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
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
“Difference between Training/Conditioning and Relationship / Bonding and Communicating”
There is a big difference between these two concepts that are usually misunderstood or completely unknown even among some professional dog trainers.
1.- Training / conditioning means teaching your dog human language and cues to condition your dog to obey certain commands like sit, stay, down etc – usually with treats and positive reinforcement or sometimes with punishment. (This is based on Pavlov and Skinner´s theories ): “If you do this : “sit”, you get this: “reward” or if you do this : ¨unwanted behavior¨ you get this : ¨punishment¨.
2.- Relationship/ Bonding and communicating with your dog means using energy and body language to communicate espec, trust, love, and boundaries – usually in silence. What you establish here is basically three things: 1.The relationship you have with your pup 2.The way you communicate with your dog. 3.Acknowledging your pups state of mind
Your dog can be highly trained with conditioning and training techniques and yet still have a lot of behavioral issues. I see this happening more often than not.
Any given human can have very sharpened skills or even be a genius at maths, law, or computer programming but still struggle with social behavior, boundaries, manners or simply adapting to an environment. Acquiring a specific and sharpened skill doing something doesn´t mean you are social adaptable to an environment.
A simpler way of seeing this is thinking of Relationship / bonding / communicating as social behavior skills, such as good manners, respect, trust and boundaries and thinking of training/conditioning as going to Harvard or MIT , where you can learn very specific skills.
You don´t need to be a genius or go to Harvard to be successful with social behavior and you don´t need to be successful with social behavior or balanced to be a genius. You can have one or the other, both or none.
The one that will put you or your pup in trouble is the lack of social / behoavioral skills. This has to do with Respect, Boundaries, Rules and Limits. In animal world this has nothing to do with being ¨good¨ or ¨bad¨, it has to do with being ¨in control¨ or ¨out of control¨.
In other words you are not gonna go to jail because didn´t go to Yale, but you will go to jail if you destroy Yale.
Most of my clients did already a lot or some dog training. They took their pups to obedience class or taught them a good amount of commands and skills like sit, stay, leave it, off, lay down, bring me a beer etc you name it. Wether they used positive reinforcement techniques or punishment to teach them it doesn´t really matter. (Although I don´t recommend punishment).
The fact is that even after being successful at training all those commands, the pup is still having behavioral issues. Why? Because the lack of Respect, Trust and Self Control.
There are several reasons for this:
1.Your Relationship with your dog. If your pup doesn’t view you as their ¨parent¨ or decision maker then he/she will expect you to listen to him or her. An example of this is when I hear the dog owner saying: ¨My dog only listens to me when he or she wants to¨ or ¨My dog only listens to me when I have a treat on my hand¨.
2. The fact that your dog learns the meaning of a certain human word (ex: sit) doesn’t mean that your pup is actually going to obey when you say so. The same way you can know the meaning of a Speed Limit Sign and yet you decide to drive faster 😉
3. Your pup learns to listen to your reward (treats, toys etc) not to you.
4. If your pup is in the wrong state of mind, no matter how much training and conditioning you´ve worked on, your pup wont´t listen. Any animal on fight/flight state of mind will not listen to anyone unless you force them. And forcing does not create acceptance it creates resistance. BTW by any animal I include humans!
Knowing when and how to use and integrate this two different approaches (Training/conditioning and Relationship / Bonding and Commnicating) is key in order to create and to maintain a harmonious relationship.
Usually when you want to add a behavior you use positive reinforcement (Conditioning and training) and when you want to remove a behavior you use boundaries, limits and rules (Relationship, Bonding and Communicating).
© Gabriel Riesco, NYC, November 2017
As I mentioned in one of my previous blog, not mastering the walk with your pup can cause several problems. One of them is Leash Aggression.
Let me start by explaining what leash aggression is. Leash aggression means that your dog gets aggressive when on leash. The outcome could be excessive barking, lunging or attacking another dog or human.
An example for this is a dog that is well socialized and has no problems off leash, but as soon as you put the leash on, he or she starts getting aggressive with other dogs or humans.
Leash aggression is always caused by lack of leash communication between you and your pup. If you already adopted your pup with this problem, don´t worry it´s still on your hands to fix it.
There is no leash without humans, so you can kind of guess what´s the cause of the problem. When you remove the leash, you remove the human, you remove the problem.
