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. :)

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By Sean O’Shea

Yesterday we had a super reactive and dog aggressive dog go home after a three week board and train. His owners had gotten to the point of not walking him because his behavior had become so volatile and dangerous. (He has redirected with multiple bites in the past.)

His past training experiences had asked him to simply not pull on the leash and be respectful of that boundary when out walking. The problem with that approach for this dog (and most of the guys we see here) was that it allowed him to be (and remain) in a semi-aroused mental state at all times. Even though he wasn’t pulling on the leash, he was far too disengaged from his owners, far too engaged with all things in the environment, and allowed to move and make choices on his own constantly. These factors caused him to be in an already too intense mental space when he would actually see a dog. By the time his owners would try to correct him, he would be too worked up, and the corrections would only make him worse. And he would explode.

Instead of doing a loose leash walk, we asked this dog to be in a very specific heel position.

Our desire to have dogs in an immaculate heel has nothing to do with tradition and everything to do with state of mind leverage and management. By asking for a very specific position with very specific rules, we cause the dog to remain tuned into us, he has to use all his mental energy to stay in position rather than use that mental energy to focus on trouble, and he has to practice extreme impulse control. This position also causes the dog to be more deferential and respectful of the handler who is asking for all this hard work and holding the dog accountable. (And that’s an awfully good thing with reactive dogs!)

Think of it like a mindset scale of 0-10. 0 is a totally relaxed dog, and 10 is an explosion. The loose leash walking approach was causing this dog to be cruising around in a constant state of 5, 6, 7 – just revved up and on the precipice of trouble. The mental distance between 5, 6, 7 and 10 is not very much. Once this dog would get an eyeful of another dog, he would hit 8 or 9, his owners would correct, and BOOM, explosion time! But when we walked him in our structured heel, he cruised around at a 1, 2, or 3. This meant that when he saw a dog, we had a ton of mental/intensity cushion between where he was at and the explosion point. He might lift up to a 4, 5, or 6 at worst, but that’s a very manageable state where a dog can still receive information and make positive decisions.

That means our structured heel created the cushion for us and the dog to never see the explosion point. This is why we’re such sticklers for the structured heel. By leveraging this command and all its rules and benefits, we manage to keep reactive dogs as close to 0 as possible. It’s also why these owners remarked that they’ve never had such an amazing walk with their dog before. We passed dog after dog yesterday, and their reactive guy just cruised along. If he got mildly interested in a dog (started to move up the intensity scale) they corrected immediately and brought him right back down instantly. I don’t think he ever went above 3 or 4, and boy is that saying something!!

Without keeping his mindset at a lower, more relaxed place, this dog (and his owners would be set up to fail again and again.)

If you have a reactive dog, the trick is to aim for 0, you’ll probably never actually get it, but if you do a good job of working towards it, you’ll never see 10!

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By Sean O’Shea

There’s a lot of talk in training circles and with owners about “fixing” dogs. I think a lot of this started with the very successful show Dog Whisperer. And for all the good that show did (helping folks to see their part in the their dog’s issues, the value of some simple concepts like exercise, disciple, affection, and rules, boundaries, and limitations, as well as inspiring a whole generation of dog trainers), it also had some other, less favorable impact on the dog owners and dog trainers.

The show and its producers had a great main message – that message was far more about personal growth and development, and the impact and value that has on your dog and relationship – but it also had another message or agenda.

That message was that of magic.

That this one person, because of his amazing abilities and finely honed skill set, could take a dog, regardless of the intensity of the issues, and transform that dog. Completely.

This was something that every dog owner and trainer wanted to buy into. That if you cultivated your skills and your mind, to a high enough degree, you too could affect change on that level and magnitude – and that completely.

But here’s the problem, to imagine or believe that a dog – this incredibly complex and emotionally nuanced being, with whatever genetic material and baggage it comes with, and whatever prior experience baggage it comes with and whatever personality/individuality it comes with – to be something that can be transformed into something completely different than what it is and what it contains, is a disservice to dogs, owners, and trainers.

What I’ve seen is a preponderance of owners and trainers that put unrealistic pressure and expectations on themselves and their dogs.
Because this message was packaged and presented so well on the tv show, many of us have been infected with the complete “fix” belief.
But imagining dogs can be “fixed” (and by fixed I mean back to it’s original state/issue-free) is like imagining that you, with all of your past experiences, traumas, challenges, personality, attitudes, and genetics, could be perfect, or issue-free. You can do as much therapy, self-help, and personal work as possible, and you can make enormous strides, and transformations, but you will still be you. You will still have your quirks. You will still have your tendencies. You can become your very best you, but it will still be you. And you won’t be perfect or fixed.

