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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!

 

 

 

 

By Sean O’Shea

Hey all!

In this post I’m going to cover a bunch of moments/issues/behaviors that typically undermine the relationship between us and our dogs. Many of these “moments” can seem benign or inconsequential, but depending on your dog and his state of mind, these “moments” could spell big problems.

Before I run down the list (and it is by no means comprehensive…if anyone has any  other suggestions I’d love to hear them!), let me quickly explain/define what I mean by mixed messages and missed opportunities. In this context, I’m calling a mixed message anything that might confuse your dog about where he sits in the pack, and what position you, as his owner wants to play in his life.

Example: Dragging you around on walks and pulling you wherever he wants to go is, in my view, a mixed message…it tells your dog “I’m not looking to play the role of authority figure/leader in your life”. Someone who is an authority figure/leader wouldn’t allow that kind of behavior/interaction.

By the same token, choosing to allow this behavior is a leadership opportunity missed. Instead of teaching your dog about what is appropriate behavior and who you are in his life, you simply allow the behavior and the message to your dog is loud and clear.

So, (in no particular order) here are some of what I consider mixed messages and missed opportunities:

 

-Pulling on leash/walking unstructured

-Sniffing and peeing at will without invitation

-Bolting in or out of crates

-Bolting in or out of doors

-Free feeding

-Not waiting to be fed/not using release/not waiting for patient behavior

-Having free access to toys/chews/bones

-Owner not starting and stopping game time/playing

-Having free access to the house

-Not being told where to be or what to do (sit/down/place etc)

-Being on furniture (beds/couches etc)

-Allowing your dog to demand attention

-Allowing demanding or neurotic barking/whining

-Unearned or excessive affection

-Not immediately correcting unwanted behavior (removing the dog or removing the item form the situation rather than correcting the dog and allowing the him to make better choices)

-Allowing pushy, snotty behavior towards other dogs (especially possessive/guarding/bullying)

-Allowing nervous aggressive behavior around other dogs

-Allowing a dog to run away from or avoid fear/anxiety inducing situations Or allowing a dog to engage in fearful anxious behavior

-Using weak, uncertain, tentative approach when dealing/training/correcting a dog who is in a strong or intense state of mind

-Using angry, frustrated, tense, freaked out approach when dealing/training/correcting a dog who is in a strong or intense state of mind

-Allowing overprotective or possessive behavior of you

-Allowing overly or excessive territorial behavior

-Allowing your dog to practice negative/bad habits in your absence

 

Once again, these “moments” may or may not cause problems to appear. It depends on your dog’s state of mind. There are lots of dogs that you could break every one of these rules with and never have anything worse than an ill behaved dog. But, if you’re one of the many clients I see, where the wrong K9 state of mind meets up with the wrong human approach, these missed “moments” can be catastrophic. The results can be heart break, re-homing, surrendering, and sometimes life ending.  If you’re struggling with serious problems, these mixed messages and missed opportunities are most likely to blame.

And one little extra bit of info: the very beginning of your relationship is the most important! Even if you don’t intend to practice all of these rules forever, if you at least start off with things on the right foot (the second your dog comes home), you have a much better chance of not seeing things turn ugly down the line. My advice is it’s always easier to lighten up later and be taken seriously than it is to attempt to re-negotiate a leadership position after starting soft and easy.

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By Los Angeles Dog Trainer Sean O’Shea,

Hey all, It’s been a bit since my last post (and I know I promised the second part of introducing a dog to your pack…and I will get it done asap promise!). Things have been steadily growing for us here at The Good Dog….and that’s great news for the dogs we work with and their owners, but it does sometimes slow down the output in the blog dept! But enough with my excuses! 🙂

I’ve been meaning to create a post dedicated to my own personal journey from incredibly inept and unknowledgeable dog owner, to someone who makes his living helping to rehab some of the toughest dogs in Los Angeles…and perhaps even more crucially, helping to empower dog owners to keep their dogs balanced once we fix ’em.

My story starts just about 13 years ago. I adopted my very first dog Junior, a 6 month old chow/pit/what have you mix from the East Valley shelter here in Los Angeles.

Within seconds of adopting him (we had to wait of course for him to be neutered), I was madly in love. I’m talking head over heels, giddy kind of puppy love. (And by the way, Junior is actually laying at my feet as I type this!). As with many dog owners, unknowingly, we bring dogs into our lives and have no idea the kind of emotional baggage we saddle them with. My life at the time was, umm, I’ll be generous and call it a mess! 🙂 Just about everything was in disarray. Family, friends, finances, emotional state…the works! And along comes this dog who just so happens to be the first creature in a long time safe enough to bond with and love. BOOM!

As with most folks who are emotionally unbalanced in their lives and their relationship with their dogs, the last thing I was going to do was discipline, set boundaries, or inhibit the freedom of my one source of unconditional love.

So within a very short time, I had thoroughly spoiled this little guy, and taught him that anything he wanted was good by me. Two months later, a co-worker of mine adopted a large pit/Rhodesian/who-knows-mix from the same shelter, and his landlord was forcing him to get rid of it. He was going to give the dog to anyone who would take him, which really bothered me, and having helped him pick out the dog from the shelter, I felt responsible, and decided I would take him as well. He was 8 months old.

