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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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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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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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By Sean O’Shea

When leadership is soft and rules are negotiable, the ability to push against and resist that which our dogs are unsure about, afraid of, or simply dislike, generates more uncertainty, more fear, and more dislike of the situation. It intensifies and magnifies whatever the issue is.

The lack of believable, dependable, non-negotiable rules and leadership forces our dogs to attempt to sort out uncertain and unnerving situations on their own. (It can also create empowered little brats that quickly learn that resisting allows them to get away with whatever they wish!) For our dogs, the feeling of being the most powerful presence in their world – in a world that often is overwhelming, confusing, and scary – can be a deeply frightening place to find themselves, and one that is the cause of much anxiety, stress, and bad behavior.

Resistance is simply the knee-jerk reaction to something our dogs are uncomfortable with or dislike – an attempt to quickly create comfort in their world – but often this resistance is short sighted, superficial, and ultimately harmful. Because this resistance is much more about the avoidance of problems rather than the resolving of problems, it is up to us as their guides to help them move past resistance that doesn’t serve their long-term welfare.

The bratty dog who successfully resists offers more brattiness in the future, the nervous dog who successfully resists offers more nervousness in the future, the aggressive dog who successfully resists offers more aggression in the future, the fearful dog who successfully resists offers more fear in the future. This successful resistance reinforces that the dog is alone in this uncomfortable situation, that he needs to sort out on his own how to create comfort, which creates more stress due to the added layer of multiple options/decisions/indecision.

Think of it this way, when you have to be up at the crack of dawn to catch a super early flight, your alarm goes off, you immediately jump out of bed and get to cracking. No hemming or hawing, no let me hit snooze for the hundredth time, no putting off. Why? Because it’s non-negotiable. There is no wiggle room or flexibility in this situation. If you’re late, you miss the plane and incur all the consequences that go along with that choice. The lack of ability to resist creates an immediate and negotiation-free (read: stress-free) response. Conversely, on a day where you’re trying to create a new habit of getting up early, so you can get more done with your day, but you only have your own guilt as a consequence, you’re much more likely to hem and haw, and snooze it up. This ability to resist or negotiate creates more resistance, negotiation, and stress. In both situations you equally didn’t want to get up early, but in the first example where resistance isn’t possible, your make the better choice straight away. Another example is the child who doesn’t want to leave a store he is enthralled with. When the child protests and is met with negotiation from the parents, his awareness of the lack of non-negotiability in this moment ensures the parents will receive tons more resistance and negative reaction from their child who senses the opportunity. The parent who has patterned their child to understand that rules and decisions are non-negotiable will see the child immediately adjust his or her desires and easily comply. (Same with dogs!) What you will also see is a lack of stress and anxiety in the child due to the comfort that certainty of non-negotiable rules and leadership (parenting) create. Yes, he still wants to stay in the store, but he has learned that his desires have to be curbed when requested. We all quickly learn whether resistance gets us more of what we want in the moment, and if it does, you can rest assured we will use it.

Back to the dogs!

When our dogs are unable to resist, due to believable, consistently enforced rules and leadership, they are compelled (through us guiding them in healthy directions) to find new and better ways of coping and behaving, even if it is uncomfortable at first. Left to their own devices they will almost always choose the easier but often less healthy route that offers immediate relief from discomfort but also avoids long term transformation. The real magic is in the patterning of non-negotiable rules and leadership consistently, rather than just attempting to enforce here and there, which creates more resistance and challenge due to lack of consistency and believability.

Because our dogs aren’t always able to understand how best to move through our world, and because they often can get stuck in behavior that doesn’t serve them, it us up to us to provide the atmosphere of believable, consistent, and non-negotiable leadership and rules that our dogs can emotionally lean on, depend on, and derive comfort from.

Our leadership, when consistently shared and believable, can actually help our dogs learn to deal with and accept things that are scary, unnerving, and uncomfortable. We can actually help them override their initial negative knee-jerk response to a problem or challenge, and help them develop a better, more healthy response. And that my friends is where the magic is!

Remember, the leader (or parent) who can’t be trusted to lead when faced with resistance creates mistrust, insecurity, and ultimately more resistance.

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By Sean O’Shea

When you lavish your dog with constant attention, praise, and affection, and you not only allow your dog to be constantly near you, but you reward and reinforce it, you’re very likely creating separation anxiety issues.

Our dogs can often become like drug addicts. They get used to an intensity and consistency of emotional interaction and physical closeness, and then when you’re not present they go through withdrawals of physical and emotions pain and discomfort.

Our dogs don’t know what’s being created, they just react to what feels good in the moment. In the same way they will eat ten pounds of food and need a vet visit, they will also take on all of the petting, the holding, the treating, the needing, the following, the longing and loving glances from you – simply because it feels good in the moment – and they will put themselves in harm’s way simply because they don’t know any better.

