Leadership and Dogs

 Leadership and Dogs

I will first start defining what I mean by leadership.

Leadership  means practicing awareness, self control, decision making and accountability when you have to. By that order!

I see leadership as a responsability, a service and a privilege, not an entitlement.

This is always true with dogs, although in appearance is not always true with humans. And I say in appearance because we humans sometimes get lost in the intricate game of power by manipulating or imposing our way, although this is simply because of lack of awareness. Our egos take over and we make a big mess. Dogs don’t have Egos.

Anyways, dogs don’t play that game. Dogs don’t listen to a leader, they listen to the energy behind the leader. This is a very important concept. It has to do with awareness. Being a leader is not a title that once you earn it you expect your dog to listen to you and respect you. If you are not up to the task, the privilege will be removed. Kind of like your drivers liscense. In a way, your dog will tell you if you’re connected to nature or to your phone! I’m guilty to 😉

Dogs live in the moment, so if at the moment you are not in control of yourself or aware of the environment around you, your pup will probably not listen to you. He or she will not trust nor respect you, no matter how much training and conditioning you ´ve worked on manipulating his or her behavior. But don’t worry, your dog will still love you though 🙂 They are truly amazing souls.

Anyways, when your dog is at high alert, tense or fixated, all the training and conditioning you’ve worked on goes down the drain if you don’t have the right relationship. And it´s precisely in these moments when you really want to make sure that your dog is going to listen to you. Think about this for a moment: If danger is coming and you need to make a decision, would you listen to your 7 year old son? Would you turn to look at him for direction? Of course not, because you are in charge. But guess what, if you are not in charge your son will not look up to you either. That’s just simply how it works. You don’t look up to someone who you don’t trust, respect or who is not in control.

I see this happening with dogs all the time. If you have it together, is at those moments when your pup will listen to you, because it´s at those moments when he or she really needs you and will look up to you for guidance.

In many ways we all need some kind of leadership or higher power to look up to when everything falls apart. I consider myself lucky that I always had my parents when I was in trouble. It´s funny that it was at those troubled moments when I was really paying attention and listening to them. And I’m not talking about listening to their words. My parents where not big in giving me advice and telling me what to do. I’m talking about listening to the trust, respect and love that they always delivered unconditionally. This is the kind of assets good leaders create. And this is the kind of leadership I’m talking about. It´s an unspoken language.

Leadership is not a skill, it´s a state of mind which you have to know how to turn it on and off. Good leaders are good followers too. Some times you lead sometimes you follow. Both are equally valuable and knowing when to do what makes a big difference.

You don’t have to prove leadership or stablish leadership. You provide leadership. Because if you have to prove it, this means you don’t have it. Its a calm and collected way of being, even when things go paired. Even when the worst fears show up. It´s a state of mind that allows you to be connected with your environment in a way that you are listening, observing and getting ready for the cakewalk. By the way, being calm doe not mean being slow. Calmness has nothing to do with speed.

Your presence and your guidance should be more powerful than the sources of stress . When you achieve that kind of leadership you can bring back your dog to calmness no matter how crazy or out of control the situation is around you. The key to achieve this is to remain calm and in control no matter how bad things get. It’s impossible to control a dog if you are not in control of yourself. You can restrain them with strength or tools, but that will only take care of liability which is a human problem  not of harmony and peace which is natures will.

It´s not about you, it´s about harmony.

© Gabriel Riesco, Fairfield CT,  Feb 21st 2018

What is your dog thinking?

What is your dog thinking?

As a professional dog trainer and behaviorist I get a lot of very interesting stories from dog parents. For example:  ¨my dog knows what’s right,  but decides not to do it.¨ Or ¨My Dog is annoying me on purpose because I left him or her alone all morning in the crate. Kind of like a revenge.¨ Another common one is: ¨Since I had my human baby, my dog resents me and he/she had not been able to forgive me since, so he/she acts out all the time in revenge. I feel so guilty! ¨  Once I had a client stating that her dog had ghost phobia and was reacting to some kind of spirit. 

Now, I want to make clear that  I´m NOT here to say they are wrong. In fact, quite the opposite. My job is not to judge people, but to help them. I don´t go into people´s houses and tell them off or tell them what to do, I just tell them how.

In any case, these are just some examples. But the truth is that most of my clients create their own stories about what their dogs are thinking. It’s funny how this stories always work against them.  That’s why they call me! They create their own story and they truly believe them. So they become real.

