By Sean O’Shea

While typically we associate the abuse of dogs with denying them food, shelter, or physically harming them, the abuse I see in my work is far more common, insidious, and acceptable.

Why insidious? Because it’s abuse that is shared under the guise of love, caring, or just a lack of knowledge.

So many owners mistakenly associate leadership (creating a framework of rules and expectations), structure (daily habits, routines, patterns), and accountability (consequences for breaking known rules, or making poor choices in general) with being mean, nasty, and harsh. These owners just want to love their dogs – which is code for selfish/lazy behavior.

But here’s the thing, the only mean, nasty, or harsh thing is denying our dogs the framework and foundation they need to thrive and lead healthy, happy lives.

Owners who decide to forgo leadership, structure, and accountability are basically sentencing their dogs to a life of stress, anxiety, worry, over-arousal, uncertainty, pressure, and way too much responsibility.

And the dogs we see that live like this are every bit as abused and unhealthy as the more obvious and accepted forms.

What would you call constant stress when it’s avoidable? Constant anxiety when it’s avoidable? Constant worry when it’s avoidable? Constant over-arousal when it’s avoidable? Constant pressure when it’s avoidable? Constant responsibility when it’s avoidable?

I’d call it abuse.

Of course no one is hitting the dog, starving the dog, or leaving the dog out in the snow. These dogs likely have the best food, tons of “love”, and a nice cozy bed(s) to sleep on. And yet, they’re emotional wrecks.

If we allow dogs to be emotional disasters (which looks like chronic barking, possessive behavior, separation anxiety, hyper-reactivity, growling/lunging at triggers, maniacal on-leash behavior, maniacal indoor behavior, aggression etc) when we have the ability to change that and offer them something far better, isn’t that abuse?

If we allow our dogs to suffer when there are methods, approaches, and tools that can change all that, isn’t that abusive? Isn’t allowing suffering the same as causing suffering?

Now, if you’re hard at work with a challenging dog, or you’re working on turning a toxic relationship around, this isn’t aimed at you. You’ve got my full support. But if your dog is a wreck, and you prefer the easy, comfortable, lazy (or worst yet, chosen ignorance) approach to “dealing” with this, then this might be for you.

Abuse comes in many packages, and the package that is most pervasive isn’t the horrible, nasty, or unbelievable – it’s the every day, socially acceptable, loving, spoiling, allowing, permissive stuff that’s doing the most damage.

Remember, love isn’t about doing what’s easiest and most fun/comfortable/emotionally enjoyable for you. It’s about doing what’s best and healthiest for those in your charge – even when it’s hard or uncomfortable.

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

Our groundbreaking do-it-yourself E-Collar training video/PDF training guide Learn to Train The Good Dog Way: E-Collar Training is now available for order! Click HERE to order your copy!


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By Sean O’Shea

1) Thou shall only pet, soothe, and share soft energy with a dog when they are in a healthy and positive state of mind. 

We learned in The Ten Commandments Of Dog Training (Don’t!) that sharing soft energy or soothing interactions with our dogs when they’re in an unhealthy state will likely reinforce and strengthen the unwanted behavior. Remember this phrase to help you:

What you pet is what you get!

So be mindful to use your interactions to cultivate positive mental states rather than negative.

Instead of coddling and soothing your dog at the first sign of distress, let’s learn to ignore minor stress and moments of uncertainty. Trust that your dog is a creature designed to overcome challenges, and that she is much more resilient than you give her credit for. Like kids, your dog will take cues from your level of reaction as a guide for how strongly they should feel and be concerned about situations.

For more serious behavior issues, embark on a balanced obedience/training program which will instill confidence and growth. With the right training approach, even serious issues can be successfully tackled. Check out my basic free how-to videos HERE or my Foundation DVD HERE.

So think of it this way: if there’s a behavior that you would like your dog to do less of, don’t do something that will increase the frequency of the behavior (petting, soothing, etc), and instead do something that will reduce its frequency (ignoring, correcting, or training).

2) Thou shall keep your on-leash dog safe by not allowing interactions with unknown dogs, who are also on-leash. 

We learned in the previous post that dogs meeting on-leash tend to be in a compromised state, either due to stress from excitement and frustration of anticipating a meeting; or stress from nervousness and insecurity from trying to avoid a meeting (and, of course, some dogs are conflicted and vacillate between both). Either way we know that even really social dogs may end up in a negative interaction when on-leash due to these factors.

So what’s the right approach to dogs meeting on-leash?

Well, in my opinion, you shouldn’t let it happen. I just create a simple rule for my clients that they aren’t to let their dogs interact on-leash with other dogs on the walk. The only exception to this is if the other dog is a well-known friend to your dog, you’re certain they get on great and have no issues interacting – and your dog doesn’t act like a knucklehead dragging you across the street to meet his buddy! For all other situations, I’d suggest simply deciding to avoid the possible drama and trauma of on-leash greetings, and use my favorite line to keep other owners and dogs at bay:

“Sorry, my dog is in training.” (It works every time!)

