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Dog Training

 

By Sean O’Shea – visit our website thegooddog.net

You don’t start swinging the bat the day of the World Series. You don’t throw your first Shot Put the day of the Olympics. You don’t sit down at the piano for the first time the day of your recital at Lincoln Center.

Of course all of these examples are silly, and no one in their right mind would actually contemplate them. BUT, as crazy as these examples are, this is exactly what I see so many dog owners do. And it’s one of the biggest causes of failure in their attempts to train/rehab their dog. It’s fascinating that something that we so intuitively understand in the human world (that being the necessity of using baby steps and constant preparation in order to achieve a bigger goal/accomplishment) regularly escapes us and frequently sabotages our attempts to train our dogs.

We somehow believe that the dog with the maniacal door reaction (or even worse, an aggression issue) will respond to our frantic attempts to keep him in “place” the one day someone shows up at our door, rather than practicing, preparing, and conditioning him to respond appropriately, to respect, listen and defer to you for the 3 weeks preceding the visit.

Or, we let our dog wander on the walk, smelling here and there, pulling us to and fro, teaching them ever so consistently that they need not respect or listen to us…and then our dog sees the little obnoxious dog from down the street and decides to not only bark, growl, froth, and spin, but also to share a bite on your leg for your trouble.

In the dog world, these are all World Series moments, and to think you can simply suit up and knock it out of the park on game day, without having spent the necessary practice, preparation, and skill building time, is folly.

If you’re looking to train or rehab any serious behavior problem, be sure that you practice, prepare, and condition both you and your dog with massive repetition and small, incremental challenges long BEFORE game day. Much of our success with severe behavior issues comes from utilizing this simple formula.

Remember, if you’re going to rock the stadium, you gotta work through T-ball, little league, high school, college ball, and then finally, if you’ve worked your butt off, you graduate to the big leagues. And if you approach your dog training with the same mind-set, you can accomplish something just as amazing!

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

 

How much impact would 5 dollar speeding tickets have on drivers speeding habits?

Probably not much.

And why is that? Because the reward for driving over the speed limit  – whether it’s running late for an appointment, impatience, or just the thrill of some extra speed – outweighs the consequence. No one is going to change rewarding behavior for a 5 dollar penalty…why would they?

When a reward outweighs a consequence, the consequence will be ignored. And the behavior that the consequence was supposed to impact/change/prevent/stop simply continues on.

If speeding tickets were 5 dollars, folks would likely be driving like maniacs…it would be chaotic, it would be dangerous, and it would be unpredictable. (This is strangely similar to dogs we see who live in a world of few rules and insignificant consequences for negative behavior).

So what changes a driver’s speeding habits? What changes anyone’s habits? It’s simple really. Significant consequences for breaking known rules. When consequences become significant, behavior changes…for all of us. (That’s why speeding tickets and the ding they put on your insurance are so heavy…in order for them to be significant)

In working with dogs, I see the 5 dollar speeding ticket issued all too often by owners in an effort to stop or change unwanted behavior. And the fallout is: The dog’s negative behavior continues; owners become frustrated/annoyed/resentful; the unwanted behavior becomes even more deeply patterned; and worst of all, the dog begins to view the human in a disrespectful, dismissive light…and this spells massive trouble.

So knowing that insignificant consequences undermine what we’re trying to achieve, and significant consequences help us to achieve what we want, what stands between us and the promised land of stopping bad behavior and creating great behavior? Lots of things. For one, many owners are far more prepared to share affection and fun than they are discipline and rules. For others they are unsure about how to create and share fair and appropriate consequences for their particular dog (and this is an important point – this is not a one size fits all – for some dogs a stern voice is significant, and for others this would mean absolutely nothing). Others still are unsure about which tool or approach or strategy would be best to help achieve this. Some owners are worried that they might hurt their dog’s feelings or undermine their relationship. And maybe the biggest one of all, owners have been told over and over that correcting their dog will create aggression or other serious behavioral fallout. In all of the dogs I’ve worked with, I have never, repeat, never seen this be the case. But, there is an awful lot of propaganda saying otherwise.

Once you’ve clearly and fairly taught your dog the rules of life, the next step is finding just the right consequence motivation that causes him to make good, healthy and safe choices. And in many cases, the best course of action is to hire an experienced, balanced trainer, who can help guide you through the best choice of strategies, tools, and reading of your dog, to ensure that you share exactly the right balance of reward and consequence for your particular dog…and that you leave that 5-dollar speeding ticket far behind.