Because our dogs are unable to understand the gravity of what’s happening, the responsibility for striking that balance and creating a healthy environment and relationship falls on you. Your job is to do what’s right for your dog, even if that sometimes means denying yourself what feels good for you in the moment.

Just as you advocate and ensure that your dog doesn’t run into the street, doesn’t play with dogs that are dangerous or unbalanced, doesn’t eat toxic plants or food, doesn’t become dehydrated from lack of water, and doesn’t sit in a car that is too hot and dangerous on a sunny day, you also need to ensure and advocate for him that he doesn’t become emotionally and physically unhealthy due to too much love, too much affection, and too much of you.

What feels good and rewarding to you just might be hurting your dog.

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By Sean O’Shea

Oftentimes I see dog owners allowing tons of monkey business to ensue on walks – their dogs are pulling continuously on leash, darting here and there, marking this and that at their discretion, and all in all being disconnected, disrespectful, and stressed out – but then when their dog sees another dog and starts to freak out, the owner tries to address/correct their dog by vainly tugging on the leash, talking or yelling at them, and getting frustrated.

This is the “address the dynamite rather than the fuse syndrome” and, as you can imagine, trying to stop the explosion is way harder than trying to put out the fuse. :) This isn’t how you want to go about getting rid of reactivity issues on the walk!

The trick to fixing this stuff is actually simple: it’s all about setting the proper tone and state of mind before you encounter the target or trigger, not once you’re in the heat of battle.

Dogs who are allowed to pull you through thresholds, pull on leash, veer to trees and grass to pee and sniff when they choose and, in general, disregard their owner, are being taught that they are in charge. This creates stressed-out, fearful/anxious and/or entitled/empowered nervous wrecks who feel unsafe and overburdened with the responsibility to figure their world out.

Not a fun place to be for your dog.

And this is where dog reactivity on-leash comes from: Frustration or fear (and sometimes a combo of both!) from a lack of believable guidance.

Dogs with believable leaders, enforced rules, and structure are confident, relaxed, and comfortable dogs. And dogs who are confident, relaxed, and comfortable aren’t stressed and reactive! :)

So let’s have a look at a few very simple steps to change the dynamic of stressed and reactive into one of calm and cool.

Here’s your no monkey-business/reactivity/stress/anxiety prescription:

1) Dog waits patiently at thresholds (with zero pulling) for permission to move through. (Watch my “Thresholds” video HERE.)

2) Keep the leash short but not tight, always leaving a small amount of play. The short leash helps you keep your dog out of trouble AND allows you to know the instant he becomes disconnected. (Watch my “Walk” video HERE.)

3) Oftentimes a firmer conversation/correction for bad behavior/poor choices at the top of the walk will set the tone for a much more respectful and deferential walk. Setting the tone with a firmer consequence for a smaller infraction can be counter-intuitive but highly effective.

4) Never use constant pressure to hold your dog back from pulling. Instead you use corrective leash pops with instant release to give your dog information and allow him to be responsible to hold himself in position. Let your dog tell you the right level of leash pop needed. If you pop at a level two and the behavior persists, you’re likely using too mild of a correction, so try a level four. Again, let your dog tell you what works.

5) If leash pops aren’t breaking through and your dog is continuing to be intense and pulling, brisk 180’s when your dog gets out in front of you (walking the opposite direction while holding the leash firmly to your chest with two hands) can be a very helpful conversation. Always only use as much pressure as needed. Helpful video HERE!

6) Never allow pulling to trees/grass/flowers etc for marking. Instead you release your dog to pee and sniff when you decide. It makes no sense to your dog if you allow him to pull and disregard you 90% of the time, and then expect him to listen during the 10% when it matters to you most.

7) Manage and cultivate a healthy/positive state of mind by using the leash pops to address/correct your dog at the split second he begins to escalate or become excited when he sees or hears a dog. Do not wait for the explosion – correct your dog when they are at a 1, 2, or 3 and you will never see a 7, 8, 9, or 10!

8) Use space as a buffer with oncoming dogs. Don’t put your dog into “the pressure cooker” with another dog. The closer your dog gets to another dog the more the pressure increases. If your dog is nervous – like most reactive dogs are – the closer you get the less safe he feels. If your dog is bratty and excited, the closer you get, the more his frustration/excitement increases. In either case the less the space the harder it is for you and your dog to be successful. (Note: Super naughty, spazzy, bratty, reactive dogs coming towards you need more space than sedate and relaxed dogs do.

9) Focus on creating polite, courteous, and relaxed behavior at all times, and this will become your dog’s default state.

Remember, if you will proactively create a relaxed, respectful, and stress-free state of mind before the bombs start falling you’ll have a very good chance of avoiding the explosions of reactivity altogether. :)
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CONNECT WITH US ON FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube for more training insights, tips, a free weekly Q&A, and community interaction!

Click Here to learn more about Sean.

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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