on recall.  We do this every day, You would be so proud of both of us.
I am so proud of his improvement when walking him. People around town have noticed a tremendous difference in his behavior.  When we walk, he looks up at me in a way
that I have never seen before. It’s like he’s asking, OK mom, what do you want me to do now!  It just melts my heart.
He doesn’t charge the fence when dogs walk by, he doesn’t go crazy in the car when dogs go by. (All stuff he used to do!)
Two nights ago, I brought him out to the lobby of the hotel/restaurant. I was very careful and very aware of his posture, demeanor around everybody. I told him to place and he remained there. It just keeps getting better and better. I don’t know how to thank you for literally saving Gus’s life, and mine. I am eternally grateful to you and your wonderful staff for not giving up on Gus, when others did.
For those of you who think you cannot leave your precious baby for 3 weeks at this facility for board and train, it will be the most difficult thing you will have to go through. You think, oh my god, my dog has never ever been away from me, he won’t survive.  He will and so will you. If you have any hesitation because of this, please do your dog and yourself justice, let Sean and his team help you. You will not regret it.  
I can go on and on but I think I’ve said enough for now. 
I will be taking videos of our walks and sending them to you.  
Also, I have asked a few friends of mine to write a couple of testimonials on Gus. 
Keep up the incredible work, you have saved and changed so many lives, I wish there were more people out there who cared as much as you do.
Love to Sean and the team

PS  Can I use the e collar forever, and how long do they last?


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Our groundbreaking do-it-yourself training video/PDF training booklet Learn to Train The Good Dog Way: The Foundation is now available for order – watch the teaser below and click HERE to order your copy!


By Sean O’Shea

So many folks have great intentions. They want to love, nurture, and enjoy their dogs, but somewhere along the line they get off track. They may not even realize that they’re using their dog in place of a child, or an outlet for the love they’re aren’t comfortable sharing with people, or they simply go on “love auto-pilot” because it feels good.

And with some dogs you can get away with this with little fallout. But with the wrong dogs – those that are already prone to insecurity, anxiety, and difficulties dealing with stress, or extremely pushy and entitled dogs – you can hit the wall. Hard.

For these dogs, when given too much affection, love, and freedom, with not enough rules, structure, and guidance, they crash. They become highly anxious (separation anxiety is common), are unable to comfortably deal with stress or pressure (you’ll see lots of reactivity in the house and on walks – barking and reacting to everything), you can get overprotective behaviors (growling at guests and others), you can get resource guarding (of people, space, food, or toys), and you might even get serious aggression in the form of biting (could be your typical fear biting where they pounce when you turn around, or more overt and proactive).

This happens, because many dogs are already prone to elevated stress and anxiety levels. Once you remove the comfort of a believable authority figure and dependable structure and rules, the stress and anxiety levels go through the roof. These already vulnerable dogs now have the perfect ingredients and environment for serious trouble. And behavioral issues are almost always guaranteed.

These dogs now become highly insecure, highly stressed, highly anxious, bratty, unsure, nervous, pushy, you name it.

Why? Because we all (dogs and people) depend on dependable guidance. Dependable rules. Dependable accountability. Dependable structure to lean on. But who needs it most? Those that come with already compromised experiences, those without great genetics to lean on, those that are already vulnerable.

This is how our good intentions can lead us and our dogs into unfortunate places. Mistakenly believing these guys simply need our softness – or because we simply enjoy sharing softness and what it fulfills in us, and/or that discipline is much harder work – we leave them feeling the opposite of what we want: Alone, scared, worried, dependent, unsure, insecure etc.

Because we won’t do the hard and sometimes uncomfortable work of sharing with them what’s expected of them, and how to cope and behave – because we won’t guide them and show them – they will do their best to figure it out in their own. And let me assure you, for already stressed, anxious, nervous dogs, figuring it out on their own is the worst sentence you can give them.

This is how we create doggy train wrecks.

Instead, if we’ll walk the path of balance, doing the hard work of sharing disciple, structure, and rules – and if we’ll truly lead them as much as we love them – we can create dogs that excel instead of struggle. Dogs that consistently improve instead of slowly falling apart.

Hopefully this helps explain how our good intentions of helping often turn into hurting. How by way of “love” we often sentence dogs to struggle and suffer.


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Our groundbreaking do-it-yourself training video/PDF training booklet Learn to Train The Good Dog Way: The Foundation is now available for order – watch the teaser below and click HERE to order your copy!



By Sean O’Shea

We’ve all heard about or have had dogs that have had a negative past. Perhaps they were neglected, perhaps they were chained to a tree, perhaps they were starved, perhaps they were yelled at or hit for perceived 

infractions. As dog lovers this can be a hard one to wrap our heads around, and an even harder one to let go of. 

I’ve seen many, many owners who have become so invested in their dog’s story of abuse that it’s taken on a life of its own. It becomes a very big part of the dog (and the owner). And it often colors and informs all of the ways the owner interacts with the dog. 

Because of the abuse story, the owner wants to avoid the dog ever experiencing anything unpleasant. They want to protect the dog from the world. They want to ensure the pain is done.

This often looks like: babying the dog; coddling the dog; being overly permissive with the dog; refusing to share rules, structure, or discipline with the dog; spoiling the dog; being overly affectionate with the dog; being overly emotional with the dog etc. 

And while I get and appreciate the motivation behind these choices, the truth is that more dogs have been harmed long-term by all of the above actions than they have by abuse. 