Most of the motivation behind our desire to have on-leash meetings stem from our belief that our dogs need to meet every dog they see. That in order to be fulfilled and happy, they need to have interaction with all the neighborhood dogs. Believing this to be the case, and, of course, wanting our dogs to be happy (and not wanting to be a social outcast who says ‘no’ to other owners), we allow them to drag us over to random dogs at their discretion and peril. But the reality is that your dog needs structure and guidance from you on the walks much more than he needs to meet every dog in order to be happy and balanced – not to mention, safe.

Remember that it’s our job to advocate for our dogs and to keep them safe, sound and balanced when on-leash and off. Simply put, your dog needs you to make the smart decisions and understand what’s best for him when it comes to safely navigating through our world.

3) Thou shall ensure that your dog waits patiently at thresholds, heels politely, and obeys the rules of the structured walk. 

Previously we learned that allowing these behaviors oftentimes creates relationship issues, teaches your dog to ignore you, trains pushiness, and often creates stressed out little monsters. So let’s not go there!

Instead, focus on creating respectful, calm behavior at thresholds with your dog stopping and waiting for permission from you to move through. This simple exercise can dramatically change your dog’s behavior on the walk and elsewhere. The trick is to not use a tense leash to hold your dog back from moving through the threshold, but, instead, use a quick pop on the leash if your dog should try to move past you. You can also ask your dog to sit first, but the way I do it, without a verbal command, actually challenges the dog more and encourages better focus and more respect.

Check out my Threshold video below for step-by-step instructions on how to create better behavior and a better state of mind at thresholds:


Same goes for the walk itself. Many owners use constant pressure (holding the dog back with a tense leash) in an attempt to control the dog. This only makes for a tense, frustrated, struggle for both of you. What we’re looking for is a short, but not tight, leash, that always has a little slack in it, except for the moments when you correct with an instantaneous leash pop and release. These leash pops are conversations to your dog that communicate where your dog should be position-wise.

Check out my Walk video below for step-by-step instructions on how to create a calm, structured walk:


Also, see my post called Why Heel Matters.

When done correctly, the structured walk (with relaxed leash and using leash pops to communicate) will keep your dog from pulling, keep him/her calm, and will prevent many of the outbursts and reactivity (barking and lunging).  These outbursts typically come from dogs being overly-stressed due to straining, frustration, and feeling disconnected from you. As for the actual rules of the structured walk, don’t allow your dog to pull, sniff, mark, or target other dogs. Your dog needs structure and rules from you in order to feel comfortable, respectful, and safe on the walk. You can allow your dog to have potty and sniff time on your release, not when your dog simply decides to pull you to something of interest.

Owners often struggle with feeling bad about asking their dogs to walk in a more structured fashion. They feel they’re denying their dogs the fun and joy of exploring and being dogs, but the reality is that your dog will actually enjoy the walk much more if he’s calm, relaxed, and stress free.

We recommend a 90/10 ratio of structure to freedom. Shoot for a 90% structured walk with your dog walking at your side with zero pulling and then 10% of freedom, potty time, and/or sniffing, spread out over the duration of the walk, as a reward for great behavior.

If you will set the tone from the beginning of the walk at the thresholds, and then create a respectful, calm, structured walk, you will find your dog becoming a much more relaxed and comfortable dog, who looks to you for information and guidance, and is far better behaved in all other aspects of life, as well.

4) Thou shall always supervise and direct the interactions of dogs who are new to each other. 

In the previous post we learned that allowing dogs to work their relationships issues out on their own can be a recipe for disaster. Because there are so many variables and dynamics at play when dogs are being introduced to each other – territorial issues, excitement issues, competition issues, bad manners, trust issues, owner nervousness, etc – it’s prime time for dogs to make bad choices and create bad blood right from the get-go.

So, instead of leaving our dogs to sort things out when the deck is stacked against them, let’s help set them up for success through some simple structure, rules, and guidance. If we will take the time to move slowly, be aware, and to create a calm and relaxed state where both dogs can comfortably get familiar with each other, and over the initial hump of newness, novelty, stress and pressure, we have a great chance to create a harmonious, safe, and happy relationship.

Click HERE to read my post that gives step-by-step details of how to create this harmonious introduction.

5) Thou shall utilize the dog park at your (and your dog’s) own risk. 

We learned in the last post that while dog parks are a really cool idea in theory, unfortunately, the reality can be something very different. Many dogs develop trust issues with other dogs after having been bullied or attacked at the dog park, or off-leash, and this often spills over into creating dog reactivity and dog aggression issues down the line.

Personally, I don’t ever go into dog parks, and I recommend my clients avoid them as well. My suggestion is to find safe, balanced dogs that your dog can play with – create play dates with friends or neighbors who have good dogs, or take hikes or other excursions off-leash in a safe environment. Treadmills can be a great addition for helping higher energy dogs to expend some of that energy. Bike rides or jogging with your dogs are also awesome activities.

