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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.)

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Probably not much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

By Sean O’Shea 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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