One thing I know for myself is that I don’t  know what dogs think.  I’m not a psychic that reads dog’s mind. But my clients claim they do. And of course and funny enough they are right, but not in the way they think they are right. What this proves is that our mind creates our own reality and this has a powerful effect on the physical world around us. How do I know this? Because when I come and I change the story,  in most cases in less than 5 minutes the unwanted behavior is gone.

Let’s get clear that your dog doesn’t read your mind either, but they are experts at reading your state of mind. For example: if you are worried, there must be a problem. Your dog doesn’t know why you are worried or what the problem is but he or she will react accordingly. So if you want your dog to calm down and relax, but you are worried, guess what? It´s not gonna happen. 

I know, feeling worried is being compassionate and shows empathy. But your pup doesn’t know that those are the reasons why you are worried. He or she just knows that you are worried. Your pup also leaves in a human world with human rules which he or she doesn’t understand. If you are worried something really bad must be happening. And that’s exactly what your pup is reacting to. This is true with any state of mind you share with your dog: frustration, anger, guilt, insecurity, confusion, fear you name it. 

When we examine the nature of reality the startling new discoveries on science tells us how our mind creates our own reality. This realty becomes real and affects the world around us. You can call this however you want: energy, though vibrations, mind power, faith or obsession if you want. 

This kind of energy or mind power is always working, but it can work in your favor or against you. And this is especially accurate with dogs.

Usually the main problem here is to let go of the story you’re holding on to. This story is usually the outcome or consequence of guilt, anger, frustration, pride, confusion  or whatever it is that your are holding on to. Awareness and letting go are the first steps to change that story.  And believe me no one is going to be more honest than your dog. Dogs are egoless and they live in the present. What you see is what you get.  What you give is what you get back in return. 

So next time you are wondering what´s your dog thinking, maybe ask yourself the same question. Listen to your own answer. You might learn something new. I always do 😉 

© Gabriel Riesco, Fairfield CT,  Feb 9th 2018

How To Calm Your Dog Down

How To Calm Your Dog Down

This is a big one!!

There are many different ways to calm your dog down. In my sessions I show different techniques and ways to calm dogs down, but no technique will work if you either overuse it or you are not in control of the energy behind it. On this blog I´ll focus on the concept behind it.

One of the most important and gentle ways to calm your dog down is to use boundaries and limits with things your pup gets really excited or have fixations with. This could be food, a ball, a specific toy, a person, another dog or animal, a bone, the tv, a rock, a moving light or simply a shadow. Dogs can get really creative here and sometimes the things which they get excited or fixated with can make no sense to you. This is because they are not humans, they´re dogs. So don’t worry, your dog is not crazy. 😉

I´ll start by being very clear on something: ¨when you establish a boundary you are taking control of situation so your pup can relax.¨

A boundary is not about imposing your way and taking it personal because you want to let your dog know who’s boss. A boundary is about putting your dog at ease. It´s a change of state of mind where your dog becomes your sate of mind instead of you becoming your dog´s state of mind or ignoring it because you can’t cope with it. Which is usually the case when I get 911


This is a very powerful tool/skill and it works like magic, but it´s not magic, there is knowledge behind it. Doing this will teach your dog self control, calm state of mind plus he or she will listen to you not to the food, treat or toy.

Below is an example of what this can look like so you can have a better understanding. And please bare with me here because this is the opposite of what most dog trainers do. Also very important, DO NOT do this if you don’t know what you are doing or without a professional. I use this blog to explain my concepts not for you to try my techniques. This would be like trying to learn to play tennis by reading a manual.

So here: Get some food or a tasty treat. Put it on the floor or a chair where your pup has access to it. Block your pup if she tries to get it and say the sound sht! or aah! aahh!  in a calm but confident manner. Make sure she doesn´t get the treat or food on the table. Keep blocking her until she relaxes and gives it up. Only remove the treat when she is calm and when she is OK with giving it up. The sound sht! will soon mean: look at me and calm down. You are establishing a boundary where you take control of situation and you put your dog at ease.

I know what you are going to ask now: ¨But when do I give my dog the treat????¨ Well, take a couple of breaths, relax, keep calm and keep going. The answer is: you don’t. Yes, I know that this doesn’t fulfill your needs, but this is not about your needs, it´s about your dog´s needs. It´s also not about conditioning and training your pup to do commands or tricks. I will write about how to do that too, I promise. I love doing that too and it´s a lot of fun, but people usually don’t call me because they want their dogs to do things, quite the opposite. They call me because they need their dogs not to do things.

So please go back to the part where you take a couple of breaths, you relax, you keep calm and keep going.

