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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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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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By Sean O’Shea

If you have a multi-dog household, and are experiencing tension, squabbles, or all out fights, the reason is almost always lack of leadership, structure, and rules. This results in doggy chaos. When dogs don’t have a strong pack structure in their house – meaning if they’re not 100% sure who’s in charge, what’s allowed and not allowed, and that someone will effectively enforce the rules – they can quickly become stressed, anxious, pushy, bratty, possessive, worried, fearful etc.

As you can imagine, dogs co-habitating in this fashion are going to be ripe for trouble and fighting. If you’ve ever read The Lord Of The Flies (I know this is going back a long way for most of us!!) you’ve got a great example of the psychological and behavioral breakdown that occurs when structure, rules, and authority are absent. Just replace all the kids in the story with your dogs. :)

When structure, rules, and authority are removed, stress, anxiety, and fear start to manifest. Why? Because of survival instincts. Social creatures understand that the absence of structure, rules, and authority mean danger, risk, and fear, and that puts everyone on edge. It also creates the opportunity for personality traits that might have remained managed or suppressed in the presence of authority (dominant, bratty, possessive etc) to surface and blossom when that authority pressure is removed.

So understanding this dynamic it becomes clear that in order to create a harmonious household with multiple dogs (and of course this applies to single dog homes as well!), we need to make sure that we clearly and consistently share STRUCTURE (place command, thresholds, structured walk etc), RULES (no jumping on people, no harassing or pressuring other dogs, no possessive behavior etc), and AUTHORITY (sharing believable and valuable consequences for unwanted behavior etc).

The absence of these elements creates the opportunity for chaos and unhappy, stressed out dogs. (And kids!!)

Remember the end of the story, when the boys where finally rescued? They immediately reverted back to their normal, courteous, polite, thoughtful, and civilized selves. Why? Because they had to – and also because they wanted to.

For those of you not familiar with the book, here’s a link: http://www.amazon.com/Lord-Flies-William-Golding/dp/0399501487/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1407085329&sr=8-1&keywords=Lord+of+the+flies

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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 – check out the teaser below! 

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By Sean O’Shea

In the world of training and rehab work, few things have such a profound impact and cause such profound transformations in dogs as does duration Place and Down commands.

Because this all appears so deceptively simple, and it’s not exactly action packed, it’s easy to dismiss the incredible value and impact duration work can have on all manner of canine behavioral issues.

Let me see if I can help explain what’s really going on behind this exercise. Most dogs live in a state of almost constant reactivity and alertness to all stimuli in their environment. The bicyclist, the skateboarder, the mailman, the squirrels in the yard, the construction across the street, the neighbor kids running around and playing out front, the family kids running around and playing inside, the dog next door barking and beckoning, and on and on. All of these goings-on cause our dogs to be constantly on edge, tense, concerned, worried, wound up, and freaked out. It’s akin to your dog being an overworked stock broker working on the floor of the NY stock exchange – overstimulated, and stressed out. And the more fundamentally nervous/insecure your dog is the more susceptible and vulnerable he/she will be to these stressors.

And here’s the thing, just like us, when stress in an ongoing, never ending merry-go-round, behavior issues are bound to develop. For us, it might be excessive drinking or eating to cope, or just general irritability, unhappiness, and anxiety – we snap at our kids or spouse or co-workers. For our dogs, they too will attempt to cope, they will attempt to turn off the noise and discomfort – but their approach – barking, fence fighting, chasing, biting, nervousness, obsessive behavior, will only make them worse.

But just in time, in comes duration work!

With duration work we’re actually patterning our dogs not to care about all the noise in the world. We’re desensitizing them and conditioning them to disregard and let it all go.

How can duration Place and Down create this? It only works when these commands are trained to be completely non-negotiable. Once these commands are solid enough, and our dogs learn that pushing against them doesn’t get them anywhere, they will finally relax and surrender into the exercise. This takes patience, repetition, and almost always corrections to be able to override the more intense emotional state. The training will actually begin to override our dog’s knee-jerk desire to respond to whatever is provoking or making them exited or uncomfortable.

When we train properly, we actually teach our dogs to prioritize our requests over their initial impulses, and over time, the training and patterning will cause the actual emotional feeling that originally was paired with the stimulus in the environment to change. Your dog will actually start to not care or worry or be stimulated about many things he cared, worried, and was intensely stimulated by.

We like to refer to duration work as enforced meditation. And if you think about meditation for humans, it’s goals are virtually the same: to teach your mind to disregard the incessant noise of your thoughts, and simply let them appear with no reaction, and then disappear, leaving you relaxed and calm and peaceful. We’re looking for the same effect on our dogs. We want them to hear or see what originally bothered or excited them, and let it simply occur without them feeling the need (or initially the ability) to react to it. By conditioning this over and over, we teach our dogs to be relaxed observers of their world rather than stressed participants to all of it.

Over time, through duration work, and other training, we condition our dogs to exist at a much lower stress baseline in general – and when your dog is relaxed and less stressed in general, he will make much better decisions – even without your help or guidance. And that my friends is the promised land!

I know it seems to good to be true, and far too simple to have such a profound effect on your dog’s life, but take it from someone who works with highly anxious, highly stressed, severely dog-reactive, dog aggressive, and human aggressive dogs constantly, it’s an absolute game changer and godsend. But remember, the magic only happens when the commands are 100% non-negotiable, non-flexible, and the dog completely surrenders and relaxes into the exercise – eventually even in the face of intense triggers.

So give it a shot, and let me know what kind of results you get. I think you’ll be amazed at what this simple exercise will give your dog.

P.S. If you would like to get a start on duration work, here is a link to our free how-to Place command video:

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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 – click on the picture below to watch the new TEASER video, and click HERE to order your copy!

 

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