If you are struggling with your dog’s reactivity towards dogs, prey, or people on your walk, understand you are not alone and help is right around the corner. This is something that we, Say It Once Dog Training, are known for solving. I want to break it down for you. Welcome to Part 1.
There is a huge difference between leash reactivity, and aggression, and the difference lies in the behavior your dog displays without a leash. We see countless clients who talk about how well their dog plays with other dogs at the park, or family and friend’s dogs, but as soon as they are on a leash they turn into Cujo. This, is the prime example of frustration related reactivity. If our dog is seeking to cause physical harm and attack a dog, on or off leash, this is considered, quite obviously, aggression. Now, you’re going to take a similar approach for both of these reactions, but for people who are struggling with frustrated reactivity, you need to understand why your dog is frustrated, how it started, and how to fix it moving forward.
What does a typical walk look like for the average dog? We stroll down the street, often they drag their human quite a while, and sometimes they meander from side to side, sniffing the grass and spacing out as we walk them. However, they rarely check in with their owner because the owner rarely asks much of their dog when they go out on a walk. Most of the time the owner will only try to ask their dog to stay close if they see another dog, which is a clear signal to your dog that they should focus on to them. That other dog is now providing me with tension (because you have physically put tension via the leash, and the only thing that has changed is the addition of the other dog) If the only time you try to get your dogs attention is when another dog is around while walking them, you are in for a world of hurt.
From the dogs perspective, as soon as they see another dog on a walk they become very interested. Ears perking up, head lifts high, tail starts to wag with a faster pace, their chest puffs out, and all of this body language happened in the blink of an eye. Within a few seconds, there is tension on the leash, and Fido begins to pull towards the other dog. The average owner takes one of two routes here.
Option 1. Because the dog owner knows the other dog and their human, they allow fido to pull towards the other dog until they get up to them for a greeting. “They are friends, so it’s not that big of a deal.” Here is the problem with this scenario. When you allow your dogs to meet as they’ve been pulling, you are reinforcing their pulling, but also the state of mind which is the big issue. The other issue with this option is when you come across you do not know, and you do not want to greet them. Your dog doesn’t understand why you won’t let them greet other dogs, which forces them to pull harder. You’ve probably noticed the trend, the harder they pull, the harder it is for you to physically hold back, and the more they try (opposition reflex) On-leash dog greetings are not something I recommend, but I’ll talk about that in another post.
Option 2. You see a dog, and you immediately tense up. You wrap the leash around your hand 4 extra times until your hand starts to turns purple. You start to pull your dog closer to you for “more control”, and cross the street to get as much distance between each other. In this scenario, this is where dog owners believe their dog can all of the sudden speak the English language, and we start pleading with our dog to not pay attention. “Fido, come on now, leave it, leave it, leave it, keep it moving, he doesn’t want to be friends, he could eat you, why do you do this to me?” A full on conversation, until we physically drag our dog 30 feet past and can regain the small amount of control we had to begin with.
Now, where did you go wrong in this scenario? The answer is not on the walk, it always starts well before you even saw the dog. When you opened up your front door to go for a walk, I can all but guarantee your dog ran out the door first, excited, without permission. It’s not about being “the alpha”, it’s about not rewarding your dogs frantic and overexcited state of mind. Pay attention to that line, “state of mind”. If you allow your dog to walk out the door while they are overexcited, you are teaching them that their crazy behavior is going to get them what they want. (As it does when they react when they see another dog) Just like a child who is kicking and screaming in the grocery store because they want chocolate bars, and gets rewarded for it, your dog will do the same. I don’t want you to only focus on the obedience commands you are asking your dogs to do, I want you to focus on the state of mind of your dog. Our goal, is to have a dog be as calm as possible while we walk.
Some other steps to take before taking your first steps on your walk is the way you put your leash on. Do not put the leash on your dog if they are jumping up, bouncing around, barking and whining. Once again rewarding a behavior that we hate. Ask them to sit, wait until they are sitting CALMLY, and put the lead on. Try not to make a huge fuss over the fact that we are doing this, because truly it shouldn’t be that big of a deal to your dog.
