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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Sean O’Shea from The Good Dog

Remember folks, dogs always do what ‘works’ for them. If pulling on the leash works to get you to walk faster or gets them to a desired tree, they will do it. If barking from the crate works to get the crate door opened and them out, they will do it. If acting the fool when you pull the leash out works to get the leash put on, they will do it. If barking and lunging at other dogs on the walk works to make the other dog go away (the dog’s perception) or is just a bunch of fun, they will do it. If jumping up on you works to get attention (even negative attention) they will do it. If pulling you out the front door works to get the walk started, they will do it. If barking at the back door works to get them inside, they will do it. If whining works to get them petted or soothed, they will do it. If chewing/mouthing on your pant leg or your hands works to get you to engage with your dog (what he’s looking for), they will do it. If staring or growling at you works to cause you to move away from your dog’s food bowl, crate, toy, bed etc, he will do it.

And they will do all of these things more and more intensely, and more frequently, the more it works for them.

When we respond to our dog’s negative behavior in a way that ultimately gives the dog what he wants, we have trained our dog (and he has trained us) to create the reality he desires…which might not be the reality you desire. 🙂

Our job, as our dog’s leader and guide is to be sure that we only encourage the behaviors we like – what ‘works’ for us and our lifestyle – and discourage that which doesn’t ‘work’ for us.

The best way to achieve this is to ignore very mild behavior totally and completely, correct more intense behavior you don’t like immediately, and to actively train your dog that patience, waiting, calmness, respect, and courteousness gets them everything. It’s what ‘works’!

Dogs, while being some of the most awesome creatures around, are also awesome opportunists! Left to their own devices, they will create a world for themselves (and for you) that is exactly to their liking. It’s up to you to pick which reality ‘works’ for you, yours or your dog’s.

(If your dog’s behavior is dangerous or frightening, or if you are unsure about how to proceed, please do not attempt to correct or train him on your own. You should seek the help of a trained professional who, if qualified should be able to help you sort these issues out.)

 

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Whether It be business, financial, relationship, personal, or even dog training (make that especially dog training!), if you’re not harnessing the amazing power of visualization, goal setting, and creating intentions, you’re missing out on some of the great secrets of success!

I personally am a big subscriber to the power of these tools, and they have helped me tremendously in all aspects of my life.

Let’s take a super quick look at how these work, and then we’ll see how they might just help you with your dog…and maybe more.

When you set a goal, visualize an outcome, or create the intention of what you’d like to create, you set several things in motion:

1) You cause your brain’s filter (known by its fancy name as R.A.S. – Reticular Activating System), to adjust its focus toward helping you accomplish the goal you desire. Your brain filters out most of the information that it is bombarded with, in order to protect your sanity, and to help you survive/accomplish the things you have deemed important. The famous example is where you decide to buy a new car and suddenly begin to see the same car everywhere in great numbers. The amount of these cars on the road didn’t increase massively overnight – what happened was that your filter suddenly adjusted itself to find/accomplish the things that are foremost in your mind. In this case the car you are fascinated with/focused on. Some folks call this Law Of Attraction, I personally enjoy the scientific explanation the most. So once you create a goal, visualization, intention, your mind’s filter begins to filter out all that is unhelpful to achieving your goal and filters in all that is helpful to achieving your goal. Often ideas, strategies, and solutions will simply pop into your mind as your supercomputer of a brain hyper-focuses all of its power on solving the problem you are working on. Is it magic? It’s pretty close to it.

2) When you visualize exactly what you want to see, before you create it, you become positively charged with certainty and confidence, rather than tentative, unsure, and clumsy. People actually perform physically and mentally at a much higher level when they utilize the power of visualization. (Star athletes and other performers have used these tools for years, and there many scientific studies that back up the efficacy of the practice) You set yourself up for success when your brain has a defined set of images and goals to shoot for rather than a vague groping. And scientists have also found that we tend to get what we expect, and find what we’re looking for.

