How to (Unintentionally) Mess-Up a Dog

from Sean O’Shea

So much of what we see with problem dogs and their behavior, is that people have unintentionally reinforced and encouraged the wrong stuff. And of course, none of us want to intentionally mess-up our dogs (even though many of us have—including yours truly). So here’s a little list of reminders that we’ll call the “don’t do”, or “watch out for” list. Keeping these in mind, and doing your very best to avoid these common dog/owner traps will go a long way towards you having a great relationship, and enjoyable life with your dog.

Trying to love a badly behaved dog better: Guaranteed to make a bad dog worse.

Coddling, nurturing, and babying an insecure, nervous dog: The very best way to deepen insecurity, and to ensure a neurotic mess of a dog.

Allowing a dog to have constant access to you and your personal space. Following you everywhere, jumping in your lap uninvited, and always needing to be near: The perfect recipe for separation anxiety and possessiveness.

Constantly petting a dog: The very best way to create a dependent, nervous, entitled, bratty, separation anxiety dog.

Ignoring bad behavior—jumping, whining, barking, fence fighting, growling etc.—in the hopes it will go away: It never does, it only gets worse.

Using your dog to fill emotional gaps in your life: The most common reason for neurotic, unstable dog behavior.

Not enforcing rules because they feel bad—a selfish act that ensures your dog will not have access to the rules and leadership it needs to thrive and be balanced.

Letting “dogs be dogs”—thinking/rationalizing that growling, protective behavior, resource guarding, reactivity etc., is normal/acceptable: This excuses unacceptable/unhealthy behavior by calling it “normal” and allows it to continue/increase.

Being inconsistent: Teaches dogs that rules and boundaries are always negotiable, and ensures they will be negotiated.

Accidentally rewarding whining/barking/growling by petting/talking to/letting in or out of a door/crate: Teaches dogs that those behaviors get them what they want, and ensures you’ll see a whole lot more of them.

Letting stressed, pulling, anxious, worked up dogs meet on-leash: A common scene that can create dog reactivity and even dog fights.

Letting dogs pull to trees or bushes on walks: Teaches dogs that pushiness gets them what they want.

Touching, talking to, “enjoying” a dog that jumps on you: Reinforces jumping and guarantees more jumping.

Letting dogs “work it out” on their own: Old school approach to “socializing” dogs that is a great way to create dog fights and never ending tension/grudges between dogs that live together.

Giving treats to or petting a growling/barking/anxious/stressed dog to calm and soothe them: A very common mistake that does the exact opposite of making it better. It always makes the behavior worse, by reinforcing it.

Sharing only your soft, sweet, loving, affectionate side: Akin to only saying yes and cuddling your child, and never saying no or enforcing rules. It leaves dogs feeling alone and unsure about who’s in charge, nervous, anxious, stressed, and out of control – just like it would kids)

Using tools that allow dogs to ignore you and the tool: The wrong tools—harnesses, flat collars, flex leases etc.—can actually empower the dog to misbehave and disempower you from communicating with your dog.

Using tools that allow/encourage the dog to behave worse: See above!

Seeing freedom, love, and affection as more vital to your dog’s well-being than structure, rules, guidance: This is a common mistake, born out of either our desire to nurture, our desire to fulfill ourselves, or not understanding that dogs need guidance and leadership at least as much as they do “love”. It’s also the best way to truly mess up a dog.

Thinking exercise and activity create calm, relaxed dogs on their own: This is a huge misconception. Exercising a dog to try to make it calm is futile and limited benefit endeavor. The best approach is both exercise AND teaching the dog to be conditioned to be calm through training.

Wanting to be your dog’s best friend before having become his or her leader: Trying to create a heathy relationship through love, play, and friendship without first creating respect, rules, and boundaries is a first-class ticket to problem dog city! First impressions are as important to dogs as they are to people, and trying to fix negative first impressions is just as formidable.

