When The Tools Don’t Work

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By Sean O’Shea from The Good Dog Training and Rehabilitation

While I’m a big proponent of using and leveraging the very best tools available for you and your dog to be successful, the reality is that the greatest tools in the world mean nothing if your head, heart, and energy aren’t in the right place.

The greatest tool you have at your disposal is always yourself. Your mind and your intention. If your emotions and outlook regarding your dog (and yourself) are out of balance, you will both likely struggle, regardless of what tools you use.

If you have an out of balance dog and you’re: still babying and spoiling because it feels good/fulfills your need to nurture, feeling guilty for working long hours so you only share freedom and affection when you get home, shunning structure, training and discipline because it feels yucky or un-enjoyable, being too soft with a firm dog because that’s simply who you are, substituting dog relationships and connection for human relationships and connection, or using your dog to fill unattended to emotional voids and needs, you and your dog will likely still struggle.

The way you feel about yourself and the world, and the way you think about your dog and his training and lifestyle is what fuels the tools and your training strategy to either be powerful and transformative, or to be superficial, unconvincing, and powerless.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, your human animal is having a constant, 24/7 conversation with your canine animal about who you are and what role you wish to play in his life. You cannot tell your dog 23 hours of the day that he’s your little cuddle bug and that you’re his doting mommy or daddy and then on your walks where he misbehaves and acts likes a monster try to tell him you are the big pack leader. 🙂 That ones not going to work. We have to give our dogs more credit than that.

Every moment is valuable. You build credit towards good behavior by creating believable leadership long before you’re going to need it when the chips are down. If you want to turn behavior issues around and get your dog into an awesome space state of mind wise, you have to cultivate a believable energy, and a believable presence your dog is able to buy into and follow as an ongoing lifestyle – not just in the moments you need it or that are convenient.

These awesome creatures have a special knack for highlighting and exposing our personal gaps, camouflaged shortcomings, and internal struggles. How awesome is that? You live with your very own personal therapist. 🙂 That’s the awesome challenge and opportunity of dogs: you can’t fool them with tools or a momentary decision of commitment or fortitude, no, they’re looking and waiting for the real stuff. Your best stuff. If you want them to change they’re ready for it – just as soon as you are ready to change yourself.

So remember, the tools are important, no doubt, but it’s your presence, your intention, your emotional balance, your energy, your decision to treat and view your dog like a dog, your force of will and desire and determination, and the constant conversation that your human animal is having with your canine animal that fuels and empowers the tools and the training strategy to actually create the possibility for transformation and change.

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22 comments
  1. Pam said:

    Thanks Sean for your great posts! After 2 months of incorporating your techniques my dogs (Golden and Great Pyrenees) are making much better choices. I can even take both dogs for walk at same time. But the best part is I am in a better emotional state than before. So I am seeing first hand the difference I make in my dogs’s behaviors. Looking forward to the release of your DVD in March. And I will keep in mind that they are my dogs and not babies.

    • Hey Pam! Wow, that’s so great to hear! Sounds like you’ve really out in some time and made some great stuff happen. And I love that you’re feeling better emotionally! So cool! Thanks for supporting my new DVD release – hope you enjoy it.

  2. Trina said:

    Interesting that this post came today. When I walk both my dogs, Mika is always trying to pull ahead, when I walk her by herself, she stays in the follower position I want her in. I’ve always thought that maybe she is trying to compete with my other superstar Gordo, she looks over at him and pulls ahead. This has become an annoying struggle. one that leads me to pop her a lot, by now, I should not have to do this at all. I always check in with myself, before and during our walks, just to make sure my head is in the right place. I don’t know if Mika is battling with Gordo or trying to outrun me. I know I have high expectations of her, because of her breed (sweet pit) and the fact that I’m training her to be a therapy dog. I want the world to know that pit bulls are a loving breed, I want to break the stereo type. Maybe Mika feels that pressure from me. Thanks for your post Sean!!