Before you grab the leash, if you catch yourself hyping up your dog by asking them, “Do you want to go for a WaLk?” Stop it. Remember, do everything in your power to keep your dog calm while getting them ready to go for a calm walk.
Once you’ve made the appropriate changes, does this mean your dog is now going to calmly pass other dogs on the walk? Heck no, but it’s the start of you asking more from your dog. It’s the start of the relationship change that is required to lead your dog. Sometimes, leadership is uncomfortable, and most always leadership takes patience and calmness. Now, lets go over how to teach our dogs to heel on lead.
Part 2 next.
It’s funny, when yo mention dog park to a dog owner, you’re only going to get one of two reactions. “MY DOG LOVES THE DOG PARK!” OR “Absolutely Not Will Ever Go To The Dog Park Again!”
Personally, I’m a huge anti dog park guy. I’ve seen way too many things happen inside the park to ever go back. However, I’m also a dog owner who has a fairly big fenced in yard, can take his dog’s off leash in fields for running, and have the liberty to meet many friends and clients with their dogs to socialize my dogs with. I understand the appeal to dog owners have to take their dog to the dog park, and honestly on paper it sounds amazing. Here is the problem with the dog park. You have to rely on other dog owners to watch, and correct their dogs behavior as needed, and that just doesn’t happen. Too many dog owners will go to the park and either sit on their phone, converse with the other owners, smoke a cig, bring Chik-fil-a inside the park, or try and take a nap instead of being an accountable dog parent. Yes, I’ve seen all of this happen, and if you’re a regular you’ve seen it too. Without this lack of accountability and oversight from owner to dog, issues are bound to flare up more frequently than they should.
The dog park should be a reward for your dog for being well behaved, but it should not be your outlet to get rid of your dogs energy in order for your dog to be well behaved. That just doesn’t work. Over and over again you’ll hear me talk about the importance of mental exercise over physical exertion. That is what Say It Once Dog Training is built on. If you are relying on purely physical means to get your dog calm, this tends to be an issue. Multiple dogs who are high strung in the same area competing for the same ball, affection, water fountain, new dog coming into the gate, will eventually lead to a mistake. Once again, a mistake isn’t the problem, how you react, or a lack of reaction to the mistake is a problem. This is where dogs get learned behaviors, and where big time problems appear. If everyone was committed to stopping their dogs ill behavior and working with their dog to be better behaved, it would be a beautiful process, but that’s not the case. Some people don’t care enough, and that’s okay! I’m just not going to put my dogs in a position where a mistake can be made.
If you are going to go to the park, that’s awesome! Let me give you some quick pointers on how to have a better behaved dog at the park.
It’s the small details that make the big picture, and that couldn’t be more true when talking about body positioning. Where your dog is sitting, or hanging out at, tells a story. If I’m having a conversation with you, and my dog positions himself directly in front of me, this is a big time problem. It seems so insignificant, because a mistake hasn’t happened, but as we know there is never a problem, until there is a problem.
You have to remember, dogs do not speak English. They speak through body language and energy. Every move is a sentence in the story. When a dog places themselves in between you and someone else, it will not always mean that my dog is trying to hurt or attack someone, far from it. However, it does put my dog in a position where they believe the can make decisions, and it puts them in a position of control. I’ve heard hundreds of stories in which this was the beginning, and the story ends with the stranger moving closer to the owner and their dog lunged and nipped. Here is the question. Why wouldn’t they? Once again, they’ve been in a position of protection and control through the entirety of your conversation with this stranger.
This doesn’t apply just to protective or aggressive dogs. Over friendly dogs are more likely to jump when standing in this position, then they would be in a heel next to their owners. Nervous dogs tend to let off low nervous growls in this position, and will absolutely nip to say back the hell off if someone comes too close. Your job, for all behavior types, but especially as the owner of a nervous dog, is to put them in a position to succeed. Put them in a position where they understand what they should and shouldn’t be doing. Where they understand that they do not have to make decisions, and you, their owner, are in complete control of not just them, but the entire environment. The more confidence your dog gets with you as a leader, the more confident they will become throughout their life.