 

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

When we start to have problems with our dog’s behavior we naturally focus on our dog. It’s natural – the dog is doing something wrong, what’s wrong with him? Why won’t he stop barking? Why is he attacking Aunt Ethel? Why are my dogs fighting? Why does he always destroy the house when I leave? Why does he try to attack every dog on a walk? It’s normal to try and problem solve by focusing on the problem at hand, but problems are usually just the result of other issues left untended to, that have now grown into bigger problems.It’s easy for us to focus on our dogs, but oftentimes the better and far more valuable question is: How are YOU doing? This is usually the best place to start and the last place examined.If you honestly assess yourself, what percentage of the day do you spend being anxious, stressed, guilty, resentful, sad, fearful, needy, impatient, conflicted, angry, manic, depressed or worried, vs peaceful, calm, relaxed, confident, happy, assured, positive, patient and balanced?If you’ve spent any prolonged time with a person in any of these negative states, you know how uncomfortable, draining, and agitating the experience can be. Our dogs feel the same way – except they aren’t able to leave for a breath of fresh air – they simply have to stay, endure, and absorb all of the negative energy.Two things happen when our dogs are repeatedly exposed to this kind of negative human energy: First, it has a profound effect on their fundamental state – because they are forced to live in an uncomfortable emotional environment, they become heavily stressed, and this stress will cause them to engage in all manner of negative/neurotic behaviors. These behaviors can range from chronic barking and licking, to serious aggression. You cannot force an animal to consistently live in a toxic environment and not expect some serious behavioral fallout.And second, by presenting yourself as an unbalanced, unsafe, inconsistent, unpredictable human, there is no way that your dog can allow you to lead him – it simply makes no sense – why would a dog, or anyone else for that matter, follow an emotionally unstable leader? And if a dog has no leader, he will become stressed from the pressure of having to try to lead, and from the absence of guidance.

So the negative impact on your dog is compounded by both of these dynamics – and the effect is fairly staggering.

Because our dogs cannot speak verbally, they become convenient scape goats and unfortunate victims of our unresolved issues. But the truth is, if you watch your dog, you’ll see in his behavior – whether balanced, comfortable and happy, or unbalanced, uncomfortable and stressed –  that he’s speaking volumes about you and the environment you’ve created for him.

So if things have gotten dicey or problematic with your dog, it might be a good time to sit back and ask: How are YOU doing?

 

 

By Sean O’Shea

Okay, so you’re driving down the freeway, minding your own business, enjoying a serene moment of automotive bliss. Suddenly a car pulls up along side of you, the driver fixes you with his gaze, and then he begins to yell and motion with his hands. You look over and roll down your window, straining to figure out just what this other motorist is trying to share with you. And then you hear him – he’s telling you to pull your car over, that you’re driving too fast, that he’s going to write you a ticket for speeding. You pause for a second and assess the situation. You look down at your speedometer – you’re doing 74 in a 65 zone – you know you’re speeding, but this doesn’t exactly qualify as a major International incident – you look back at the other motorist and you realize, he’s just an ordinary citizen, a regular dude – you’re baffled and confused…just who does this guy think he is to tell me what to do?

The gentleman is not a Highway Patrolman or even regular police…he’s simply a regular citizen who, for some reason, has decided it’s his duty to police you – to create some rules and consequences for you. After getting over the shock of the absurdity of the situation, you smirk over at the gentleman, wave mockingly, and just to make sure you put the proper exclamation point on all this silliness, you actually speed up, and while leaving the aforementioned gentleman in the dust, you think to yourself: “That dude MUST be crazy!”

A few minutes later, while still reflecting back on the earlier interaction, you look over to your left, and there, somehow, without you having noticed, a Highway patrolman on a motorcycle has snuck on up and is cruising right next to you. You freeze, your heart starts to beat faster, adrenaline starts pulsing, and you know your goose is cooked. The patrolman motions for you to pull over, and you immediately and sheepishly comply. You’re busted, and you know it. It feels just like it did when you were a youngster and your Dad would catch you red-handed in some nefarious activity – suddenly you’re a 10 year old again. You are incredibly compliant, eager to please, apologetic, and a bit nervous about your future! The officer informs you that you were doing 74 in a 65. You apologize, and assure him it was a mistake. But the reality is that you knew the rules – you had been taught exactly what was expected of you, and you knowingly broke those rules – and now it’s consequence time!

So how come you reacted so differently to the two different situations? You were breaking the rules in both cases. With the first situation, with the “regular dude”, you laughed at his attempt to control you, and actually behaved worse, because of the interaction. But with the second situation, with the Highway patrolman, you immediately and completely not only complied with the request, but your entire demeanor and state-of-mind shifted into a very sweet, compliant and, dare I say, submissive mode.

