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? ūüėČ

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. ūüôā

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. ūüôā


 

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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 frisbee 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 the 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. ūüôā

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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By Sean O’Shea

So many dog with issues tend to automatically get labeled as abused. Their owners or caretakers often create elaborate stories and possible causes for their fear, insecurity, reluctance, panic, and unique emotional triggering around specific people or things.

And of course there are abused dogs out there. Of course there are dogs who have seen some really unfortunate stuff, and their behavior might be directly connected to that abuse. But in my experience as a trainer, I see very few true abuse cases, and far less abuse as the root cause of most behavior issues – including fear.

What do I see more often as the actual root cause of so many behavior issues? Usually what I see isn’t some horrible event or trauma that occurred. Usually what I see is either a lack of exposure, a lack of leadership and guidance, a lack of solid genetics – or a combination of all three.

The lack of exposure – which is more often referred to as socialization – is all about dogs being exposed to all kinds of novel stimuli at crucial points of the dog’s development. Without this exposure, many things that a well-socialized dog would be solid and easy with are instead huge stress and fear triggers. Almost like us seeing space creatures or a ufo. If you’ve never seen something before, there’s a good chance it’ll freak you out. And if your dog hasn’t seen a lot of stuff, and built a comprehensive stress tolerance and overall generalizing confidence that comes from that early exposure, he’s likely to be afraid, skittish, worried, maybe even downright neurotic about stuff.

The lack of leadership and guidance can exacerbate the gaps listed above, or create large issues out of small ones. Here’s how this looks. A dog with some level of concern/worry/stress/fear experiences something troubling, and instead of being given information about how to better handle the stressor/trigger, the dog is allowed to experience it sans help or guidance. This means your dog experiences something troublesome, worrisome, fear-inducing, and instead of you working him through it, your dog feels the stressor and is left worried. Even well-intentioned owners often miss or allow small moments of insecurity, or are unsure how to address the issue properly. Typically this means your dog will become more and more stressed, more and more worried, and more and more fearful. This might look like out and out fear, nervous barking/growling, or even aggression towards dogs or people.

One last piece of this puzzle is genetics. Genetics plays a huge role in how dogs adapt to their world and how resilient they are. Many dogs who have genetics that aren’t robust and confident will behave in very skittish and fearful ways. This behavior often gets labeled as abuse based as well – these dogs will cower, shake and have extremely poor body language. And while it might look bad, it’s simply the stuff the dog came with. No abuse, no neglect. Genetic-based insecurity and fear often looks the worst, and can be some of the toughest stuff to overcome.

Once again, there are abused dogs. I’ve seen them. But the reality is, the vast majority of problem behaviors, fear issues, and other stuff that gets labeled as having an origin in abuse isn’t abuse at all. It’s far more often about what didn’t happen to the dog, rather than what did. Exposure that didn’t happen. Leadership that didn’t happen, and even genetics that didn’t happen.

It’s a great reality check, to remind people that while abuse does exist, it’s far less prevalent than presented, and far less of a cause of behavior issues then most think. And understanding this is crucial to helping owners move from a place of feeling sorry for, or making excuses for their dogs, to instead training, leading, and guiding them with strength and resolve.

And that’s the only way to truly help your dog move forward, regardless of the cause.


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By Sean O’Shea

One of our primary goals when training and rehabbing dogs is to shift them out of auto-pilot, reactionary, impulsive mode, and get them into a listening, processing, thinking mode. What does this auto-pilot/reactionary/impulsive behavior mode look like? It’s the mode where the dog sees, hears, smells something and instantly reacts to it. No evaluating involved. It’s where the dog wants to do something, or to access something, and simply does it, with zero concern for the outcome.

It’s an impulse control issue. Feel = do! No thinking, no evaluating, no value given to the choice, just an instant desire and an instant response. And it’s here that so many dogs get into trouble. Allowed to practice this “auto-pilot” way of life, it becomes their default. I want something I take it. I dislike something I growl. I want to run somewhere, I go. I see a dog on the walk I go bananas. I’m afraid of something I hide. And on and on.

This is where permission based training comes in to save the day. Permission based training isn’t anything fancy, but it is highly effective. Basically, we start teaching the dog that he needs to look to us before making decisions – not every decision mind you, just the ones that matter. The important decisions. The decisions that have serious ramifications, serious gusto behind them, or are reinforcing patterns of impulsive behavior.

This new way of living/behaving creates many positive changes. First and foremost, it calms the dog down. Dogs living on the edge of constant action or reaction (think of a runner at the starting line – always ready to explode) are typically super tightly wound, nervous, and edgy. Along with the calmness, it also creates handler respect, which is paramount to a healthy relationship. (A dog who looks to his owner for permission is usually a dog in a good headspace.) And of course, it teaches tons of impulse control, and gets the dog to think before acting – creating a safer, more conscious dog. All major pieces of the training/rehab/healthy dog puzzle.

Once a dog begins to look to you for permission, rather than just reacting to impulse, you’ll see much of the manic, hyped-up, tuned-out, crazy, disrespectful, and disobedient behavior disappear.

Here’s a few examples of where we work on this and where permission is needed:

-Crate (going in or out)

-Thresholds (going in or out)

-Place command (not leaving unless given permission)

-Eating (waiting for release)

-Peeing/sniffing on walks (waiting for release)

-Walking in a structured “heel” fashion (unless released)

-Any command that the dog has been asked to be in (must wait for release)

-Furniture (wait for permission)

-Personal space (must wait for permission to access)

-Getting in our out of the car (wait for permission)

-A bomb-proof recall (must always come back on command, wait for permission to roam – or not, perhaps the greatest impulse control/relationship builder)

-And any other contexts where you see a lot of excitement/pushiness/determination etc.

Teaching your dog to look to you, to ask you for permission before simply reacting is the true secret sauce to transforming both behavior and attitude. It creates a more relaxed, respectful, thinking dog. And who doesn’t want that?


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