If, for some reason, you’re unable to utilize these other options and feel the dog park is a necessity for you and your dog, then here are a few tips to think about:

  • When you arrive, check out the vibe: Is it chaotic, are there too many dogs in a frenzied state? Are there any dogs who are engaging in bullying behavior or anything else that makes you nervous? If so, honor that feeling and skip the park or wait until later.
  • Having a rock solid recall on your own dog gives you a big edge in being able to manage and mitigate trouble.
  • If your dog is being chased or bullied and appears nervous, insecure, or that the play doesn’t appear reciprocal, calmly go and intercept and get him/her out of there. A Pet Convincer is an awesome tool for helping with situations that could be problematic at the dog park – like interrupting an escalation or breaking up a fight.
  • Monitor the situation as you would if kids we’re playing or wrestling. Don’t allow things to continuously escalate and intensify – these escalated intensity/adrenaline moments are the perfect opportunity for trouble to break out. Work to maintain a fun but in-control vibe.

Remember, it’s your job to advocate and protect your dog. Many owners use the dog park as a place for their ill-behaved dogs to run wild, and many other owners are totally unaware of what their dog is capable of and may not even be aware that their dog is dangerous. Once again, I don’t recommend the dog park, but if you going to use it, be sure to be as safe, aware, and prepared as possible.

6) Thou shall use a calm and relaxed tone and energy when interacting with and correcting your dog. 

In the previous post I talked about the fallout that can occur when we use raised voices, anger, or emotional intensity in our interactions with our dogs, and how it’s the natural by-product of the frustration that occurs when we don’t use proper tools and strategy that let us communicate effectively.

As a trainer I see this all the time: Good, smart, emotionally-balanced people losing their cool and falling apart because they feel that they have no other way to effectively communicate and control their dog. I also remember how I would lose MY cool back in the days before I had any understanding of training or tools – it wasn’t fun or pretty.

The good news is that this is easily avoided and/or rectified by utilizing some simple training concepts, and using tools that empower you. 

If you’ve been to my website or Facebook page, you know I’m a huge advocate of prong collars. I know many people have strong feelings about them, and that’s okay, but as someone who’s tried most of the methods and tools out there, and who’s only goal is to help the average dog owner be successful, I’ve found few things that are able to turn an unhappy, frustrating, and dangerous dynamic around as quickly and effectively as a well-used prong collar. It’s also extremely safe and very easy to use. So I almost always recommend owners who are struggling start here.

Another part of the problem that leads to crazy owner syndrome is not using tools that help inside the house. As owners we instinctively understand that we need a leash and collar to safely control our dogs outside on walks, but for some reason (and trust me, I was included in this group some years ago!) we don’t think to put a leash on in the house to help us direct, control, and train them. So our dogs run roughshod over us and everything else in the house. They bark, jump, mouth, destroy, and drive us nuts – and we, because we have no ability to control them without tools, lose our minds, yell, fuss, and fume.

Most owners would be astounded by how much the “crazy” factor – for you and your dog! – is eliminated by simply leaving a leash and training collar on your dog in the house, and having the most rudimentary grasp of training skills on board. Suddenly you have the ability to give information, give direction, and also give corrections if needed, all without raising your voice or losing your cool. How cool is that? When we have tools that work and empower us, communication that is valuable, and dogs that actually listen and are safely controlled, we’re able to stay calm, relaxed, and emotionally balanced.

So have your dog wear a training collar and leash in the house, only when you are home supervising. Use this simple setup to empower you to calmly and confidently guide and train your dog in what you want as well as to correct the behavior you don’t want – no yelling or frustration needed.🙂

7) Thou shall pick a dog who’s physical energy and state of mind is compatible with your own. 

In the 10 “Don’t”s, we learned about all of the possible fallout when humans and dogs start off with physical (energy) or mental (attitude/demeanor) incompatibility issues. When these divides are great, the outcomes are oftentimes frustrating, sad, and heartbreaking. The best way to avoid this unhappy situation is to become highly conscious of finding a dog that is a good match in both temperament and energy levels.

If you’re a highly active person (think hiking, running, adventuring etc), then a high energy dog can be a great fit. If you tend toward quiet, low-energy activities (think reading, web surfing, gardening, and relaxing walks), then a lower energy dog who will be comfortable in a lower gear would be a great fit. Imagine putting runner Usain Bolt in an office cubicle for eight hours a day and you can probably picture not only the frustration, but the lack of fulfillment and sadness that would occur. Athletic dogs need an athletic lifestyle – to choose one and not provide that lifestyle is dooming your dog and yourself to a very unhappy existence. This existence usually looks like barking, destruction, escaping, obsessive behavior etc.

The other factor to consider, and one that can be harder to gauge, is mental disposition. Dogs, like people, come with all different types of attitudes and dispositions. You can have assertive golden retrievers and sweet, soft German Shepherds. Of course there are breed tendencies, but what I’m suggesting is that you focus less on breed and more on individual attitude/demeanor of the dog in front of you. A soft owner, a laid-back owner, an emotionally-fragile owner, or a sweet and overly-loving owner can all get themselves into serious trouble if they’re attempting to cohabitate with an assertive, confident, bratty, or otherwise strong-minded dog. When dogs feel a serious assertiveness/strength/leadership discrepancy between themselves and the human that thinks they’re in charge of setting rules and limits for them, you can see major friction arise. Some of the behaviors that can manifest from this friction are: resource guarding, bullying, territorial/protective issues, dog aggression, limits/rules being set on humans, and of course biting, if the human makes the mistake of breaking these rules or pushing these limits.