Well, as you could guess, two things happened. The first was, I gave Oakley (the new guy) the exact same rules as Junior…which were zero. And secondly, their combined energy became almost unstoppable. Strangely enough both Oakley and Junior were born within a week of each other (of course this was the shelter’s best guess), which meant I now had two 8 month old large, extremely high energy dogs…and not a drop of knowledge. Ugh.

Oakley proceeded to eat his way through my entire apartment…doors, couches, telephones, vhs tapes, cd’s, beds…it seemed that at some point almost everything I owned eventually passed through his bottom. When I couldn’t take any more eating of my place, I would put him in my car when I went to run errands…and he ate my steering wheel, emergency brake, seats…and on and on.

Now you might be asking yourself, “Self, why didn’t Sean simply buy a crate and put Oakley in it?” Well, there was no way I was going to subject my dog to the punishing confines of what I thought was tantamount to doggy prison. NO WAY! Not my dog!

And this state of mind/belief system transferred over to all tools that might have helped make my life less of a horror show. Believe it or not, I wouldn’t walk these two growing boys (Oakley eventually hit 93 pounds and Junior 71) on anything but their flat buckle collars and flexi-leashes! Yep, I said it…that was where I was at with all this. No crates, no choke chains, no prong collars, not even regular leashes! My emotional state required that I give my dogs the maximum freedom and joy (or what I thought equated to freedom and joy), while I struggled to keep our manic, crazy life under control. And if one was honest, one would absolutely see that the chaos and disarray in my dog world was a perfect mirror of the chaos and disarray of my regular world.

So I spent my days being drug around the park, many, many times on my backside…a ridiculous type of dog powered water/turf skiing. (My girlfriend at the time was pulled off her feet and across the street on more than one occasion…coming home bloody and freaked out…but she felt the same way as me regarding tools and lifestyle…so along we went). We also went to the dog park every day for more boundary and leadership free fun. Everything cruised along like this until Oakley started developing some weird behavior at the dog park around 18 months old…namely going after small dogs and grabbing them. I had no idea what this was or what it meant, but I was hoping it was just a weird phase. This happened two more times…Oakley would get worked up, and start after a small dog. No dog was ever hurt in all this, but it was still scary, so devastated and sad, we decided that the dog park was to be no more.

The truth is, I was in over my head, but didn’t know it.

Around this point, both of my dogs’ behavior inside the house was atrocious…to be very kind. They would jump on anyone, rush the door, run out the door and bolt down the street if possible, jump on the kitchen table and steal food, poop in the house…you name it, we had it. Outside, they were becoming extremely reactive to other dogs. Once they saw another dog, it was curtains for me. They would pull, lunge, rear up, attack each other, bite the leashes, pull me down…everything!

I became one of those dog owners that would scope out the area around me for any potential K9 threats, and either rapidly go the other direction, or find something, a car or bush or anything to hide behind. I was terrified of any dog coming anywhere near us…even if it was at a great distance the reactions were horrible. I absolutely loved being with them and was religious in taking our walks twice daily, but if they saw a dog before me, it was on, and it was on in a big way.

Our trouble and reality collided one day when both Oakley and Junior got away from me at the front door…due to my not being a responsible and careful owner…and ran down the driveway. I was right behind them, and as horrific luck would have it, my neighbors had their two pomeranians off leash at the end of the driveway. Oakley grabbed one and I grabbed him within a second of it…I picked up his front end so he couldn’t shake the dog, and luckily he released the dog with a second. There was thankfully no blood, and the dog looked fine…shaken up, but fine.

The unfortunate reality was that when they took the dog to the vet to have it checked out, the dog ended up dying from a punctured lung. No one saw the puncture, and so no one was assuming anything serious…but as awful as it is to say, the dog died that night.

The next week I was visited by animal control so they could determine if I had a dangerous dog. They came in, met with Oakley and immediately determined he was great with people. So he wasn’t in any danger. Also, because both dogs were off-leash, it was considered joint negligence. But that didn’t change the fact that I felt destroyed. It was and still is one of the worst periods I’ve ever gone through…knowing the kind of heartache my neighbor was going through was crushing.

I remember very clearly regretting that I had said I would take Oakley from my friend.

After this I kept both dogs on lock down, and operated my apartment like a cell block. I had learned a very painful lesson. Dogs, even amazingly sweet, wonderful dogs, left without guidance and supervision could do horrible things. But I still hadn’t figured out what to do or even where to start. I didn’t know anything about training or trainers or where to look…and to be honest, I wasn’t doing a very good job of finding help…I’m pretty sure I didn’t believe anyone would be able to help us.

But I still had to figure out what to do with Oakley. This was a terrible time.

Just prior to this, a good friend had asked me if I had heard of this TV show called The Dog Whisperer. I laughed at the name and said no. I wasn’t exactly the believer in positive thought that I am today! Anyway, my friend Melissa suggested I check it out, that there was this guy named Cesar Millan who could do amazing things with troubled dogs. I said I would check it out when I had the chance.