And that’s the truth with dogs as well. It’s not a negative, or a letdown, it’s simply a reset about reality and having appropriate, and healthy expectations. Expectations that don’t put unrealistic pressure on you, your, dog, or your trainer. (I see SO many trainers who feel they have to deliver magic in every session or they’ve failed.)

Can you get a dog who likes to run away to recall every time? Yes. Can you get that counter-surfing dog to stop surfing? Yes. Can you get the resource guarding dog to stop resource guarding? Yes. Can we make amazing, wild, mind-blowing transformations in problem dogs, and can some of these changes happen quickly? Absolutely! I see it every day. But while some of these issues might be resolved, these dogs aren’t fixed. They haven’t had their individuality – genetics, experience, personality removed and replaced – no, they’ve simply been made a better version of themselves. And that should be the goal (and expectation) in both the dog owner and the dog trainer – to make the dog the very best version of himself that is possible. No magic, no fixes, just the progress and transformation that comes from dedicated, consistent work and focus.

The truth is, some dogs will be able to make more progress than others, and some will have more limitations than than others. And that’s just like it is with us. We’re all individuals, and that’s both the beauty and the challenge.

None of us – our dogs or ourselves – get “fixed”. We can only hope that through hard work and focus to be the best versions of ourselves.

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The Good Dog Training and Rehabilitation 4867 Bellflower Ave. North Hollywood, CA 91601 (818) 441-1837

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By Sean O’Shea

If you’re struggling with behavior issues with your dog, know that I feel for you. Not just because you’re dealing with behavior issues, but because it’s so hard to make sense of what training and trainer to trust. There are so many conflicting opinions and approaches, so many diametrically opposed points of views – I just feel for anyone trying to make sense of what’s best and what and who to trust.

Every time an owner shows up to work with us, I know they’ve probably spent hours upon hours trying to decide what to do and who to trust – with the ever-present worry of making things worse and/or not making any progress at all.

I know how hard it has been for me to find my way, to figure out what I believe and what makes sense, through all the conflicting noise and near-religious zeal many in the dog world take in regards to training – and I’ve had the luxury of being immersed in it for years. So for the average owner trying to make sense of all of this, I know it’s rough.

On one hand you have some folks saying you will ruin your dog if you use this tool or that approach, and on the other you have people saying if you don’t use this tool or that approach you won’t get anywhere. (And I’m making some very big simplifications and generalizations here – the real story is far more confusing, difficult, and scary to navigate.)

The upshot is that I truly feel for you and I cheer anyone on that is trying to make sense of the dog training world and find solutions for their dog’s issues. The main reason I make videos is so folks see what we do and what it looks like – rather than talking about what works or doesn’t, I’d rather show you what we find to work. Of course that doesn’t mean it’s the only way – there are millions of ways to successfully train a dog – it’s just what we believe in and what we’ve found works best for us and our clients.

My suggestion is this: in this day of video on every phone, trainers should be easily able to show what kind of results their work produces. If not, it would give me pause. Personally, I’d want to see what they do, not just hear about it. If a trainer has serious opinions on aggression (dog to dog or dog to people), fear, or any other serious behavior issue rehab, they better be able to show proof of their philosophy and approach. If they have big opinions and zero evidence of the efficacy of those opinions, something is fishy. (There’s lots of talk about science based training, and using rewards only to rehab serious problems – but unfortunately I don’t see these people showing serious dogs making serious progress. If the program works so good, it should be easy enough to show.)

So do your research, read up, get as educated as you can, and perhaps most importantly, look for proof of results. When you see a trainer regularly making great progress, that’s a pretty good sign. And if you can’t find someone in your area you trust, or you’re just unsure, you can always email us for a recommendation and we’ll do our best to help point you in a good direction. (thegooddog.la@gmail.com)

It’s a jungle out there. Hang in there.

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By Sean O’Shea

The dog that pulls to the tree, goes from one side of you to the next, stops to sniff the ground or bush, slows down or speeds up randomly, is the same dog that feels it’s ok to bark, lunge, spin, and drag you when he sees another dog on a walk.

If we allow our dogs to practice the habits of being disconnected, disrespectful, pushy, and acting on whatever impulse that comes across their consciousness, we can’t be surprised when they do what we’ve trained them to do: listen to their impulse rather than us, use pushiness to get what they want, and to feel stressed because of a lack of believable leadership and information from you.

The problem is many owners see these little moments of pulling, sniffing, disregarding as innocuous, benign, not important. But this is THE big enchilada, this is where it all either goes good or goes bad. This is where you create the magic or you create the tragic. (Lol, that’s dramatic but it has a nice ring to it., :)) But because owners either want their dogs to have freedom (read: do whatever they want) so they can be “happy”, or because they’re simply not aware of what they’re creating, they allow this negative foundation to be created.