Yes, this might be a little painful to hear, but if your pup has leash aggression there are good chances that you´ve created it. But dont´t worry if human created it, human can fix it. If you are reading this your are in the right path to find the solution.
What´s happening is that your dog is associating the leash with restraining and tension, so he or she starts building up frustration. When a trigger comes up, it becomes an explosion.
Remember this: TENSION ONLY CREATES TENSION
Often, dog parents have their pups on tight leash, “in case anything happens.” Unfortunately, the tight leash communicates tension to the dog, and it further increases their stress.
Be aware that the leash restricts your dog´s capacity to move freely. When you attached the leash to your pup he or she is in a weaker position which can make him/her vulnerable. In a way she is depending on you and you have to convince her that she can trust you. Pulling and restraining doesn’t´ communicate trust, quite the opposite. What you are telling your pup is to get ready for the battle.
It´s funny how humans focus their attention on the dogs instead of on themselves. I usually get comments like:
- “ My dog hates the leash” or
- “my dog hates going for a walk, she just wants to run” or
- “my dog is just a bad walker by nature”
Well, dogs are by nature good walkers. They love to walk, to explore and to go to places. And by nature they do it in a very calm manner. Leashes are created by humans not by nature, so it´s not a natural thing for them. They need proper guidance and we need to learn how to communicate properly.
A very common mistake people make is to tense up the leash to gain control of situation. “To play safe”.
I get it, you are taking care of liability, but that´s exactly what created the problem. “Liability” is a human problem not a dog problem.
Of course liability is something you want to take into consideration, but remember when you put tension, wether is physical or mental, your dog doesn´t know why. They only know you are getting tense and they react to it.
Teaching your dog that leash means “time for a nice and relaxed walk where no-one is going to pull or fight the leash” is entirely up to you.
It doesn’t come from liability thinking, it comes from self control, awareness and learning how to comunicate properly with the leash in a gentle manner.
Check out my blog on Leash Communication where I explain how to gently and effectively communicate if you are not already doing so. I will give you a couple of tips that will help the process.
Meanwhile I will give you something to consider if you are struggling with Leash Aggression: Success is measured by good behavior or the lack of a reaction, it is NOT a measure of how close you can get before a reaction. Maintaining a good state of mind is much more effective than trying to change it or punish it after it occur.
© Gabriel Riesco, Fairfield CT, October 2017
I can´t emphasize enough the importance of the walk. As you can see from my previous blogs you can understand that walking your dog correctly is crucial for a harmonious relationship. Here is the WHY:
Did you know that If you master the walk you´ve done 80% of your dog training homework?
Walking your pup is much more than just a way of exercising FIDO. It´s the best way to bond with your pup, stops him or her from getting bored, it’s a behavior training opportunity, and it teaches your dog how to behave in canine company. It also prevents a lot of problems from happening.
There are two ways you can walk your pup:
- With a loose leash and communicating gently
- With a tense leash and communicating by pulling, yanking and/or dragging.
I will focus on the first one in this blog.
Walking your pup with a loose leash and presenting the outside world in a relaxed and confident manner is the foundation of a strong relationship of love, trust and respect. Your pup will view the world in a relaxed and confident state of mind. He or she will also learn to trust and listen to you on a daily basis and in a relaxed manner.
“What you practice is what you become.” – note: Not who you are, but what you become.
The truth of the matter is that you walk your dog EVERY day and several times a day! or you should! That´s a lot of practice, so you need to get this right.
A good walk not only provides exercise. It also provides structure, mental engagement and socialization.
Note: Going for a sniff is not the same as going for a walk. There is no exercise or mental engagement involved when you go for a sniff. Don´t get me wrong, sniffing and exploring it´s an important activity for your pup, but there is no skill involved here. You can actually use going for sniff it as a reward after a structured walk.
Going for a sniff is like you hanging out with your friends in a bar or a coffee hang. You are definitely not exercising your body and most probably not exercising your mind either. It´s great to hang, but unless you are the DUDE, there are other skills you want to become good and engage with. Actually, even DUDE has some kind of structure and discipline playing bowling!!!
Going for a walk means going from point A to point B with no tension on the leash and without stopping, unless your pup needs ¨to go¨ of course. (pee pee or pu pu) not marking. don´t aloud your pup to mark every 30 seconds. Keep a nice flow and rhythm when you walk.
When does the walk start?