And catch it I did. After watching a couple of episodes I knew this guy was onto something, and that the concepts resonated very clearly and plainly with me. Namely that most dog behavior issues were the human’s fault for prioritizing their emotional fulfillment over their dogs needs for physical and mental fulfillment.

Bam! That was me! And so it was time for a massive make-over…in all departments!

Later I went out and purchased Cesar’s first book, Cesar’s Way. I read it once, and then I went back and studied it…over and over again…taking notes and writing down all the aha moments. Everything he said made complete sense. As I delved deeper and deeper into his work, it became ever more apparent all of the things I had been doing wrong – the mixed messages, the lack of leadership etc. We had a majorly unbalanced relationship…100% love and affection, and a complete absence of rules, structure, or leadership…the perfect recipe for disastrous dogs.

This was a great beginning, but the truth is, Cesar’s show, and his books for that matter, tend to be more big picture stuff, rather than specific training concepts…so that was challenging. I had a great overview, but almost no specifics. And so I set out to learn as much as I could. I bought every book I could find – I became obsessed. I went through almost all of the famous pure positive training books: Don’t Shoot The Dog, The Other End Of The Leash, The Power Of Positive Training…and on and on. I also read classics like The Monks Of New Skete’s How To Be Your Dog’s Best Friend, and many, many more. I pored over every training dvd I could find, and slowly began to figure out what worked for certain things and what didn’t work for other things. I was really starting to put my own approach together, based on trial and error. Luckily, I had two extremely ill behaved dogs as my training guinea pigs.

Within 6 months time, I was seeing massive changes in my dogs as well as myself. I truly took to heart Cesar’s belief that you have to be balanced before you can balance your dogs. So I went through therapy, studied lots of self help books and spiritual books…I was working at least as hard on myself as I was on the terrible duo of Junior and Oakley. Within a year, my dogs and myself were hardly recognizable from who we were just a year ago. But we still had lots of work to do. The promise I made to my dogs when I started this journey was that before they stepped off this planet in their physical form, I would see to it that I gave them back the gift of being balanced, amazing dogs…the dogs they were destined to be, if I hadn’t screwed them up.

Pretty soon, people in the neighborhood were asking me questions about their dog’s problems, and commenting on how well behaved my two were. You see, everyone had witnessed our transformation; we went from the chaos of massive dog explosions, me losing my cool, and hiding from other dogs, to having all three (Belle was now in the pack) calmly sit while other dogs would go ballistic around us. It was pretty dramatic to behold. And I won’t pretend that it was easy…it took everything I had to picture a new, successful outcome around other dogs…after all, I had seen the worst any dog owner could see…so I was working against some pretty strong mental blocks.

Of course I changed tools, I went to prong collars and short nylon leashes, and eventually I started studying up on e-collars. These neighborhood criminal K9’s of mine went from public enemy number one and two, to the neighborhood ambassadors of great behavior. And that my friends was no small feat!

As my knowledge and experience grew, so did the requests for my services. I started out offering primarily dog walking with a little training (few things developed my dog handling and dog reading skills as thoroughly as did working with several ill behaved problem dogs in a pack walk environment), and then it started to shift to more and more training and less and less walking. Eventually, I quit my day job and officially opened The Good Dog, and started working full time as a trainer. Things went so well that by word of mouth alone, I was extremely busy. From the beginning I had a preference for the extremely challenging/aggressive/dangerous dogs that others wanted nothing to do with…and this intention put me on a path to develop the skills necessary to become known as someone who could turn around even the nastiest of cases. I’m incredibly proud to say that The Good Dog continues to grow daily, we now have the awesome Laura Morgan and Sean Sevitski on our team, and we are working towards opening a full service dog training/rehabilitation center. We have some pretty lofty goals/dreams of creating a place where owners and dogs can go to learn about and work on creating balance and harmony in their lives…and most importantly to avoid the same mistakes I made…I don’t want anyone to ever go through the guilt of having their dog injure or kill another dog…I would never wish that experience on anyone…and more importantly, I would never want someone else to go through the heartache that my neighbor went through.

What I want people to get from my story more than anything is, that you don’t have to be born with Dog Wisperer style skills. My clients often remark that I have some otherworldly dog presence…usually implying it is some god-given-naturally-occurring force, which my story proves is absolutely not the case. My story highlights the fact that I did it all wrong, was a total disaster…made all the mistakes, and then some…but am now able to work with and fix even the worst cases. So what I’m getting at is, if I can do it, anyone can. We all have the power to change our lives completely…if we dare to look honestly at ourselves…and the personal inequities our dogs are so generously exposing for us…every day…every moment. If you’re truly committed to the work, both personally and dog wise, you can have whatever you want in this world.

Lastly, I’d like to say thanks to all of you for being so generous in your support of me and the gang at The Good Dog. We appreciate you!

(Anyone who follows me knows that Oakley and Junior (since being rehabbed and reprogrammed) work with all my client’s dogs in both regular training as well as socialization exercises, and they join all of us on all the pack walks. If you’re not familiar with them, they are the two tan dogs next to the Doberman “Scooby” on my left in the above picture. They are a testament to what is possible.)