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Monthly Archives: August 2014

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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. ūüôā

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. ūüôā

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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. ūüôā

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

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

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

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

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

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Our groundbreaking do-it-yourself training video/PDF training booklet Learn to Train The Good Dog Way: The Foundation is now available Рcheck out the teaser below!