Knowing all this, be sure to carefully observe the dog you’re thinking about adding to your life. Watch for the attitude behind the cute exterior. Does the dog “feel” assertive, bratty, pushy, or stubborn? If so, honor that. We’re able to easily sense these traits in people, but we often let the cuteness and love of dogs obscure our animal ability to objectively assess dog-attitude. Instead, check in with your inner human animal and let it tell you how the dog’s attitude and demeanor “feels” to you.

At the end if the day, it’s all about compatibility. If you’re a softie, try to find a softer dog; if you’re confident and assertive, you have more leeway to work with firmer dogs. If you’re a couch potato, try to find a low-key, chilled out dog; and if you’re a high energy, action person, go find yourself a suitable partner in crime.

Remember, to think that dogs are a one-size-fits-all is a recipe for struggle and heartache.

8) Thou shall always have control of your off-leash dog and prevent him from harassing other dogs and owners. 

Okay, so in our original post we learned that even though we may have a super awesome dog that is friendly to all – or at least we think we do – our dog running up to another owner with a dog on-leash is highly unfair and highly selfish. This simple act can create serious dog reactivity issues for that dog, can undo hours and hours of progress and trust building for dog and owner, and can easily end in a serious dog fight (and maybe even a human to human fight!). So here are some suggestions:

  • Train your dog! Work on creating a bombproof recall at the very least. You can train this with a long line and training collar, with treats and toys if your dog is super mild and motivated, or the best and most dependable suggestion – E-collar recall. E-collar or remote-collar trained recall is the closest thing to 100% recall there is.
  • If training isn’t your bag, then invest in a simple long line. You can get them from Amazon or Petco for a few bucks, and you can get 15, 25, or 50 feet lengths. This way you have freedom for you and your dog, but still some control. This doesn’t guarantee your dog will come when called, but it offers a much higher level of control and safety.

Most importantly, I want you to simply be aware that even if you have a friendly, easy-going dog, many other owners aren’t lucky enough to be in the same position. Ignoring this reality, and allowing your dog to pressure and stress out other dogs and owners is highly disrespectful and irresponsible. Your fellow dog owners and their dog’s comfort, security, and enjoyment is just as important as yours. So get that dog trained, get him under control, or get him on a leash or long line.

9) Thou shall honor your dog at the highest level and keep him balanced and healthy by treating him like a dog and not a human. 

In the previous post we talked about how indulging ourselves – sharing too much unearned affection, humanizing and babying our dogs, and not sharing the necessary structure, rules, and guidance – while feeling awesome for us, is almost always the greatest contributing factor to bad behavior and uncomfortable and unhappy dogs. As a professional trainer, I see this one almost constantly – and attempting to repair the behavioral fallout that occurs from it is a daily focus.

When we baby, spoil and humanize, we not only create bratty and entitled dogs, but we also create stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed dogs. When dogs feel like they’re without a strong, guiding presence in their world to lean and depend on, they begin to take on more responsibility and stress, and serious behavioral issues are often the result. So what’s a conscientious dog owner to do?

First, just becoming aware of the reality of this dynamic and the power of our affection and interactions is a good start. Understanding that our affection can be used to both help or harm, and then being mindful of wielding that power wisely is where we need to go. And it’s not about one or the other – affection or discipline, all or nothing – no, it’s all about balance.

It’s about being as believable in your discipline as you are in your affection.

It’s about being able to gift your dog with guidance that is as fluid as the real world is. We need to be able move between both worlds of lover and leader effortlessly and intelligently, being mindful to correct negative, unwanted behavior effectively and convincingly, and reward positive, healthy behavior. This doesn’t mean reward for every simple action your dog makes that isn’t negative!! Like anything else, that which is too easily obtained is not valued or appreciated. And if you reward constantly, and for everything, your dog will see you as needy, soft, and not to be followed – and he will likely become spoiled and entitled – expecting the world to revolve around him.

A great approach to keep things between you and your dog on the harmonious path is to use obedience commands to have your dog work for your attention, for food, and for other valued interactions. This is a simple and effective strategy to help keep your relationship in balance and ensure your dog is in a heathy frame of mind, seeing resources comes from you at your discretion, and patterning a healthy habit of respectful, obedient behavior.

A quick reminder! Be sure that you are the one who sets up these interactions, not your dog. In other words, you decide when to give affection, not your dogYou decide when feeding/treat time is, not your dog.

Remember, what your dog needs and wants most is a balanced world where you fulfills all his needs – his need for structure, leadership, rules, discipline, guidance, play, adventure, exercise, and love. When you truly care and are truly aware, you doesn’t just share the stuff that is fun, fulfilling, and pleasurable for yourself – you also share the stuff that is sometimes hard, sometimes not easy, and sometimes not fun. That’s the true responsibility of raising dogs. That to me is real love.

10) Thou shall appreciate and cultivate your dog’s ability to be quiet, still, and relaxed. 

Okay, so in the last post we talked about how many people mistake excited behavior for happiness and calm behavior for sadness. We also talked about how dogs that live in a perpetual state of excitement and adrenaline tend to be stressed and anxious and almost always have behavioral issues as a result. These issues can run the gamut, from mildly annoying, to the very serious and dangerous. So if we understand that excitement, adrenaline, stress, and anxiety are actually where problem behaviors come from, and that calm, relaxed, stress-free dogs tend to make great choices on their own, we can hopefully see the value in perceiving these states for what they truly are rather than what human emotions we project onto them.