3) Clear set goals have a magical pulling power, they actually pull us in their direction. And the clearer, more defined the goal, and the stronger the emotional connection to it, the harder it pulls you towards it. Without clearly set goals, our focus and efforts tends to wander here and there. We dilute our power to accomplish great things through the scattering of our focus and attention. Defined goals bring us back again and again to our purpose. So if we want to create great things, we simply need to intensify and focus our intentions like a laser on what is we wish to create.

4) When you visualize or project an outcome, you create a psychological response, which in turn creates a physiological response. An example would be that you’re walking your dog reactive dog and suddenly see a dog walking towards you…you immediately see in your mind’s eye your dog whirling around, snapping, lunging, barking like a mad beast. What happens at that moment? Your psychological conversation has now caused your breathing to become shallow, your body to become tense, and stress hormones to be secreted – all signals to your dog that not only is trouble afoot, but also that you are in no way the person who is capable of either managing the situation or protecting your dog. That little negative visualization almost always guarantees a negative reaction from your dog. But if you develop the habit and skill of instead seeing what you want, rather than what you don’t, you have a far better chance of maintaing normal breathing, maintaining a relaxed body, and keeping the stress hormones under wraps – all of which convey confidence and certainty – and this positive visualization process can yield major results as you and your dog work towards solving problem behavior.

Personally, I utilize these concepts every time I’m working with a dog. On the large end of goal setting, every dog that comes in to us gets a chart made up of the owners goals and our goals that we wish to achieve before the end of our work together. On the small end, I set goals or an intention for every single training session – even if it is only a momentary issue – set the goal first and watch as that decision pulls you to the achievement of your goal. And in conjunction with the goals I set, I also visualize every outcome, ahead of time working out exactly as I wish it to. The combination of deciding ahead of time exactly what you want and what it looks like are an incredibly powerful set of tools. And the more challenging the dog, the deeper I go into this process. This keeps me positive, totally clear about my objectives, focused on solutions rather than problems, relaxed and confident. And all of these elements give me the extra edge when I’m working with challenging dogs or humans!

If you’re having problems with your dog or you just want to improve his/her training, you want as much of this creative, problem solving mojo on your side as possible! How do you think a dog (or the world!) would react to a confident, certain, positive person, with a clear image of what he wants to create versus the opposite? I know you know the answer to this one! 🙂

So regardless of whether you’re a dog trainer, a dog owner, or just one of those weird people without a dog, if you’ll practice seeing what you want, defining what you want, and feeling what you want, you’ll be harnessing some of the most powerful tools that man has at his disposal.

And you might just create a little magic of your own.

 

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.)

 

By Sean O’Shea of The Good Dog Training and Rehabilitation,

 

Hey all, I was in the process of posting a video which demonstrated some of the techniques I use when introducing new dogs to my pack or home environment, and it dawned on me that maybe I should elaborate on how I approach this challenging situation.

Let’s start off by examining what I feel are the main causes of problems that owners often accidentally get into. The biggest issue, and the one I see the most often is: “let’s put the dogs together and see how they feel about each other.” Yow! This is such a perfect way to not only have a dog fight or a scuffle, but even more importantly, if your goal is to have these two dogs co-habitate, it’s the perfect way to get things off to a perfectly terrible start that will very possibly continue to escalate.

 

I never, repeat, never, let dogs figure out how they feel about each other without my guidance. If you have a nervous dog, a territorial dog, a dominant dog, a pushy dog, or an exuberant dog, each one of these states of mind could be the perfect storm for a fight with the wrong dog. And that’s not even mentioning or assessing the behavior of the other dog or dogs you’re bringing into the situation.

 

Another big cause of problems between new dogs (and often even dogs who have lived together for years), is an obvious lack of human leadership and control. When dogs sense a leadership vacuum, they start to come up with their own solutions to situations. And that my friends, is the last thing you want. This lack of leadership puts every resource up for grabs/competition. It also creates the dynamic where one dog perceives another dog to be behaving inappropriately, and decides it is his or her job to step in and correct that behavior.

 

The chaos and lack of structure that most dogs live in creates a free for all, wild west mindset…everything and everyone is up for grabs…trust me, you do not want the wild west in a multi-dog household. This is usually what the home environment looks like in my most challenging client situations.

