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How I’m Crushing It

Sean O’Shea, The Good Dog

IG: @thegooddogtraining

When you’re young and your biggest dream is to become a professional musician, you accept that you’ll be working low-prestige, highly flexible jobs, like bartending and waiting tables, to keep you financially afloat until you make it. It goes with the territory. Everyone’s got to pay their dues. At twenty-five, even at thirty, you’re cool with it.

At forty, not so much.

For eleven years, Sean O’Shea worked as a valet, parking cars at a restaurant as well as for a company that handled private events for Beverly Hills celebrities. A drummer since the age of three, he’d played on hit records with artists like Alicia Keys, CeeLo Green, Jennifer Hudson, and Ghostface Killah. Despite being a part of some hit tracks, it was the valet work that was paying the bills, not the music. The future was not looking bright, and he was in “a bad space.” His break came in the form of two demented dogs. Both pound puppies, at six months the Chow mix, Junior, and pit-Rhodesian, Oakley, were sweet and cute and everything you want in a puppy. But like a lot of dog owners, Sean didn’t really know what he was getting into. Puppies require a lot of consistent training and discipline, and Sean admits he did everything wrong. At first the dogs were just obnoxious and ill-mannered, but by the time they turned two-and-a-half, they were dangerously aggressive and reactive toward other dogs. “We were a menace to the neighborhood. They were huge, and if we were at the park and the grass was wet and they saw another dog, they would literally take off and pull me on my ass, like I was waterskiing, except on my rear across the park. I even ended up on Judge Judy because my dog had gone after another person’s dog.” He didn’t blame the dogs; he knew the failure was his. And he knew that if he was going to keep these animals and protect them, he was going to have to figure out a way to turn things around. He started watching Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan and studying dog-training techniques. He also started doing some deep personal development work.

“To be honest, I was a pretty good mess. I studied my ass off. Not traditional books, but a lot of personal work to change my belief system, change my values, work on character, work on everything that I had never really received as a kid or as a young adult.”

It took a few years, but eventually his methods—known as “balanced training” technique—turned his dogs into models of good behavior, much to the surprise and relief of the neighbors. The transformation was so remarkable that around 2006 he was able to start a neighborhood dog-walking business, supplementing his income as a valet and part-time musician. He became the guy who could take a giant pack of fourteen dogs out at one time and make it look easy. Naturally, people started asking him if he could train their dogs, too. As a valet and musician, he’d brought in about $20K. In his first year of training and walking, he brought in $65K. That figure doubled the second year.

Sean started to feel a new dream coalesce, one that didn’t include going on tour with a band. Yet while he had discovered a natural ability to communicate with dogs, he was not a natural businessperson. “I didn’t know anything about business. Zero. Like the word brand, the word marketing—I didn’t know anything about any of that stuff.” He read obsessively to educate himself, however, which is how he came upon Crush It! He followed every word.

“I dove in pretty naïvely, started creating a ton of videos, starting doing a ton of Facebook. I remember simple conversations with myself: If I was the consumer out there, what would cause me to come back to a Facebook page or a YouTube channel over and over again? And the only answer I could come up with was if it helped improve my life, if it had value in that sense. And that was my guiding light.” Even though he wasn’t comfortable on camera, he started filming videos with a cheap flip cam. “Do-it-yourself videos, a ton of teaching videos, a ton of before-and-after videos, a ton of showing what we could do, but also teaching people how they could do their own thing.” Other trainers were doing the same, but his intense efforts and the fact that he was early to the platforms, served to differentiate him and elevate his profile.

A lot of trainers at the time, whether in social media or otherwise, were in a kind of chest-beating space, like, “I’ve come out of the womb and I instantly was gifted with this thing.” My journey was more like, “I fucked everything up, and I was a wreck, and my dogs were a wreck. Here’s my journey of how I got out of there. Let me share that with you guys.” I was really transparent and doing my very best to try to share the information, the tools, the approach, the techniques, and my own blueprint for how I got out, including personal-development stuff and recommended books.

I worked obsessively. I studied, studied, studied, studied, trying to understand how to do this right and how to build this, because I was so obsessed with doing something special. I finally felt like I found my break. My biggest goal was to do something that had an impact. It sounds cheesy, but that was really where I was at. I think I struggled for so long not feeling that way that when I found the opportunity, I just went kit and caboodle all the way in. I was determined to find my answer, determined to develop, cultivate the skills so I could move forward. And I knew I had a shit ton of catching up to do. I was so far behind.

His following grew quickly. He waited until he was “overflowing” with clients before quitting the valet gig. “I’d been there eleven years, and everyone was like, ‘Where do you think you’re going?’ And I was like, ‘We got plans.’”

Within a few years, he had built an international profile (he called in from Scotland for an interview for this book, after speaking in front of the Scottish Parliament about balanced training and his ideas for regulating the industry). In 2012, he opened a second location in New Orleans. He hired a partner, Laura, who had worked with some big names in Hollywood and could provide the administrative and organizational support he needed, and more trainers to handle the increased demand for his services.

Now forty-nine, Sean does very little training himself, except when especially dangerous animals come in, which he takes on until they’re safe for his team to work with. People fly their dogs in from all over the country. And trainers travel from all over the world to study with Sean and his team, learning not just training techniques but how to leverage social media for their businesses. He spends about six hours a day creating content and responding to his community. He’s also written a book and created DVDs, and he runs a Q&A podcast. “There are so many people around the world who can’t get to us and can’t get to other trainers for help with serious stuff. We’re trying to empower people. We get feedback from people in different countries, and they’re sending pictures of their dogs off leash, fully trained, just by using our free videos. It’s really awesome.” One thing he hasn’t done is product placements. “I don’t want to cheapen the blog. Not that [I wouldn’t do it] if something amazing came along. And I don’t mean monetarily, necessarily. Money would be great, but there are so many cheesy products from people who don’t even build relationships. They just send you an e-mail and they’re like, ‘Hey, would you put this in your blog?’ No!” He has built the entire business through social media and his personal brand. In 2016, he grossed more than $600k.

Not a moment goes by when he’s not thinking about the business.

I have a little bit of downtime, but with Instagram Stories and Instagram and Facebook and YouTube and responding and training and running the business, there’s not a whole lot of extra time, but that’s cool for right now. It’s what’s needed in order to get things to the right space. I’m totally down for it. To be honest, being forty years old [when I started], I don’t feel I have time to waste. It’s not a desperate thing. It’s not a freaked-out or panicky thing. It’s just, “You don’t have time, buddy. You wasted a lot of time doing a lot of stuff that didn’t serve you. Let’s go hard and see what you can make happen in the time you’ve got.”

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