Of course I’m not suggesting that every dog who is excited is stressed, or that every dog should be constantly calm and chilled out – absolutely not – but dogs who live in constant motion and who are unable to access calm and stillness when requested, are often dogs in trouble.

So the only action step needed for this commandment is a perspective and awareness shift. Once you understand that many of the behaviors we associate with happiness are actually stress and anxiety, and many of the behaviors we associate with sadness are actually calm, relaxation, we can start to feel differently about what we’re seeing from our dogs. With this understanding we can also start to prioritize some activities and exercises that actually condition our dogs to comfortably access both the active world and the still world, and in doing so, cultivate better mental health and stability.

Read about this simple but incredibly powerful exercise that will teach your dog how to be calm, relaxed, and comfortable in a chaotic world HERE.

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

Our groundbreaking do-it-yourself E-Collar training video/PDF training guide Learn to Train The Good Dog Way: E-Collar Training is now available for order! Click HERE to order your copy!


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By Sean O’Shea

What’s the number one question we get from owners? When can we pet him? When can we love on him? When can he be on the couch? When can he have total freedom? Okay, that’s several questions, but you get the idea, right?😉

When people get dogs they don’t get them thinking they’ll have to temper their affection. They don’t think couch privilege might not be on the menu. They don’t think they’ll have to restrict their dog’s ability to roam the house. But, if things have gone sideways with their dog’s behavior and their relationship with their dog, changing or adjusting these things might just be what’s needed to help sort that behavior and relationship stuff out.

What many owners don’t understand is that these seemingly benign privileges and interactions can create strong feelings and perceptions in our dogs – feelings and perceptions about us, their owners. Feelings of permissiveness, softness, neediness – feeling like we might just be ripe for the taking advantage of. With certain dogs, these interactions and privileges we share can unintentionally convey that listening, respecting, and prioritizing us, isn’t something they need to worry about. And this can cause lots of problems.

You may see horrible behavior on walks, territorial stuff around the house or yard, possessiveness, guarding, neurotic barking, fighting amongst household dogs, fear and nervousness, or even human aggression.

But here’s the thing, these privileges and interactions, on their own, aren’t the sole cause of the problems – actually, they can be almost totally benign. So then what’s the problem? The problems arise when these privileges and interactions occur IN THE ABSENCE of their counterbalance – the training, leadership, rules, authority, and accountability. It’s when the conversation is completely lopsided that things get funky. Owners don’t realize they’re having a one-sided, dysfunctional conversation with their dogs that is leading things astray. They don’t realize they’re giving all the privileges and freedom and love, without asking for anything in return. And when things are given excessively, freely, with no boundaries, and no demands for corresponding good behavior, things can get ugly, fast. Respect goes out the window, and dogs get stressed, anxious, nervous, opportunistic, and freaked out!

So trainers, looking to shore things up, even things out, and re-balance the human-to-dog conversation, ask owners to remove or reduce certain privileges and interactions. The goal is to shift the way your dog feels about you and your household back to a more healthy space, and thus, get your dog himself to shift back to a more healthy space. And usually, when things are just beginning, when you’re just starting to work on resetting your dog and your relationship, we want to create as much leverage as possible; to create the strongest perceptions we can. So we go hard on the changes. Perhaps zero affection. Perhaps zero roaming. Perhaps zero furniture access. But that’s only half of the equation. It’s not just about what we remove – it’s also about what we add (that leadership, rules, accountability stuff!) that really makes things click. It’s striking that balance between asking and giving that creates the magic.

But what about those inevitable questions at the top of this post? When can owners loosen up? When can the affection creep back in? When can the dog have more freedom and access? How do owners know how much is too much? Honesty, it depends on the dog, and it depends on you. It depends on how bad things have been, how out of balance you both are, and perhaps most importantly, what you’re capable of sharing in regards to the other side of the conversation. The leadership conversation. And this is where our 10/10 Principle comes in.🙂

Here’s what we share with our owners to help them wrap their heads around the formula for keeping their dogs and relationship in balance, especially as they’re working through problem behaviors, training and relationship transitioning. We use a number system to make it easy and clear. On our scale, if you’re a 2 in the leadership/rules department, you better be a 2 in affection/freedom department. If you’re a 6 in the leadership/rules department, then you can be a 6 in the affection/freedom department. See how it works? It’s just about balancing the conversation so your dog stays…balanced. Your job is to make sure your numbers line up as best you can. If you’re an 8 in affection and freedom, and a 2 in discipline, you’re gonna have issues!

The truth is, most owners struggle with the discipline side of things. They struggle with the rules, the enforcement, and structure, so keeping an eye on the corresponding freedoms is essential. If you use this scale – honestly! – it can help you better navigate all those tough questions above. It can also help you tweak what’s out of whack and allow for an easy check-in with what’s really going on relationship wise.