If you are practicing putting your dog in a sit when other dogs are nearby or walking past, do so with them next to you and you closest to the other dogs. Use your body and space to your advantage.
Body positioning doesn’t only equal outside behavior. Once a week I meet dog owners who have dogs that will nip their spouse when they move to close to them in the TV room, or when they try to get next to their spouse on the couch. I ask where the dog is during this sequence of events, and the dog is on their lap. Well, he’s in a position to be protective, so why wouldn’t he? He’s off the couch, ♾.
Opening up a door for a friend and having your dog in front of you, and in between the two of you at a threshold is another big time problem. Don’t open the door for your guests with your dog in this position. “But Vinnie, how do I bring the guests in then? They will be waiting outside for hours?”
You have a few options, but this is why we PREACH the place command. Having a home base for your dog to stay on while you bring guests over is so important. However, you can always use your crate as well. Never as a punishment, and I’m not anxious or angry when putting my dog in the crate after the doorbell rings. Ill take my time, and stay as calm as a cucumber. Finally, if your dog has perfect leash skills, you’re in business. You can always use your leash, and heel them to the door and throughout the house while your guests is there.
Overview: Body positioning matters, and start to pay more attention to the minor details. Continue to work with your dog, and have a tremendous amount of fun throughout the process. Remember, “Properly Trained Humans Can Be a Dog’s Best Friend”
One of my bigger pet peeves is when dog owners compare their current dog with their previous dog. Not only is it unfair, it’s not realistic. Imagine if you were to hold your two kids at the same standard for everything they did in their own lives. Yes, they will have similarities, but they will also have traits that they each individually excel at, and more importantly, struggle with. This doesn’t mean you’ll get frustrated when one is better at a particular something over the other, it means you are going to have to spend more time teaching the struggler in that particular area. And guess what? That’s okay!
The two biggest issues that I have with comparing dogs is memory and inactivity. Let me explain. First, whether your last dog was 5 years ago, 10 years ago, or 15 years ago, memory fades. We tend to look at and remember the big picture, but we don’t remember the small, albeit important, details. We forget that puppies nip when not engaged with, or that dog’s steal underwear when given the opportunity and when given too much freedom. I can guarantee you this, your new dog will not come preprogrammed with the understanding of your household rules. Sometimes owners expect the 2nd dog to immediately catch on. That is total BS, and absolutely unfair. You have to teach them, you have to coach them, and you have to show them.
Your dog is going to make a few mistakes, no doubt about it, but when we start complaining and take a stance of inactivity towards progression, then it turns into a learned behavior, to which we then again blame our dogs. If your new dog has a behavior problem, or a very annoying learned behavior, great! It gives you something to work on, gives you an objective, and gives you the chance to help your dog mature and grow. Look at everything as if it is a training opportunity, not a mistake or failure, and that positive outlook on your relationship with your dog will change everything you thought you knew.
Now, does this mean I’ll willfully stand by and let my dog chew apart my couch? HECK NO! This just means that I’ll accept the fact my dog doesn’t yet understand that he can’t chew my couch, and I, as a responsible dog owner, will not put him in a position where he is alone and not secured. And if I do put my dog in a position that he will fail, I will blame myself rather than blame my dog. I will be proactive, and will start spending more time training him so the can learn what is right from wrong.
Look at your dog, understand he will never be anything other than what you put into him. The more you work with him, the better he will be. Have fun, and get your ass to work!
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Humans. We love seeing cute stuff, until it becomes annoying and then we get frustrated and blame the dog. Unfortunately, they don’t come with an on/off switch, so once you rev them up, be prepared to deal with the consequences of an overexcited dog. Stop announcing events to your dog and then getting upset when they act like a psychopath before you do that specific activity. What are some examples you ask? Let’s talk about them below.