Abuse happens and once the dog is removed from the situation, the abuse is over. Yes there can be issues to work through – perhaps challenging ones – but it’s the mindset of owners who can’t let go of the abuse story (and thus are unable or unwilling to share what the dog truly needs) who lock the dog into a lifetime of abuse by way of neglect. Neglect of the dog’s true needs. 

Yes, even dogs who have had terribly negative experiences still need structure, rules, guidance, and accountability. Well actually, here’s the real truth, they usually need these things even more than other dogs. Their world’s have been so devoid of what they need that they are often a mess. And the best gift you can give a struggling, confused, overwhelmed, and frightened dog is not more of the same – the best gift you can give them is the deliverance from those painful states. 

The game changer emotionally for owners is to start to look at dogs with these stories and realize that the real pain, the ongoing, long-term pain of abuse, is caused and perpetuated much more by us not being able to move forward than it is the actual abuse itself. And that by moving forward, and by treating the dog like a normal dog, with normal needs – of structure, leadership, rules, and accountability – you actually take the first step towards removing the pain, the first step towards a love (and motivation) that can heal, rather than harm. 

Beliefs and stories are powerful. They affect our thoughts and choices and actions. So be sure the story you’re telling yourself and others about your dog is one that serves him or her. A story that helps them recover and thrive, rather than remain stuck in the muck of the past. 

P.S. On a personal note, I’ve seen far more dogs harmed by a lack of training and healthy lifestyle with their owner than I have all the abuse cases combined. 

P.S.S. And just to be clear, the only reason I didn’t include love and affection in my prescribed suggestions for helping troubled dogs, is because that’s the easy part. The part that comes natural. And it’s the the one aspect I never seem to have to coach folks on doing more of. Always less and more selectively. :)


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By Sean O’Shea

I think it can be easy to miss this key component of success with your dog. Many folks confuse the state of arousal with excitement, happiness, or a dog being a dog. But here’s the thing, arousal, when you’re trying to get your dog to make his best choices, is usually the enemy.

Check out this analogy. A perfectly nice couple of guys go the football game on Sunday. These guys have nice jobs, nice families, are well respected, and well liked. Good people. Once they get on the road to the game they start to get excited. They pump some loud music, start talking a little louder, and are getting excited about the game. They both notice the little lift they’re feeling. Almost a little high, a little care free, a little, just a little I-don’t-a-damn attitude creeping in. It feels good and a teeny bit dangerous. But just a teeny bit.

They arrive at the game, grab their seats, and are swept up in the energy of the crowd and the anticipation of the game.

And then, kick off!

Boom, the adrenaline stars to flow, our family men’s voices become louder, the excitement more intense, and now we’ve got some physical gestures as well. We’re pumping hands and standing up periodically to add emphasis and show our commitment to the moment.

Next thing you know, someone in front of our lovely gents says something inappropriate. It isn’t directed directly at our guys, it’s just a general silly outburst, but due to all the excitement and arousal our guys are feeling, their better judgement lapses for just a moment and one of them shouts back at the other commenting gentlemen. It doesn’t take long for a shouting match to erupt, and soon enough there’s an actual physical altercation. No one is seriously injured, but the whole thing is pretty ugly, and both our family men and the other man who made the initial comment are all secured by security folks and later handed over to the police.

Now how did we get here? How did our nice, respectable, good guys end up making such bad choices and getting themselves in so much trouble? Arousal. They didn’t even see it coming. It was like a a slow storm that gradually enveloped them and next thing they knew they were acting like they wouldn’t normally act, talking like they wouldn’t normally talk, and getting into behavior that they wouldn’t normally get into.

It’s the same with our dogs. Only our dogs don’t have the same social pressure we do to comport ourselves in a certain fashion. (Because they live within a human structure not a dog structure.) And they tend to move into this space of arousal very, very quickly. We humans tend to need more ammo and time to get lifted up (not all of us though!), but our dogs are like hair triggers. They only need a little push to go boom! And many dogs live in the state of arousal most of their lives (always on edge about every little sound, every new passerby, every dog that barks etc). So pushing them into a higher state of it is very easy.

This is why we focus so much on the structured walk/heel, thresholds, duration place command, state of mind training overall, and correcting inappropriate overly excited/aroused/trigger happy behavior – both in the house and on the walks. These are all geared towards removing/combatting arousal. All these exercises or interactions are to calm the mind, slow the mind, relax the mind.

What we’re shooting for is much more than obedience work, we’re shooting for creating the mental landscape of more calm, more relaxed, more chilled out, and definitely less arousal. Because if we create all these elements, we create an environment for our dogs to make their best choices, share their best behavior, and be their best selves, without needing constant supervision or management. Eventually it becomes more of a default.

Just remember, the dogs you see out on walks that are all fired up, barking, pulling, spinning, biting the leash, or the ones you see in the house (yours perhaps??:)) that bark at everything that moves, anyone who walks in, or any change in the environment, are very much like our nice gentleman at the football game who got themselves into trouble. They’re likely suffering from arousal stemming from not enough help from us about what to do with it.

They’re stuck at the never ending football game.

Let’s help them find their seat, relax, and watch in a more civilized (and enjoyable for all) fashion.

P.S. Arousal and excitement do have their places. Play and fun time, or high action work like frisby, fetch etc are all great times for letting it all hang out. Just make sure you have both worlds to offer your dog. :)


CONNECT WITH US ON FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube for more training insights, tips, a free weekly Q&A, and community interaction!

Our groundbreaking do-it-yourself training video/PDF training booklet Learn to Train The Good Dog Way: The Foundation is now available for pre-order at a discounted price – click on the picture below to watch the new TEASER video, and click HERE to order your copy!



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