Thinking dogs just want to please you: Like all the rest of us, dogs want to please themselves first and foremost. If you’ll look hard enough you’ll see the benefit for them in whatever they’re doing to please you. Understanding this is essential to living well with dogs.

Not sharing valuable consequences for bad behavior: The most common way owners allow negative behaviors to continue and flourish! It is only through clear, valuable consequences for their choices and actions that dog behavior changes and improves.

Being afraid that consequences and discipline will ruin your relationship: A common misconception. The truth is the exact opposite. You’ll create a much healthier, respectful, balanced, and enjoyable relationship by sharing clear boundaries and rules consistently. Your dog will be happier and enjoy you far more if you’ll be a good leader.

Letting love blind you to your dog’s actual needs: So many of us are so desperate to connect and love and nurture that we’ll forgo sharing what actually makes our dogs happy, balanced, and comfortable. This is a selfish act, based on our needs, not our dog’s needs.

Letting your needs blind you to your dog’s actual needs: So many of us struggle to connect, feel safe, engage in love within the human world, or are just overwhelmed, overworked and lean on our dogs for love, support, nurturing, in a world where we aren’t able to receive the same support and nurturing from our own kind. When our dogs represent so much more than just being our dogs, it can become next to impossible to share the leadership, discipline, structure, rules, and accountability they need to thrive.

Of course there’s always more, but this is a pretty good place to start to get a better handle on you and your dog’s relationship. And if you’re having any issues, chances are awfully good that you’ll find the cause right here!

The Value of Stress

from Sean O'Shea

Dogs, like us, need to learn how to cope with a world that isn't always easy, perfect, or comfortable. If they (or us) aren't exposed to stress and given opportunities to learn how to deal with it successfully, they will be unprepared to successfully cope when stress inevitably rears its head.

Children who are coddled and always protected from the realities of the world tend to fall apart at the first real experience of trouble, challenge, unpleasantness.

The same goes for dogs.

By judiciously and incrementally exposing our dogs to stressful situations and experiences, and by giving direction and clear instructions about how they are to proceed through it, we give them the opportunity to develop a resiliency and strength that will serve them as they move through what is often a challenging world.

Heatstroke and Heat Exhaustion Part 3

Heatstroke First Aid Materials

2 liter soda bottle

Towel or blanket

Thermometer and lubricating jelly

Heatstroke First Aid

Take the dog’s temperature. Is the dog’s temperature 106 degrees F or greater, is he or she experiencing shortness of breath, and extremely hot to the touch?

Contact your veterinarian or animal emergency care facility immediately for advice on how to avoid shock and other complications. Advise them on the symptoms and seek their advice for further instructions.

If unable to reach your veterinarian use the following as guidelines, but not as a replacement for veterinary advice.

Immerse the dog in cool to cold water. The bathtub is ideal.

Monitor temperature, taking every 2 minutes and note any changes. Remove the dog from cool bath once his or her temperature reaches 104 degrees; do not wait until the dog’s temperature is normal. The temperature may continue to drop to an unsafe level. Speak to your dog in a normal, soothing tone. If you panic or are overly excited, this may frighten your dog.

If his or her temperature falls below 100 degrees, keep your dog warm by covering with the towel or blanket. Place a 2 liter soda bottle filled with warm (not hot) water against the dog.

Contact your veterinarian or animal emergency care facility.

Transport to the Veterinarian

If at all possible two people should assist with transporting your dog to the veterinarian; one to drive and one to provide care for your dog.

The vehicle must be well ventilated during the trip.

Use a pet carrier if possible, especially if only one person is transporting the dog. A dog that normally responds well to car rides may not act the same under emergency conditions.

Secure the carrier if possible.

Heatstroke and Heat Exhaustion Part 2

Heatstroke or Heat Exhaustion Prevention

Provide adequate shade and ventilation for outside dogs. Shelter them from the sun. If enclosed, provide adequate ventilation.

Provide free access to water on warm days (ideally water should be kept out of direct sunlight).

