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. 

By Sean O’Shea

pro·pa·gan·da

\ˌprä-pə-ˈgan-də, ˌprō-\
noun


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.

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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
Priscilla

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

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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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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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

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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