The walk actually starts when you grab the leash or take the first action to go for a walk with your pup. Why is this important? This is important because at that moment your a setting up the terms of the walk.
If you put a lot of excitement because you want your dog to be happy, expect exactly that: A LOT OF EXCITEMENT. hmm so you create a lot of excitement and then you restrain him with a leash?? Can you see where this is going to lead? Yep, pulling, barking, lunging …Think about it, you are going for a walk not to herd sheep. If you put out a lot excitement and then you restrain him or her with the leash, you are actually sending your pup to failure. Remember: THE WALK IS A CALM ACTIVITY.
A leash should mean relaxation and self control, not excitement and craziness. It´s a skill and a mindset on you and your pup. It´s simple: what you give is what you get back. See blog on Leash Communication
Now is this a rule that you should never break? Not really, because it´s not a rule, it´s just awareness. If you want your dog to get excited and to pull because you are in a search and rescue job, that’s what you do. But if you want a calm walk for you and your pup, set it up for success right from the beginning.
Mastering the walk will give you access to walk your pup with other dogs. This is a great opportunity to help your pup learn acceptable ways of socially interacting with them! THE EASIER WAY FOR DOGS TO BOND IS BY WALKING TOGETHER. They become a team!
Not mastering the walk and communicating with constant tension on the leash by pulling, yanking, and dragging can lead to Leash Aggression, which I will talk about in the next blog.
Also note that heeling is not the same as walking and has nothing to do with leash commination. Heeling is a ¨Dog Training¨ command which usually involves food or some kind of prey drive toy to keep your dog at all times on your side with no leash. It actually brings excitement into the picture and puts your dog into ¨working mode¨. It´s a great command, but I´ve seen too many times dogs that heel perfectly well and still have leash aggression. Do not get confused with this two different activities.
To wrap it up, I´d like to give this analogy of looking at leash communication as of ground work with horses. The difference is that with horses we need to learn the skill because they are ten times stronger than us. With dogs I´ve seen too many times people just avoiding the problem by putting a harness and restraining their pup by force. Your pup will not listen to you just becuase you are stronger. This might take care of liability (human problem), but it doesn´t take care of your pup´s problem, which is the tension on the leash.
I hope this will help you on your next walk.
© Gabriel Riesco, Fairfield CT, October 2017
Today is all about how to communicate with the leash and how to prevent and fix leash aggression.
How you grab and communicate with your pup through the leash is very important. Before you even touch the leash you should be aware and in control of your body and mental state of mind.
Acknowledge that a leash should mean relaxation not excitement. If your dog has this wrong you need to fix it. When you put the leash on your dog you are restraining his or her movements. Getting your pup all excited and then restraining him/her with the leash it doesn’t make any sense, yet a lot of people do it.
When you grab the leash you should be relaxed, confident and looking forward to a calm and pleasant activity with your dog. Here is how you can achieve this:
Call your dog. Make sure your pup comes to you instead of you going to him/her. Use a treat or a toy if you need to. Once he/she comes ask him or her to relax. Depends in the pup this might take a little bit of time.
When your dog is relaxed put the leash on.
Make sure there is never tension on the leash. Keep the leash loose at all times and if your dog decides to pull, do a tug to the side to break his or her balance.
When you do this use your dog´s energy not your´s. This way you will be able to do it with your wrist or even with fingers instead of yanking him/her using your whole arm. You achieve this by pulling a little bit to the side.
Do not yank or be forceful. Remember this has nothing to do with strength. Don´t pull him/her backwards and never maintain tension. Every time you do a gentle tug you have to relax when he/she stops. Is a tension-release move, not a tension-tension restrain. Your dog will not listen to you just because you are stronger.
NEVER REWARD FOR PULLING!
Ex: Don´t let your pup sniff something because he/she pulled. Or don’t let your pup greet another dog because he/she is pulling.
If you do, you will be teaching your pup that pulling gets them what they want. This kind of inconsistency creates a lot of confusion and stress in your pup, because sometimes you reward pulling and sometimes you get mad for doing so.
This type of human behavior is what creates leash aggression. And Leash aggression is always created by humans.
Remember that Leash Communication is a skill on you not on your dog. If you are not in control of yourself you won´t be able to control your dog.
As Plato said: “The first and greatest victory is to conquer self. To be conquered by self is of all things the most shameful and vile”
© Gabriel Riesco, Fairfield CT, October 2017