If your home is not air-conditioned, open windows for ventilation. If you close all of your windows for security (or your dog’s safety) make sure the room is well ventilated and drapes are closed against the sunlight. If you keep your pet in a crate, make sure the crate has adequate airflow (wire crates are better than airline kennels in this situation).

Do not have your dog accompany you in the car when on errands in warm months.

If you have to leave your dog in a car, park in the shade and keep windows open for ventilation (safety could be an issue here as well; will your dog jump out or could someone bother your dog in the parked car). If you park in the shade check on your dog frequently as the sun can move and so will the shade. If your errand is longer than a minute or two the temperature in your car can soar rapidly.

Heatstroke and Heat Exhaustion Part 1

Heatstroke (Hyperthermia)

Heatstroke (Hyperthermia) can be a common occurrence during the warmer months of the year. In warm conditions dogs are more prone to over-heating than humans. Dogs do not sweat like humans but instead pant. Excessive panting can cause a dog to become dehydrated. Other contributing factors that lead to heatstroke are: obesity, advanced age, youth (puppies), and poor ventilation or lack of air circulation. Owners of breeds with short noses such as Boxers, Bulldogs, Pekinese, etc. should be especially cautious.

Heatstroke is associated with elevation in body temperature. Dogs who have been afflicted with heatstroke are unable to regulate their body temperature. Cell damage usually begins to occur at body temperatures over 106 degrees F (Fahrenheit).

If untreated, severe heatstroke results in kidney, liver, and/or heart failure. Dogs that are treated after a significant delay may survive but could be left with permanent effects, such as blood clotting disorders, metabolic abnormalities, muscle damage, and/or brain dysfunction.

Symptoms of Heatstroke (some or all may be present):


Weakness or collapse

Elevated temperature—from 105-110 degrees F (normal is 101-102 degrees F)

Vomiting, diarrhea and / or lack of urine production


Fast pounding pulse

Blank or starring expression

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion can occur during or after exercise, particularly on hot or humid days. Heat exhaustion may not be associated with an elevation in body temperature.

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion:

Collapse or fainting

Mentally dazed


Muscle cramps (seizure-like tremors)

Abnormally rapid heartbeat and rapid breathing

Muscle weakness

Training Dogs is very Similar to Raising Children

"Training dogs is very similar to raising children. You would never *DREAM* of taking your child to a six or an eight week class, and then saying "Okay, they're good. They've been taught. They know everything they need to know." Raising children to be decent human beings is a years-long affair, that continues for the life of the child. Why should it not be the same for helping your dog—a whole other species who lives with us—to understand and learn to get along with the way we live our lives?"

A Dog is a Dog not a Human

We humans love dogs, and we interpret the positive behavior they show us as affection and love, so we invite them to live and work with and for us. Contrary to what our culture wants us to believe, dogs are not human:

Dogs do not have human emotions. They have dog emotions which humans call excited, happy, sad, afraid, confident, playful, angry, etc.

Dogs are self-centered. They do not have a conscience. They behave the way they do—like kill and eat things, dig holes, ignore you when you give them a command, chew your shoes, etc.—because they are dogs.

Dogs do not live in the past or in the future. They live now.

Dogs do not communicate with words. They communicate with body language. They quickly learn how to read human body language.

Because we love them, and we invite them to live and work with and for us, we are responsible for treating them well and for training them to be good canine citizens.

Structure and Leadership

AN OWNER WROTE: ‘When I am on the beach with my Border Collie I feel so sorry for the dogs that stick right next to their owner’s leg and go nowhere else…you can see them edge towards my girl to try and play…I even say hello to the owners and ask if their dog would like to play with mine and I am usually met with silence."

I REPLIED: Owners who ask their dogs to be polite and stay calm in public aren't being cruel. Providing structure and leadership is an act of love, much like providing education and rules-for-living to human children. The silence you encounter is nothing more than the owners—the pack leaders—demonstrating the proper behavior for their dogs. As far as play goes, it is highly likely that these dogs have ample opportunity to do that when fewer distractions are present.