So the answer to all those tough questions is on you. What are you able to change within yourself? What space of leadership are you able to step into? How believable can you be as an authority figure? What leadership, rules, and accountability level can you honestly embody? (And this number can always change and improve if you’re working on it!) It’s a great formula to help owners see super clearly what their responsibility is, and the hard work they have to do in order to have the fun stuff they desire with their dog.

Remember, the numbers don’t lie. Ask yourself seriously what level of discipline, rules, structure, and leadership you’re able to embody, and then adjust you and your dog’s lifestyle accordingly. The more leadership you can embody, the more latitude you get. The less leadership on tap, the less latitude you get. If you’re honest with yourself, you can create a lifestyle that works and keeps everyone happy and balanced.

P.S. My personal dogs are allowed on the bed, on the couch, get loads of freedom, and plenty of affection. I’d say they’re just about in the 9-10 range. But at the same time, if something silly goes down, if there’s a serious transgression or mistake, you better believe that they know that the ole number 10 of discipline isn’t far behind. And it’s that willingness to be the authority figure, to share with my dogs what I know they need from me – to do the hard stuff rather than just the easy stuff – that allows us to maintain a happy, respectful, and fun-filled life together. You know, all that stuff that owners want.🙂

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

Our groundbreaking do-it-yourself E-Collar training video/PDF training guide Learn to Train The Good Dog Way: E-Collar Training is now available for order! Click HERE to order your copy!


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By Sean O’Shea

Few industries have as much contentious, friction-filled, vitriolic, opinionated, near-religious beliefs being flung around as does the dog training world.

Opinionated owners and trainers will noisily (and nastily) condemn the tools, training methods, and approaches being used by others. It might be pure positive trainers (or believers) cursing prong collars, e-collars, and/or any form of correction – or even saying “no” to your dog – or perhaps it’s “balanced” trainers slinging mud at each other for perceived poor training, or training that doesn’t mesh with their beliefs.

Regardless of what camp you belong to, what tools you do or don’t endorse, and what philosophy you subscribe to, it’s all talk until you show your work. Until you show proof of what you speak.

And in this day and age that should be easy enough, right? Everyone has a video recorder in their pocket today. So if anyone has some super strong beliefs, concepts, techniques, alternatives, man, I’m all ears. But first, I’m all eyes. First, show me. Don’t tell me. If your approach gets great results, show me. If you’re tools get great results, show me. If your revolutionary process creates revolutionary results, show me. It’s easy enough.

Don’t show me scientific studies, or site science-y sounding rhetoric. Don’t talk to me about the how’s and why’s and benefits of a certain method. Don’t offer strongly felt opinions. Instead, show me. Show me truly troubled dogs, before training, and show me these same troubled dogs transformed, or at least tremendously improved, after training. And show me a lot of them. Don’t show me your dog, or one dog, or even three or four dogs, show me over and over your approach creating great results – and the owners getting the same results.

If you’re getting great results, this should be easy enough to do. I know it’s work to capture before footage and after footage, and to edit it and all. I get it. But if you want your opinion to have any legs, and any chance of being entertained, that’s the price of admission today. If you want anyone to listen, to care, to change, to adopt something, simply show us its value. Easy peasy.

And just to be clear, I’m not being a chest-beater, and declaring everyone needs to show their results (even though that sure would be nice for consumers!), it’s only for those who shout, scream, bully, belittle, or not-so-cleverly undermine others. Those who shout about alternatives – alternative tools, methods, approaches. If you’re shouting, you should be ready to share your results, your proof. And lots of it.

Because here’s the thing, talk is cheap. Everyone can talk a big game. We all can declare certain tools or approaches to be the worst, or the best, but only results matter. Only results are real. Only results walk the talk. Everything else is just the easy part…talk and opinion.

Show me.

P.S. If you’re an owner trying to make sense of all this stuff, my suggestion is to follow the results. But be a conscientious consumer, and be aware that video (especially those using the trainer’s own dogs) can be made to look awfully good! Many dogs shown in the positive only camp are very specific dogs (Border Collies, Aussies etc.). Dogs who enjoy chasing a ball or frisby or a treat more than they do chasing, attacking, or freaking out on another dog, or person. And in the balanced camp, watch for high-drive working dogs (Malinois and GSD’s) who were bred to work and do amazing stuff. In both of these camps these special dogs get used for showy videos and demos, but are not showing reality – they’re showing “ringers”. Not that these breeds can’t be a mess as well, but dog trainer dogs are usually picked for their exceptional temperament and good behavior, so it’s not a good reflection of reality of what your dog’s behavior will look like. Make sure you see actual client dogs making progress. And make sure you see the actual clients duplicating that process.

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IMG_3179By Sean O’Shea

So how come things have gotten so much more dicey with our dogs? How come there seems to be far more ill-behaved dogs than the “good old days”? How come there’s so much aggression, resource guarding, possessiveness, separation anxiety, reactivity, and so on?

Am I just out of touch and remembering romantically those past days when dogs seemed to be dogs and humans seemed to be humans – and both seemed to be the better for it?

I’m not so sure. I’m 48. I was born in the late 60’s. I remember very clearly the way our dogs lived with us (and the way most of my friend’s dogs did as well). Our dogs were far from perfect, but I don’t remember hearing much about many of the above issues. There was “dog world” and “human world”. Dogs were mostly outside, had special privilege days or hours when they got to come inside. They were companions we enjoyed during outdoor adventures or ball throwing and family time in the yard. We saw them as dogs, and for the most part, lived with them emotionally and physically like dogs.  And that separation seemed to create some very clear boundaries between the two species. There was clarity.