Let’s say you’re sitting in your living room hanging out with your dog, and you hear your husbands car pull into the driveway. What is the one thing you typically do when you hear your spouse’s car pull in? “DADDY’S HOME!” or “Who’s here”, “who’s that”. When you announce the arrival of the person coming into the house, you create an association that people coming into the house is a big deal. Then your spouse walks in and boom, you are hit with a jumping, overexcited, annoying dog. To make matters worse, humans blame the dog! We then ask, “Why does he behave like this?”
It’s a terrible cycle that we start, and the sole reason for the announcing is selfishness. We think it’s so darn cute to have a dog be excited to see someone, but hate dealing with the jumping, barking, and craziness, especially when it’s grandma or a five year old coming into the house. The best thing you can do is, nothing. Act like its no big deal, don’t announce, don’t act excited to see your dog until they have done something correct.
We should apply that same logic before doing activities as well. Try not saying, “Do you want to go for a walk?” It’s hard to get a dog to calmly walk out the door if they are jazzed up and bouncing off the wall. Same philosophy with car rides, or any other exercise that you want your dog to be calm. Calmness will bring more calmness, and at the end of the day, more happiness to you!
This isn’t to say dogs should never get excited, and far from it. Before a training session, rev them up! Get your dog so excited about playing ball, tug, and frisbee. Your dog should be wound-up and aroused for obedience training and trick training sessions. The difference in these occasions is we actually need the dog to be excited to complete the task. That brings the question. Do we really need the dog to be excited to greet us when we come home?
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Every year we keep a tally of dogs who have been prescribed Prozac, trazodone, or some other type of antidepressant drug, and unfortunately the number keeps going up ever year. Why? Because we are treating our dogs like human beings. We are forgetting that we signed up for an animal to live in our house, and that these animals the needs of a dog, not of a human. Buying them more toys, hanging out with them in the tv room, snuggling in bed with your dog. These are all great, but they are all bullshit. Your dog doesn’t need it, humans do. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do all of the things listed above too, once my dog’s needs are met. I love my dogs more than anything else in the world, ANYTHING, but I will never forget that they are dogs. They are not my kids. The second I get that twisted, is the second I fail them. I treat Trigger, Thurman, and Xena like dogs BECAUSE I love them so much. Because I respect them so freaking much. Let’s dive in.
Dogs are prescribed prozac and trazodone left and right. (which by the way is not a reflection upon the owner. This is not a guilt trip on you, you are following the direction of someone who is following protocol. My goal, is to change that said protocol) They are prescribed for separation anxiety, nervousness and fear, and worst of all overexcitement and too much energy. Are there some dogs who need medication, absolutely. However, I’m going to go out on a limb and say less then 10% of the dogs I train actually need it. What they need is structure. They need to be treated like a dog. They need challenged through exercise, mentally and physically. They need to work. That is the bottom line, and something we forgot along the way. These dogs, they were bred for a purpose. Our job as responsible dog owners is to give them that purpose, and it’s not to hang out in the house and do a short 15 minute walk everyday. That’s not enough. That is not going to cut the mustard.
How can we be better? We can start by changing our mindset. Yes, some people own dogs that dont get Regular exercise and they live a perfectly “happy” life. That shouldn’t be the standard, and honestly, it should be far from it. Some of the higher drive and energy dogs need, two good 40-60+ minute exercise sessions a day. Before we start to think about the, I don’t have the time, remember, this is what you signed up for. Daily obedience sessions, even a few 10 minute sessions daily can change your relationship between the two of you! Exercise alone is not the only component that will fix this problem, its a huge piece though. The other? Teaching your dog down time. Teaching your dog that doing nothing is indeed doing something. This is where it gets hard. We love and recommend kennel training, the right way, and never to be used as a place for punishment. Ever! The kennel though, when introduced correctly, becomes a tool to slow your dog down, so they know they can relax and hang out. (We will go further in depth about re-crate training your dog our next blog post.) Structure in every part of your dogs life. Dogs need to know where they stand and what they should be doing constantly. Knowing what youre doing creates confidence, decreases insecurity and anxiety. Have you ever gone to work and no one tells you what to do? You’re ready to hit everyone in the office with a baseball bat, because it creates stress and anxiety.
