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

The Secret

The Secret

“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

Loose leash Walk!!

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:

  1. With a loose leash and communicating gently
  2. 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.” – noteNot 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


The Bonding Effect Of Walking With Your Pup

I make hundreds of visits to people’s homes every year to help them with their dogs. There was one in particular that I will never forget.

Although I live in NYC, this time I was in LA, at the Pacific Palisades.

Her name was Rochelle and she had three dogs: a German Shepherd and two Vizlas. The main problem was stranger human aggression with the German Shepherd.

In other words, I can get bitten.

Rochelle explained that she’d worked with 3 other dog trainers already and they all literally gave up on Ellwood, the German Shepherd.

It took some guts to say “Yes, I can help!”

But I knew I could.

So, when I get there and I ring the bell the two Vizlas start barking and running towards me after she opens a glass sliding door. If you think that was the problem you are wrong.

Two seconds later she walks out the door with Ellwood, lounging, barking and pulling the leash full force towards me dragging the poor lady.

While I´m taking care of the Vizlas, and she is getting dragged by Ellwood which is clearly trying to eat me for breakfast, she starts shouting at me:  “ As you can see I have a problem”.

I thought to myself:  YEAH!, no kiddin´ you have a problem!

Anyways, I told her to walk back to her house with Elwood. And as soon as he relaxed a little bit, I didn´t wait one second, I got the leash and took him for a walk.

It literally took him 5 minutes to relax and trust me. And this is not me saying it, this is Rochelle´s comment:

I quote. “OMG! After 5 minutes with Gabriel, Ellwood was behaving and listening to Gabriel…”

That´s how important a simple walk can be.

After that, the training session went very smooth and we could work on Ellwood. Rochelle picked up pretty fast on the training and it was life changing for her and for her family:

Two weeks later I received an email from her:

“ … Gabriel you are truly a God send for Ellwood and my family.  I no longer just write Ellwood off as the worst dog ever.  He is the best dog ever!  Thank you Gabriel!  For everything. Ellwood, the girls and my husband thank you too. We have a quiet house with no more barking and shouting”

Get the important things right and the rest will sort itself out.

And that’s how powerful a simple walk can be. There is no magic here, but there is knowledge and deep understanding of how to bond with a dog. I use this technique over and over again with very problematic dogs and it always works.

Note: What you will learn here it´s way more than just dog training. You´d be amazed how much personal and spiritual growth you can gain by understanding the relationship with your dog by just knowing how to walk!!

I will be posting more blogs about how to walk your pup and the importance of doing it right!

I hope this brings you more dog wisdom and awareness in your relationship with FIDO.

© Gabriel Riesco, Fairfield CT,  2017