I always tell clients that we win or lose the dog reactivity battle not around dogs, but long before we see them.

We tackle dog reactivity issues by teaching our dog to relax into a structured walk, not simply by trying to correct them around dogs. Trying to address reactivity only around dogs – in other words, only when it’s happening, when your dog is already stressed out, at their worst, and with zero prior relationship/state of mind building – is absolutely a losing (and unfair) strategy. You don’t win (and can’t win) that battle without prior leverage. Trust me.

So how do we create the leverage needed to successfully fight the battle of reactivity? We do it by creating positive state of mind leverage long before the heat of battle. We do it by seeing the little moments adding up to the big moments. We do it through the structured walk. We do it by having our dog walk in a relaxed heel, with zero pulling on the leash, zero pulling to trees or bushes, zero sniffing, and zero targeting/intensely staring at other dogs. We do it by creating the right mindset habits in our dog of looking to us for guidance and permission, and being respectful, relaxed, and trusting us to be in control of the world.

If you set up your walk in this fashion, seeing the value and leverage of the small details and the small moments (listening rather than ignoring, patient rather than pushy, relaxed rather than stressed) as crucial building blocks towards good behavior, AND if you’ll see giving your dog the gift of peace of mind and comfort that comes from leadership and structure as bigger gifts than being stressed, anxious, and bratty from the lack of it, you’ll see some profound changes in your dog’s behavior on walks.

Remember, you fight and win the battle of reactivity not on the battlefield, but long before the actual fight. :)

P.S. Of course you can (and should!) release you dog to pee and sniff in your release/okay. Your dog will still get to do all of his doggy stuff, but when done on a permission basis, not a pushy basis, the same activity will be working for you, not against you.

P.S.S. If you have one of those cupcake, dream dogs, that are angels, who don’t get riled up by other dogs, and do so without structure or rules, rejoice! This message isn’t for you! You’re one of the lucky few. :)

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By Sean O’Shea

Not every dog likes, feels comfortable, or enjoys the company of unfamiliar dogs. And not every dog likes, feels comfortable, or enjoys the company of unfamiliar people. It’s easy for us to have expectations and beliefs about how dogs should be, what they should enjoy, and what should make them happy. But when we don’t honestly take into consideration (and honor) our dogs actual individual personalities, demeanor, limitations, and preferences, we do our dogs a massive disservice, and we put them at risk for possibly getting into serious trouble.

I get many questions from folks and see many clients who have a vision of what their dog should like and dislike, and what a dog needs to do to be fulfilled. Oftentimes this vision is at odds with what their dog actually enjoys or feels comfortable with.

The dog who is uncomfortable and insecure with other dogs having to endure another day at the dog park, and often getting into scraps or all out fights because of it. The dog who is uncomfortable and unsure around people having to be “social” when guests or over or a party is happening – being tense, growling, snapping, or worse. The dog on a walk who is shy and insecure having people come up excitedly to pet and engage with him while his eyes are wide with fear and his body tense and ready for fight or flight.

These are super common situations that many dogs find themselves in. Often it’s because people feel their dog should like other dogs or people, that they need this interaction or “socialization” time, and sometimes just because people don’t know better. But our job as our dog’s leader and guardian is to protect and advocate for them. To understand and prioritize what’s best for them rather than what’s best for us and our wishes or beliefs. We need to be honest with ourselves about our individual dog, what his limitations are and what helps or harms.

There no shame in saying my dog doesn’t like other dogs, or that he’s not safe playing with dogs he doesn’t trust. There no shame in putting your dog away in his crate when you have guests over if your dog is terribly uncomfortable with that situation. There’s no shame in saying no to folks who want to pet your dog on walks if your dog doesn’t enjoy the interaction, especially if he’s tense or possibly dangerous. In fact there’s not only no shame, but putting your dog’s comfort and safety first (and other dogs and people’s as well) is actually your primary job and responsibility.

Don’t let others pressure you to compromise your responsibility or let them question your decisions. If you know your dog and you know what’s best for him, than do it, and don’t let others influence you. Social pressure, especially when it comes to our dogs is a heavy one. Stand firm, and challenge yourself to be assertive in the face of pressure. (It’s good practice for life in general!)

Of course we want to always be improving our dogs and their ability to cope with their world and to thrive in it, but we also need to temper that desire with reality. Be sure you’re being realistic and fair to your dog. Don’t put him in situations that overly pressure him, make him terribly uncomfortable, and possibly put him at risk for making a bad choice. Tune into your dog, be honest, and understand his limitations and honor them. And most of all, give you and your dog permission to always do what’s best for you both, regardless of what mythical doggie stories suggest, or what others request.

Your dog is an individual, be sure to treat him that way.

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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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