There are many other situations where you can reward your dog with a treat. What you need to understand here is that the boundary is the reward. There is no bigger reward than putting your dog at ease and teaching him or her self control. This has to do with ¨letting go¨ which I talked about in my previous Blog.

When you put boundaries and you really  follow through, your pup will gravitate towards you. It might seem anti intuitive to you, but that’s how it works.

When you do this the more physical you get, the harder your pup will fight back. So don’t restrain or get physical. Dogs don’t listen to you because you are stronger. They listen to you because you are in control, so they can trust you. No dog will trust someone that is out of control, frustrated, angry, hesitant or with lack of confidence. Think about it, would you?

I´ll finish reinforcing that the purpose of a boundary is not to impose your way with force but to calm your pup  down and following through with determination and confidence. It´s never a fight. It´s a calming exercise and process. Kind of like YOGA 😉


© Gabriel Riesco, Brooklyn, NY Jan 2018

How to deal with a traumatic experience: Lassie is terrified of stairs.

How to deal with a traumatic experience: Lassie is terrified of stairs.

When a bad experience happens to your dog there are good chances that your pup might develop a fear associated with that experience. It could be fear of stairs, fear of men, fear of kids, fear of your car etc.

In the following example Lassie (I´ve changed the dog´s name for privacy) developed fear of stairs because he fell. When this happens don’t feel sorry or pity for your pup. Or just keep it to yourself and when you get over it start helping your pup 😉  Make sure he or she is not injured and don’t wait to start helping him or her to overcome it.

There’s nothing wrong with getting emotional, I get emotional too. But once you decide  to help your pup you have to overcome your emotions. You can get emotional later.

I must say that in this example I worked previously with Lassie´s mom on Leash Communication, energy and body language.

Question: (Lassie´s Mom)

¨We recently put up child gates at our stairs. This past Wednesday, after the gates had been up for about a week, Lassie ran right into the gate and then partially fell down the stairs. I wasn’t home, but my husband was and he said that Lassie then tried again to run through the gate and he feel down the stairs again. He did not have any physical injuries, but now he is terrified of the stairs. He will run downstairs, but he will not come up unless I literally carry him. He’ll be shaking as he reaches the top. I feel so awful! Things that usually trigger him to dash upstairs aren’t working (treats, his dinner. the doorbell ringing).

Do you have any advice for what we can do??¨


¨There is a couple of things you can do. The first thing to do is to know if he is afraid of the stairs or of the gate. This is very important. 

If it´s the gate: Remove the gate and walk Lassie upstairs on the leash. Do it a couple of times. If you are in the middle of the stairs and he is still a little bit unsure go down and try it again. Kind of like baby steps. Once he is comfortable doing that, do the same but with the gate. Once he can do it with the gate several times try to do it without the leash.

If it´s the stairs, make sure you put a rug or something that ´s not slippery on the stairs. Put him in the middle of the stairs (carry him) and block the way down with a gate. So the only way is up. Do baby steps until he is comfortable doing it alone the whole stairs.

Use the leash communication we went over when I first saw you. Don´t drag him, but don´t let him fly away. Be very calm and confident yourself. Think this way while you are helping him: you know he can do it, because this is something new. You just need to remove the fear. 

Let me know how it goes. I´m confident you can figure it out! – Have a great day!¨

Lassie´s Mom – :

¨ IT WORKED! The minute we did the stairs with the leash, he was then able to do them on his own. Thank you so much!¨

The reason why it worked so fast is because Lassie´s Mom already new how to communicate with the leash, with her body language and energy. What’s funny is that she first tried with external tools like treats, dinner or even the door bell and didn’t think about what she already learnt, which comes from within.

This is just one example of the importance of mastering leash communication and the walk. Your body language and energy is much more powerful than what you think when you know what you are doing.

© Gabriel Riesco, Brooklyn, NY December 2017

Letting Go: What Dogs Can Teach Us

Letting Go: What Dogs Can Teach Us

In this blog I´m going to expose a little bit myself. I might get a little emotional. But bare with me, it´s worth it. 😉

As some of you know I´m a musician. More specifically a professional guitar player, or at least I used to be for over 18 years of my life. As a kid my dream was to come to New York and play music. To live the bohemian life performing and recording music with New York musicians from all over the world. At one point I told this to my parents and surprisingly they were supportive. I also wanted to study music here, in the US,  and that´s extremely expensive, specially if you come from Spain. My parents didn’t have that kind of money.