Give your dog absolutely nothing for free. Make them work for everything. You want to go outside? Perfect, do a down. You want to eat your meal? Beautiful, let’s practice impulse control and have you stay on place beforehand. This mindset of actively working your dog, is life changing. Not just for your dog, but for you!
As always remember, “Properly trained humans can be a dog’s best friend!”
“Vinnie my problem is that my dog lunges, pulls, snarls, or tries to bite people or dogs when they are on the leash”
Most owners of a dog who is severely leash reactive believe that the lunging at other dogs is the problem, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not the issue. The problem begins way before the lunge. Out of the next 100 leash reactive dogs that I will train over the next few weeks, I can guarantee 99 of them have two things in common. Terrible leash manners even before the stimulus comes into the picture. You will see a lot of weaving, pulling, smelling, and realistically a dog who has no understanding of heel, of following their human being. If your dog isn’t listening to the rules when there is no stimulus around, why all of the sudden would they listen when a dog/person/jogger walks past? If there is no expectation set beforehand, your dog will fail. Guaranteed. If we can teach our dog to heel, without stimulus around first, only then can we pass the dog with perfection. However, that expectation, that new standard on the walk, has to be set in stone ahead of time, and enforced indefinitely while on the leash.
Once we teach your dog to heel and walk properly on leash, we will run into our second issue, fixation. Prolonged eye-contact will inevitably get your dog in some serious trouble. Dogs, when staring at each other, are much like two men sitting across the bar staring at each other. The longer they stare, the more their chests puff out, frustration builds, and the inevitable, and altercation. Stopping your dog from being able to fixate on other dogs is the biggest piece to the puzzle. Imagine that your dog has a “freak-out” scale of 1-10. Once they get above 8, you’re in deep, let’s say “doggie-doo”. We need to start correcting the problem at a level 1/2/3. How do you do that? Back to our above statement, good leash skills and putting a rule in place that we are able to enforce. That is our job, to determine what is the best solution for you and your dog, and how to best correct the problem. Once your dog is heeling, we can enforce the next rule, no staring at other dogs nor people unless we are going to meet them.
There is a good chance you are dealing with this issue, whether it’s just minor and slightly annoying, or it is a major problem and extremely aggressive. Clients often ask, “How many sessions to teach my dog how to walk well?”
Congratulations, you are the proud dog mom/dad of a new puppy! Our Clients commonly ask us at what point should we begin training. On day 1! Dog training is not just about obedience, it’s about having a set list of rules and boundaries that are important for the entire family to follow. Have your loved ones remember these simple rules!
Crate Training the Say It Once Way
When getting a puppy, an absolutely necessary tool to buy beforehand is a dog cage. Crate training is vital during puppyhood, and having guidelines of how, when, where, and why to use it will give you a full understanding of the process. It’s common within a family to have someone, especially a first time dog owner or a child, to believe that crate training is mean, inhumane, or similar to a jail cell. However, it is extremely important to remember that dogs are naturally denning animals. They will seek refuge in a den, or den like area, for comfort, protection, and mothers who have had puppies (cough cough) will use a den for safety. Let’s take a dive into the pro’s of using a crate.
Having a dog properly acclimated to a crate will offer tremendous help when it comes to the following items:
House Breaking - House breaking a puppy is drastically easier when you are using a crate. By limiting the amount of space your dog has, it will cut back on the number of accidents. Additionally, dogs are less likely to pee or poo inside their crate.
Injury and ingestion prevention - Puppies and younger dogs who are given freedom before they are ready for it have the ability to hurt themselves. Whether there are jumping up on a stove, eating food left on the table and counters, or eating something toxic, puppies have lots of opportunities to injure themselves. Having your puppy comfortable in a safe environment like the crate will give you substantial peace of mind.