    • Trina, thanks for the comment! This is a fairly common issue. You could have a bit of competition going on or you could have excitement due to turnover dog’s presence. Sounds like it’s time to make sure Mika is toeing the line regardless of who’s on the walk. 🙂

  3. Mimi Vitello said:

    Great blog Sean!

    ~Mimi

  4. Doug Henninger said:

    I have watched and replayed sections of easily 15-20 of those videos. The ones that illustrate prong collar usage validate what I learned from a real professional trainer back in the 1990s. She explained that a prong collar is to help the dog, not to overpower or punish it for unwanted behaviors. I’m advocating for you to make a video especially dealing with the 3rd button on an e-collar…. the ‘page’ button and how to use it in different ways.

    • Thanks for the comment. Glad you’ve enjoyed the prong and other videos. I don’t use the page button at all due to the inability to adjust the intensity level.

  5. Dfam said:

    Thank You so much for this! I just found your blog, and am so hopeful that this will help me rehabilitate myself and my pups. 🙂

    • Dfam, my pleasure! I glad you found me! I’m sure you’ll turn around anything you decide to. 🙂

  6. Shauna Spellman said:

    Hi Sean
    I have a nine year old foster chihuahua that has been with me for about five weeks I have three eight year old cats adopted from a shelter
    My cats are okay with the dog but he sometimes growls barks or chases them and scares them
    What can I do about this? I really dont know what to do
    I want him to be able to stay here. Thank you
    Shauna Spellman

    • Hi Shauna, this is the age old dog/cat dilemma. 🙂 Oftentimes the dogs and cats work things out on their own – providing there’s no serious risk of major injury. Seeing as you have a chihuahua, the cats are likely to set some rules with him and straighten things out. As for what you can do, I would go to my website and check out my free do it yourself videos. If you teach your dog a super solid place command, your dog won’t be able to chase the cats. Get a teeny, tiny prong collar (they’re called micro prongs) and teach the place command. It will solve many of the issues.

  7. Great post! Been reading a lot about dog training. Thanks for the info here!

  8. Doug H said:

    I read the ‘When The Tools Don’t Work’ post and looked over Padme’s comment as a dedicated followwer of balanced training.
    It reminded me of something I learned for myself before I came upon Jeff and Sean and Tyler in YouTube clips. What I found was that the more I trained my dog like I had seen professionals do, the more my dog responded and the more I loved him. It seemd opposed to the familiar objection that “I don’t want to train my dog to make him a robot”. But I never met a single person who had a dog that acted like an automaton
    It fell together for me that training your dog is like spay/neuter…. it is what you do FOR a dog… not TO him. Training is love in action and a dog is a creature of action and physical cues … not words. And the more you understand your particular dog and how he differs from breed characteristics in small ways, the more you love him. And I am certain that a dog senses it in your voice, motions, and relaxation around him. With 6 dogs (includes the 70 # APBT foster) at my house, there are no sounds when I leave nor when I return. No whining or barking even in thunderstorms. I believe it because all 6 rescued dogs sense they are protected and valued and special in their own way.

    • Doug H, thanks for the great comment! I love the comment “training is love in action.” Really nice. And I too agree that all of your expressions inform your dog about hoe you feel about him/her, yourself, and the world. Thanks for the comment.

  9. The most important thing that you can do is remember tha you do not have to use extreme
    measures to prove that you are the boss too your dog.
    The training course you choose will depend on the type of obedience program you decide
    on. Signming your dog up for classes can be useful
    iff he’s chewing on furniture, barking excessively, or if he just has
    to be socialized with other dogs and people.

    • Dog aggression, always good to remind people that extreme. Measures are not what’s being advocated. Being a believable leader is a far more nuanced endeavor. Thanks for the comment.

  10. Great post! Been reading a lot about dog behavior. Thanks for all the info here!

  11. Being patient is a great virtue. Thanks for those reminder. Looking forward to see more post from you 🙂

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