But boy how things have changed.🙂

These days, most dogs live inside. They share our personal and intimate space freely. But that’s not all that’s changed. Along with the physical access, they’ve also moved inside our hearts and minds in a way that never existed previously. Not that previous generations didn’t love their dogs, I’m sure they did, but the role our dogs play in our emotional lives today seems much different than that of the past. Today’s dogs have access physically and emotionally to places that weren’t typically up for grabs prior. And because of this new dynamic – this dynamic of compete sharing, complete access, and complete emotional integration – we’ve blurred lines. We’ve created a lot of confusion and mixed messages, and we’ve set our dogs up to make natural assumptions and decisions based on those messages. Those assumptions and decisions have created a lot of negative fallout for our dogs, and for us who share our lives with them.

Now let me be clear about a few things. I love having my dogs inside. I’d hate to live with my crew outside. My guys are allowed on furniture, sleep on my bed, and roam the house pretty much as they please. We share the space. My guys are also very important to me emotionally. They’re still dogs, but they hold a special place in my heart, and I think that’s pretty clear to them.

So this begs the question: with this new dynamic of near total integration and sharing, how the heck do you keep your dogs balanced, respectful, polite, and well-behaved in the face of all these mixed messages? My feeling is this. Once we took our dogs inside, once we made them our daily physical and emotional companions, it changed what was required of us. Our parents (or maybe you if you’re of that older generation) could probably get away with not doing as much training. They likely didn’t need to create a ton of structure, be uber-pack leaders, or use the same tools and strategies to keep their dogs balanced. Their dogs were dogs. But for us, the ones blurring the lines, we’ve got a different reality.

Because we’ve shifted our dog’s perceptions of us, because we’ve integrated them so deeply into our lives, because we’ve leaned so hard on them emotionally – many becoming surrogate children, spouses, or friends – we’ve got a whole different reality. A reality where we have to work a heck of a lot harder to keep them balanced.

Once we brought them into our world in this more intimate fashion, it all changed. Our jobs as dog owners got harder, more complex. Our responsibilities, if we’re to have healthy, balanced dogs, got heavier, and more challenging.

The upshot is this, we’ve fundamentally changed how we live and interact with our dogs, there’s no getting around it, and I don’t think it’s changing any time soon. Our dogs have become central players in our lives; family members we cherish and adore. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing…IF we’re prepared to do the hard work that come with that. With this new way of living comes greater challenges; the possibility of neurotic behavior, feelings of entitlement, boundary pushing, disrespect and lots more. For me, the answer was to make sure that as deep as I loved, and as much freedom I granted, that I shared equally firm, unquestionable discipline. While my guys know I love them deeply, they also know that any monkey business is met with firm, immediate, and valuable consequences. That balance of love and leadership is what allows me to have the best of both worlds.

It’s work my folks and their friends likely never had to do, at least not at this level. For the most part, they chose to have their dogs be dogs, and that meant an easier human/dog lifestyle path in many ways. But that might also have meant the absence of intimate dog companionship, and perhaps lonely outdoor lives for many dogs. So there’s trade offs in both. But for those of us choosing to live in the more integrated fashion, remember that that freedom, connection and enjoyment comes at a cost – if we want to have happy, healthy dogs we can enjoy. And that cost is more awareness, more responsibility, more effort, and the willingness to share as much discipline as we share love.

With every gift comes an equal responsibility.

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By Sean O’Shea

Something that I think is hard for a lot of folks to wrap their heads around is that many of the issues their dogs have (both physiologically and psychologically) are simply the symptoms of being stressed and anxious. Dogs who are constantly on edge, worried, reactive, stressed and anxious have nervous and immune systems that take a beating. And when these systems take a beating, there’s going to be fallout. You’re body and mind are going to take a hit.

On a regular basis we see dogs that come in that spin, that self-mutilate, that fixate on shadows or light, that have bowel issues, allergies, skin issues, car sickness, and on and on. What’s fascinating is to watch how many of these dogs – without any medication or diet changes – manage to heal themselves mentally and/or physically once having gone through our training program.

We’ve seen it over and over. An owner has been through all kinds of testing, meds, diet changes etc., and their dogs have remained stuck with whatever issues they’ve been struggling with. Then, after a two or three week board and train, voila, the issue has magically disappeared, or dissipated tremendously. Of course this isn’t the case for every dog, but the numbers of afflicted dogs who have moved through long-standing issues would amaze (and delight!) you.

We’ve seen dogs that tail chew to the point of actually losing a portion of the tail, stop chewing. We’ve seen spinners stop spinning. We’ve seen light chasers stop chasing. We’ve seen chronic loose stools firm up nicely. We’ve seen skin issues clear up beautifully. And we’ve seen car sickness just up and disappear. (Emma, who just went home from a three week program had her first ride without throwing up just the other day!)
One client recently asked me how come vets don’t know or understand or recommend training for these issues. While I’m sure some vets do (bravo!), the vast majority either aren’t aware of it, or aren’t down with it. It’s a shame, but hopefully posts like this can help inform owners about possible options.