So I saved money, a lot of money. At least a lot for me. I studied and practiced very hard: 7 to 8 hours a day. EVERY DAY. I applied to several scholarships. I got one in Miami. Then I saved more money and I got another scholarship in Berklee College of Music. I graduated with honors in Jazz performance and composition. Then I moved to New York. I was BROKE. My college degree wasn’t very helpful here. It took me years to manage to survive and live out of the music. I was very proud of it and I was busy performing and recording. But I wanted to thrive not to survive, and I was ready for it. I decided to start focusing on my own project. So I started getting into international Jazz Festivals around Europe and the US. I recorded my second Jazz album and started promoting it. I got fantastic critics and reviews from important Jazz magazines and experts. Things were going pretty well. I felt empowered, but even more importantly I was ready to go for it with full force and commitment.

To achieve this and to come to the US to do music, I made a LOT of sacrifices . I left all my family, friends and a warm land behind me. I even left my girlfriend at that time. And it felt that it was beginning to pay off. I was ready for the next step for the big reward.

At this point, I remember once when I went back to my parent´s house in Spain. One night while I was sitting in the living room, my dad came to me and held my hand. This has never happened to me before. Then he told me: ¨I´m very proud of how far you’ve  come and I know that this is just the beginning. I want you to know that you can achieve whatever you want to achieve. I believe in you.¨ I think this is the first time I saw my dad crying. That really meant the world to me. It was a signal of my success to come, or so I thought.

What happened next is not a success story of glory and fame. It´s actually heartbreaking when I go back in time. A week after my album release and after I had lined up all my upcoming concerts and tours,  I started to develop focal dystonia. This is a condition where you slowly, and without knowing it, you start loosing control of your fingers. Every day no matter how much you practice you get worse. At the beginning you think it´s you. You slowly start to convince yourself that you suck, because you make stupid mistakes that you never made before. Basically you are sending yourself to failure every time you pick up the guitar and there’s noting you can do about it. It´s so intense that your hand without your consent starts rejecting the guitar to a point where you can’t even touch it. The worst part of this condition is that you don’t know you have it. It´s actually cruel.

At this point one day I was at the doctors office treating my hand  and somehow I started reading something from a magazine that got stuck in my mind since.  I quote: ¨When the Gods want to get you, they really know how to strike¨. I stopped and I read it again: ¨When the gods want to get you, they really know how to strike¨. Wow, that was me! It felt exactly like that : I got striked, and it really got me.

Reading this hit my soul hard and very intense.I started crying and I couldn’t stop. The emotions that came to me were hard tp put into words. It was the strangest combination of pure sadness, frustration, anger, self pity and tenderness, compassion and beauty at the same time. I wasn’t sure why I was crying, but it was stronger than me and out of my control. I was releasing and letting go a tremendous amount of pent up energy. I guess I realized that this was bigger than myself. In a way I completely surrendered to it. I stopped fighting it.

This process, I learnt a little later from dogs, is called Letting Go. Animals are experts at this and if we are sensitive enough we can learn from this infinite wisdom.

Anyways, after this event my life changed in an unimagined way. I discovered a new thriving and effortless career as a Dog trainer. The way this happened belongs to a different and fascinating chapter in my life. But this also allowed me to become a father and a husband with endlesss joy and gratefulness, which by the way was never in my goals or plans as a bohemian musician. As a musician the word Husband was a blasphemy. Becoming a Father was simply out of reality and irresponsible.

After years and a very different perspective of things the same quote came to my mind. ¨When the gods want to get you, they really know how to strike¨. Now I laugh and  I get it.  I was so tunneled vision, fixated and closed to one side of myself with music that there was no room for anything else. The ¨Gods¨ had no other way to snap me out of it and show me that life is much wider and wiser than your goals, fixations or big rewards. How funny is that the word ¨dogs¨ is the same letters as gods but inverted. Through Dogs I´ve learnt a new and different way of looking at life. They showed me how to live in the present and Let Go of things. I never chose to become a Dog Trainer, it just happened to me because I listened and surrendered to it. And by the way since then I started slowly recovering my hand movements and playing the guiar.

Now, my big reward was not becoming a Dog Trainer or recovering my hand movements or the money that came with it. All these were consequences. The big reward was the process of Letting Go itself. I FREED up a big load of my back and a tremendous amount of pent up energy that was holding me down.

Ok, so you’ll say, this is great Gabriel, but what on earth this has to do with dogs. Well, it has a lot to do with dogs. 90 % of my 911 calls have to do with fixations, obsessions, rewards, boundaries and limits. I promise I will dig in more on this on my next blogs.

© Gabriel Riesco, Fairfield CT,  December 2017