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The Problem Isn't Always Where You Think It Is - Troubleshooting Leash Reactivity

Excerpt from my upcoming book yet to be titled...


“My dog is A-MAAAAAAAAAAA-ZING” he said with massive dramatic presentation.


I was actually quite impressed with the sincerity of his proclamation regarding his dog’s wonder.  However, Frederick wasn’t speaking to me because his dog was a-maaaaaazing, he had reached out to me for help because his dog was barking, spinning, and lunging non stop while on walks and when seeing dogs or people.


“Our only problem is on walks when he sees a person or another dog,” he said in almost a dismissive tone.


Had I not had this conversation countless times in the past 20 years, I might have been confused.  If the dog was so amazing, so great, so wonderful, how on earth could he be so out of control while on a leash, and how on earth could the owner be so dismissive about a serious issue that could result in tragedy for the dog?  Frederick was consulting me for training services after all, so it must be a big enough problem to warrant such an action.  


I did what I always do, I started asking questions.


Questions that always garner the same confused and perplexed look from the dog owner.


“Can you describe a typical day at home in the life of your dog for me?,” I asked


Frederick went on to tell me again how amazing his dog was because he had never torn up anything in the home despite being given absolute free reign of the house during the day alone.


“That’s great!” I responded with what might have been a touch of insincerity.


This would require a bit more probing so I continued, “Could you describe what his day actually looks like in terms of activities, routine, and training activities?” 


“I’m not sure what you mean,” he stated with a growing air of frustration and defensiveness.


At that moment I already knew what the real problem was, and it had nothing to do with walks, people, or dogs.  However my job goes beyond knowing the problem, in order to actually HELP the dog, I have to get the owner to see the problem.        


Time to ask more questions.


“You mentioned your dog hasn’t ever chewed or destroyed anything while home, is the dog free to move about and do whatever he pleases?”


“Of course he’s free to do what he wants, he’s great in the house, it’s just when we go out,” he responded with an air of offense that I asked such a stupid question.


“Great! Thank you,”  This is where experience comes into play and realizing that the owner’s tone and attitude have nothing to do with me personally, and it will likely get a little bit worse before it gets better.  I navigate this by pretending they are my mother or father, and regardless of how they speak, I take it in stride.


“Where does the dog sleep?” I continued.


“In bed with my wife and me,” he replied.


“I bet he’s a cover hound isn’t he!” I tried to add some humor with a touch of discreet validation to loosen Frederick up, it worked.


“Is he ever! Sometimes he will even push me right out of the bed.  It’s ok though we recently bought a new couch and it’s super comfortable, and I tend to snore so I’m helping my wife also I guess.” he laughed as he replied and I smiled right along with him.


I went on to bring it all full circle and help Frederick put the pieces together.  What he thought was a problem was actually a symptom of a bigger problem he didn’t even know he had.  I share this with you so you can learn, so let’s do some thinking and reflect on the story so far.


Do you see what I see from this conversation?


Where do you think the problem is?


What do you think the problem is?


Why am I asking questions about what takes place inside of the home, when the dog owner is complaining about issues that take place while on walks?



The above excerpt illustrates one of the most common challenges dog owners face. 


Yes, there is a long list of common challenges, but this is indeed one of them.


Many dog owners fail to identify the difference between a problem and a symptom when it comes to their dog’s behavior.  This is because they often have barely even a superficial understanding of their dog period.  To understand how to control a dog’s behavior you have to understand why it’s happening.  To understand why it’s happening you have to understand the dog’s state of mind.  To understand the dog’s state of mind you have to have a fundamental understanding of dogs, period.  


Dog’s don’t come with instruction books so that leaves us here.


In the above example, Frederick was misidentifying a symptom as a problem.  I totally understand why he did that though.  The only time Frederick is concerned about his dog’s behavior is when that behavior is a problem for HIM.  That is what triggered him, and many other pet owners to reach for help.  Frederick thought that the problem, solution, and entire story would take place out on his walks where he was inconvenienced by the dog’s behavior, on the walk.


The reality is that the “reactivity” was simply a symptom of a bigger problem.


It’s about stepping back and looking at the BIG picture.


In Frederick’s case, it goes something like this…


The dog has complete freedom when home.  No confinement, no restrictions, no rules of any kind.  The dog basically does whatever it wants, when it wants.  The humans allowed this because, so far, the dog hasn’t done anything in the house they don’t like.  You could call it a “don’t fix it if it’s not broken” approach.  


But something IS broken.


The moment the leash goes on and they go outside, the dog isn’t “free” anymore.


Then when it sees something in the environment it wants to interact with, regardless of the motive for the interaction, it can’t.  Now the dog who does whatever he wants, whenever he wants, for over 90% of the day, suddenly can’t do what he wants.  


The leash behavior, tantrums, are symptoms of the problem which is this dog thinks it runs its own life.  The moment the dog is confronted with a situation where it’s unable to do what it wants, MELTDOWN.


This is a huge problem as it means this dog is completely and utterly on its own.  The human has zero control over its behavior.  Not only does this mean the dog is one broken collar or slipped leash away from tragedy, but it also means this dog is missing out on the peace and relaxation that comes from not having to be in control.


That’s right, being the one who is in control is STRESSFUL.


This dog has owners who are not in control, which means the dog carries the burden all by himself.  Do I need to explain more?


This stuff is actually so simple to understand once you see it for what it really is.  The question is do you really want to see it, or do you want some trainer to wave a magic wand and make everything unicorn kisses and rainbows?


Seeing it means seeing the changes that you need to make in your life with your dog.  This is where many people struggle.  This is also where if they truly want help, I can get them and their dog back on track.


This is ultimately where we find out who really loves their dog and who just loves the idea of their dog.


This is also where I challenge you, the one reading this.  


If you love your dog as much as you say you do, yet your dog doesn’t come when called or walk nicely on a leash, why is it still going on?


Looking through the countless free “tips” on youtube has done nothing but waste your precious time with your beloved animal.  Remember this, you can get more money, but you can’t get more time.


If you want to spend the time you have been gifted with this amazing dog building an amazing relationship and growing together, its time to bring in professional help.  People email and message me all the time looking for trainers I recommend in their area, I invite you to do the same.

If you want someone who specializes in helping dog OWNERS, then we should have a conversation.  My online coaching program is not for everyone, its only for those who sincerely want to be their best for their dog.  It’s also only available after completing an interview.  


Click HERE, to set up a time for us to talk about how we can take your relationship with your dog to a place your imagination hasn’t even visited yet.

Regardless of who you get help from, at the end of the day helping the dog is what matters most.  Changes need to be made and you most likely do not know what to change or how to change it.  With the right guidance, instruction, and support, you and your dog absolutely can begin making progress, and progress means a happier and calmer dog.

That's what we want right?


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