In reality, it’s all kind of simple. If it was you instead of your dog, if it was you that were dealing with high levels of stress and anxiety chronically, your nervous system and immune system would take a beating too. You too would likely develop outlets for all that toxicity and see physical issues arise. Physiological and psychological problems are a commonly accepted result of chronic stress and anxiety in humans. Why would it be any different for our dogs?

But here’s the rub. We’re much better at recognizing (and understanding) stress and anxiety in humans than we are in our dogs. We know that stress and anxiety show up in our world by way of financial issues, work issues, relationship issues etc. Our dog’s stress and anxiety are created and expressed differently. We see chronic reactivity (in the house and outside), neurotic barking, hyper-territorial behavior, bullying/being bullied, overly protective/possessiveness, assessing/worrying about strangers and guests, constant boundary pushing, and often just being hyped-up and on-edge the majority of the time, never knowing how to unplug and relax.

If we could learn to see all these behaviors as massive stress and anxiety producers, and understand that they create much of the seemingly unconnected negative physical and psychological symptoms, we might look at these behaviors as being less annoying “dog stuff” and more problematic in the real sense.

And how do we get there? In many ways it’s simple stuff. When we take those negative options away, when we block unwanted behavior, when we provide structure, rules, leadership, and accountability, we remove many of the stress/anxiety creating options/reactions that actually give life to the above listed symptoms. When we break old negative habits and patterns of coping, and provide new and healthier replacements, we end up with a nervous system and immune system that is solid and firing on all cylinders. And when we manage to do that successfully we end up with much healthier dogs.

Of course training can fix many annoying behavior issues and create a better relationship and clear communication. We can get dogs to come when we call, stay in place instead of roaming, stand instead of jump, walk nicely on-leash, and live peacefully with us instead of making us crazy. But training can also help many issues that have long been allocated to veterinarians, medication, and management only. Good training can actually heal the mind and body.

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By Sean O’Shea
What happens after you get a speeding ticket? What happens after your doctor tell you your cholesterol is dangerously high? What happens when your spouse threatens to leave because of your behavior? What happens when your accountant tells you you’ve spent far more than you earned?

Well, if any of the above matter to you, a couple things will happen. One, it’ll create some fear (what might happen if I don’t change this or it happens again?). Two, it should create some serious contemplation (Perhaps this choice/action, even if I’ve enjoyed it in the short term, doesn’t serve me in the long run). Three, it should create some future better choices (if the consequence matters, it should cause you to choose a better, more healthy choice next time).

All of the above are communications about behavior, and their possible consequences. Consequences that are the result of our choices and actions. And they serve a purpose. Their purpose is to remind you that something you’re doing is putting you or your quality of life in danger. And if you look at consequences that way you can view them as gifts – gifts that enable you to reorder, course correct, change behavior that is putting you in harm’s way.

Consequences for your dog should create the same results. Of course the context will be different. They won’t be overspending, eating too many hot fudge sundaes, or racing down the freeway. But they might be bolting out the front door, jumping on people, attacking another dog in the house, barking excessively, counter surfing, guarding their food, pulling like crazy on the walk, or destroying stuff in the house. And all these behaviors impact your dog’s overall quality of life as well as yours.

Dogs get hit by cars every day for bolting, and dogs are returned to shelters every day for jumping, barking, guarding, destruction etc. Dogs also die every day from obstructions from eating things they shouldn’t. This is real stuff.

But in our current dog owning culture, consequences are things that are deeply frowned upon. They’re things that many purport to be dangerous to your dog’s mental and emotional well being, as well as detrimental to your relationship. Best to ignore the bad and reinforce the good, right? But what if life treated us the same way? What if the policeman ignored your speeding but offered you a “Nice job!” when he saw you driving appropriately? What if your doctor ignored your cholesterol count but said “Good work, you lost two pounds.”? What if your spouse ignored your inability to manage your anger and stress, but said “You were lovely tonight” when you didn’t explode for a change? What if your accountant ignored your spending issues but said “Nice work on only spending 5k over your budget rather than the usual 10k”?

What would happen is that, instead of receiving the gravity of the communication of what your actions are creating (and the danger they’re putting you in), you’d be allowed to believe things aren’t as dire or serious as they actually are. And that absence of clearly conveyed consequence for unhealthy behavior would put you directly in harm’s way. By not being direct about what is okay and what isn’t. By ignoring the truth of our actions. By prioritizing things feeling “good” rather than true, we’d be setup for impending disaster.

And so it is with our dogs. We don’t clearly let them know what is isn’t okay. We ignore the bad and reward the good. We give our dogs a partial view of the reality, and then they pay the price for that lack of clarity and truth. People recommending you ignore the bad and reward the good are people who aren’t connecting reality – universal reality. The reality of the beauty of consequences. The beauty of knowing clearly what is acceptable, heathy, wanted, and what is not allowed, dangerous, and totally unacceptable.

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Our groundbreaking do-it-yourself E-Collar training video/PDF training guide Learn to Train The Good Dog Way: E-Collar Training is now available for order! Click HERE to order your copy!


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