Now I’m sure that this is all entirely obvious from a human standpoint. The first gentleman is an ordinary citizen, he is not an established authority figure, therefore, it makes absolutely no sense for you to allow him to influence you or change your behavior. But in the second situation, when an established and accepted authority figure enters the picture, you immediately comply – because you have been conditioned and trained to view him in this fashion. The police have cultivated this relationship and association with you from the time you were tiny. So when they say pull over, you say “Yes sir!”

So here’s the takeaway for dog owners: If you haven’t cultivated, through lifestyle and conditioned through training, a relationship of authority with your dog, it makes absolutely no sense for your dog to listen to you when you suddenly decide to try to influence/change his behavior. When you attempt to block his barking, his jumping, his digging, his mouthing, his biting, or anything else, without first becoming an authority figure, you appear to your dog exactly as the kooky citizen did who tried to pull you over earlier – you look like a crazy person – and crazy people tend to get ignored. When it comes to our dogs, we don’t get to skip steps, or take shortcuts. Like yourself, your dog isn’t programmed to follow just anyone – he wants to follow a safe, consistent, trustworthy, and dependable leader – and that kind of leadership isn’t just when it’s convenient or crisis time, it’s 24/7.

 

P.S. in the next post we’l cover how you actually become an authority figure in your dog’s life…

 

 

By Sean O’Shea from www.thegooddog.net

One of the biggest challenges I experience in working with clients who are having issues with their dogs is helping them to understand why rules, structure, and leadership are absolutely essential to creating a well-behaved and balanced dog.

Most owners have a very strong opinion on what fulfillment to a dog looks like, and it usually entails loads of affection, loads of freedom, and a suspiciously small amount of rules, structure, and leadership. Inevitably I start sharing analogies in the hope of connecting the dots of what I believe to be fulfilling to dogs in a way that will resonate with their human experience. Anyone who has worked with me has probably heard me use the “policeman driving behind you” analogy, as well as many others.

The other day, while walking the pack, this one popped into my head…I think it’s a good one!

Let’s use the LA riot as an example of what can occur when humans are suddenly faced with a massive leadership/authority void:

As the beginnings of the riot got under way, it wasn’t long before authority (the police presence) almost completely disappeared. As soon as people realized there was no longer a police/authority presence (read: a threat of significant consequences for poor choices), lots of interesting things occurred:

Some people, who realized no one was there to protect them, and that they were highly vulnerable, became highly stressed, nervous, and fearful (many small business owners, for example). These people very quickly became proactive – using guns and firing on anyone that they perceived to be a threat. When one feels vulnerable, and no one is there to protect and advocate for you, the incredible stress and fear will cause you to make decisions you absolutely would not make in a different situation.  And the interesting thing is, just prior to the riot, most of these people who lived in close proximity to each other co-existed mostly peacefully. But now, suddenly, with the disappearance of authority, both were attempting, and succeeding at killing each other.

Some other people, once they noticed that the authority presence was gone, decided that all of this chaos was a fantastic opportunity to engage in some uber-exhilarating, adrenaline-spiking fun…like robbing, looting, attacking/beating innocent folks etc. For some folks, when authority is on hiatus, fighting and engaging in violent, unlawful behavior is a fantastic, but obviously toxic release for their frustrations.

Other people simply acted out in obnoxious, petty ways, thumbing their noses at what used to be the rules – not necessarily doing major harm, but definitely getting into some general knuckle-headedness.   Why? Because the lack of structure and authority creates both excitement as well as stress…and physically acting out is a nice release and reset for this stress and excitement. It’s a way to balance back out.

The upshot here is that many, many people, influenced by stress, panic, fear, adrenaline, or exhilaration, due the obvious authority vacuum, began to make very different decisions than they would normally have, had an authority presence been, well, present. We like to pretend that we human beings are quite a civilized and sophisticated bunch, but the truth of the matter is, when authority, structure, and rules disappear, the politeness of human society takes a pretty immediate vacation.

Ok, so how exactly does the LA riot tie into the behavior of our furry K9 friends? It ties in in an unbelievably strong parallel:

When dogs perceive a leadership vacuum, here’s what we see – nervous, fearful dogs, who have no leader to advocate for them/protect them, and are keenly aware of the chaotic, unpredictable environment they live in, become highly stressed, anxious and fearful, and eventually will start to do just what their human counterparts above began to do – become proactive in their attempts to keep themselves safe. They begin to make poor choices, and start to view every dog as a potential threat, regardless of the other dog’s intentions. Many will simply attack first and ask questions later.