 

Something that most owners aren’t aware of is, all of these scenarios create massive stress in your dog(s), which is a major player in causing dogs to make extremely poor, often aggressive choices.

 

So what is the answer, what is the best approach for creating a safe and harmonious introduction? I don’t profess to having all the answers, but I will happily share with you what works for me.

 

THE WALK:

 

The first thing I like to do is, walk the dogs together…not next to each other, but on either side of you. This gives the dogs a chance to get to know each other at a comfortable distance, while insuring that no one acts like a knucklehead – which can easily cause an interaction go sour. It’s imperative that you keep the leashes short, but not tight/tensioned. If the leashes are too loose, you will not have control, the dogs will likely get into each others spaces and this will very likely get you into trouble. I would also heavily recommend a prong collar on both dogs. In order to be safe, you have to have control of the dogs…and flat buckle or harnesses will not do the trick.

 

If things are really dicey, and you’re not feeling that you can safely manage both dogs, have someone assist you. But lets back up a bit. As soon as I put the leashes on, I set the tone…I shift my mindset, energy, vibe…whatever you want to call it immediately. I let all the dogs involved know that I will be directing and running every aspect of this endeavor. I cannot stress enough how important it is for both dogs to be in a state of mind where they are taking you seriously. This doesn’t mean any heavy handed interaction, but simply that you control every bit of movement and behavior, and insure all dogs are acting politely, BEFORE you begin the walk. Like I said, set the tone. This tone is saying,”this walk will be 100% controlled by this human, and any monkey business will not be tolerated, and will  warrant a correction and immediate addressing.” Be sure your state of mind is relaxed and confident.

 

It should go without saying that both dogs should be walking right by your side…no pulling, darting around, disregarding etc. You want to create a really nice, relaxed heel.

 

Once again, if one of the dogs is too intense, have someone help you. They can start by walking the dog behind you or in front of you, and as things relax, they can close the distance. If you can achieve this, than I would move the dogs to either side of you. How does it look? How do things feel? Are they lunging at each other, or calmly enjoying the walk? If they’re calm, I will then move one dog out in front of the other (but do not stop moving!!), and I will create a moving, controlled, butt sniffing ritual. Be sure no one acts the fool and tries to nip, lunge, or hump. If that looks good, then I switch positions, and move the front dog into the rear position (literally!), and do the exercise all over again.

 

I love this exercise because it safely introduces dogs to each and gives me the opportunity to see how they feel about each other. After I’ve completed this exercise (it only takes a few minutes), and if things are feeling comfortable, I will bring them back to either side of me and continue walking them for a good amount of time. You need to be constantly watching and gauging the vibe between the two dogs. The hope is that they’re feeling more and more relaxed. If so, you’re off to a promising start. If one of them erupts and goes after the other, you have more work to do.

 

After walking a while, you can put them in a sit (while sill controlling their access to each other), and see how they feel…has anything changed due to the lack of movement and their ability to focus solely on each other? If you see any tension, mad dogging, or other nasty intentions, I would correct that immediately…nothing extreme, but enough to redirect their attention off of the other dog and back to you. Then back to walking.

 

The longer you walk, the more opportunity the dogs have to feel more comfortable with each other. Personally, when new dogs come into The Good Dog, I usually will walk them with my pack for a minimum of an hour. This will give me an opportunity to see how everyone feels about each other in a number of situations and with a number of distractions or triggers.

 

This is the first step I utilize when introducing new dogs, and it has worked extremely well for me – but this is only the first step. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have to remind you again that THE most important component of successfully introducing new dogs on the walk, is that you take your time, move slow, and control EVERYTHING – every moment, every action, and you do it with a no-nonsense, assertive state of mind. This approach to the walk is why in all the years I’ve been doing this (and sometimes I have 10, 12 14 dogs all together), I’ve only had one problem on a walk…ever.

 

Next time we’ll talk about safely introducing new dogs to your pack in the house.

 

If you have any questions, please hit me up in the comments section! Thanks!