Other dogs, once they feel the void, will start to bully and attack anything that moves. Why? For some it’s because it’s fun and exhilarating. It offers a major adrenaline dump, and is a great release for their frustrations – and as I mentioned above, a nice reset for the stress of chaos. For others, bullying is the best way to cope with and camouflage their own insecurities, anxieties, and fear. Either way, when there isn’t an authority figure sharing limits, or consequences for poor choices, reactive behavior, whatever it’s origins, simply happens.

And then you have your basic knucklehead dogs – they sense the leadership void, and they’re not necessarily fearful or serious bullies, but once again the stress of no rules and guidance will cause them to become hyper, pushy, destructive, jumpy, and well, a giant pain in the butt…thumbing their noses at your lack of authority, in an attempt to balance out  and reset.

With me so far? Ok, so here’s the real kicker: as soon as authority (the police presence/National Guard) was restored to the Los Angeles area, the majority of issues, conflicts, and poor behavior simply disappeared. I mean, quick like. Yeah, there was some residual bad feelings and isolated issues, but once again, with the presence of authority and consequences for poor behavior/choices present, things went from absolute chaos, danger, and mayhem, to relative peace, quiet, and harmony – and if it wasn’t always harmony, it was at least a begrudging tolerance. And guess what, it’s the exact same thing with our dogs.

When I walk into a home where there is absolutely no authority, and chaos reigns supreme, and the dog is engaging in any number of serious behaviors (from attacking other dogs, to attacking people, to nervous/insecure behavior), I know that once I create a relationship of leadership, authority and respect, structure and rules, the dog is going to immediately change his behavior – he will start to relax, become more comfortable, and make better choices, simply due to the presence of a believable authority figure. Remember, leadership creates comfort! When leadership, guidance, structure and rules are present, along with consequences for poor choices, behavior changes…almost instantly!

Remember, both K9’s and humans become massively stressed, fearful, unpredictable, and even dangerous when leadership, rules and authority are on holiday – and that both species will behave in ways we never would when our basic needs for security aren’t provided for.

As Cesar Millan says: “Your job as pack leader is to protect and direct” I think that sums it up pretty efficiently.

In reality, this stuff isn’t rocket science, and is fairly easy to implement. If you’re not sure how to go about it, contact a qualified professional for guidance. (Drop us a line here at The Good Dog, we have a great list of talented balanced trainers across the U.S.) And please, don’t let a riot go down in your living room…be your dog’s authority figure!

 

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By Sean O’Shea

While many trainers and training approaches advocate for, and infuse their training with, excitement and high intensity, one of the things that we’re always focused on here at The Good Dog is working to train and create calmness.

Obviously if you’re training for a dog sport or some other kind of competition/performance you’re going to want lots of excitement/intensity, but for most family dogs, and especially those with serious behavior problems, calmness is absolutely key.

So much of what we do here – and what other trainers who are aware of the value of calmness do as well – is teach impulse control and relaxation. We use lots of anchoring behaviors with long durations, like “place” and downstays, as well as being sure dogs don’t pull on leash, don’t fly out of crates or doors, wait for food, and generally approach all things in a chilled out fashion…except of course playtime…which is when the dogs are allowed to let it all hang loose…as long as the “loose” is appropriate!

This calmness training is one of the biggest secrets to transforming problem behavior, and this style of training tends to be the opposite of most rewards-based training approaches, which tend to create a dog that is heavily excited/worked up…possibly listening to the trainer, but a dog that exists in an amped up state of mind that makes him challenging to live and work with. This is the one of the major reasons we don’t use treats/toys to train/rehab dogs. We want an easy, relaxed mind to work with…not an edgy, hyper food/toy-focused maniac.

That said, when I work with my girl Belle competing in flyball or doing tricks, I want her goosed up and crazy…that way she does everything in an intense, hyper-fast, hyper-focused fashion…but I would certainly not want that state of mind all the time!

One of the greatest side benefits of all this calmness training is, it creates a fantastic relationship of leadership with you and your dog. Once a dog understands you can control his behavior, it creates a new and improved perception of who you are and how he feels about his world.

And that is good stuff!

 

 

The Good Dog Tip Of The Day: You can have a nervous, fearful, anxious dog that makes poor choices (barks, growls, lunges, attacks, runs, hides) towards people, other dogs, bikes, skateboards etc, or you can have a nervous, fearful, anxious dog that instead of simply reacting to their nervousness, fearfulness or anxiety, defers to you, and makes great choices around all of the above listed items.

Left to figure it out on their own, with no real information about what an appropriate response is, dogs will simply react, and are liable to make very bad choices. It’s your job to show your dog what to think, how to feel, and how to react when faced with things that unnerve them.

This takes knowledge and leadership on your part and establishing the right relationship with your dog.