Safe space - Having a crate will give your dog a space that is 100% theirs, a space where they can feel comfortable and safe. Dogs can use the crate to just relax and take a nap, but it also gives them an option to go somewhere during a high stress time, such as thunderstorms and house parties.
Protecting your valuables - That’s a gorgeous $5,000 couch you have. In a span of only a few hours it can be a beautiful $5,000 couch with two seat cushions missing, an arm rest half eaten, and a broken reclining section.
A little piece of home everywhere - If you have to leave your dog with family members or a pet sitter (Say It Once Pet Services... duh), their crate gives them a sense of familiarity in that new place. It’s portable, giving your dog the ability to have that safe space even in a hotel room, groomers, or anywhere that you are going to take your pup.
Now that we understand all of the aspects of training our crate can help us in, lets take a look at how to turn it into a positive experience.
Where should I put the crate?
Similar to real estate, the first key to crate training is LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION! Where you put the crate can make a huge difference, especially during the first few weeks. I am, and always will be, a huge believer in putting the crate right next to your bed during the night. If you leave the crate downstairs during the nighttime, you will see these typical behaviors: whining, barking, pacing, and panting. These behaviors occur because dogs do not leave each other when it comes time to sleep, instead, the pack always sleeps together. When a puppy wants to call out to bring their mother back to them, they use whining and whimpering as a distress call to come back. The easiest solution to this noise is to do what is most natural to your puppy, which is sleep in the same general area. Having the crate next to your bed will give your dog more comfort knowing you’re around, and makes the crate all together a more positive experience for the puppy and for you.
During the day, it’s common to move the crate downstairs while the family is away. Sometimes families will have two separate crates, one for upstairs at night time, and one downstairs for daytime. This is not necessary, but if you have a larger dog it is a heck of a lot easier! If you would like to have the crate downstairs during the day, and ideal location would be in a quiet corner somewhere, away from a lot of foot traffic and sunlight.
How do I make my puppy feel comfortable in the crate?
Now that you have your crate in the best possible location, you want your puppy to feel as comfortable as possible in their new setting. A few tips to make the crate a place your dog will go to more often are:
Randomly throughout the first few weeks of having your puppy, throw treats inside the crate while saying your command ( “crate”, ‘bed,” “kennel up” ). Four treats a few times a day will be more than sufficient.
When playing with a toy, toss it in the crate, with the same concept above. The more your puppy is walking in on their own now, the easier your life will be later.
Bones, chews, Kong’s with frozen peanut butter, and bully sticks are not only life savers for teething, but they are helpful with crate training as well. If your puppy enjoys chewing on these, take full advantage of it! Put the chew toy in the crate, have the puppy go in, and start closing the door while they are chewing on their bone. This will start to reinforce “alone time” without them really noticing. Basically we are Mr. Miyagi-ing them.
What Should I leave in the crate?
The best answer is as little as possible. Do not overcrowd the crate with items that are not necessary. For example, having too many blankets on top of a bed, with an old t - shirt, a slipper, and a sleeping dog that has a heartbeat would be too much. I recommend a bed, whether it is a dog bed, crate mat, or blanket. However, if you start to notice that your puppy is destroying the bed, its gone! You do not want to reinforce a bad habit while you are away. The plastic layer on the bottom of the crate isn’t going to hurt your dog, and they will eventually earn the right to have the bed in their crate when their behavior is good enough to handle it. You can add in 1 chew toy, as long as it’s not anything that could be harmful. Peanut butter Kong Toys or a strong chew toy tend to be families’ number one choice. Keep your crate very basic.
What type of crate should I get, Vinnie?
Great question, I’m glad you asked! There are a few different crate options to look at, so here are some quick notes on the most common:
Standard Wire Crate: Love it. Simple, basic, and if you get a puppy and go through all of the proper procedures, this crate will do you just fine. Easy to transport and very easy to keep clean. These will not do well with dogs who have a tendency to chew or try and escape their crates.
Soft Nylon Crates: In all honesty, I am not a huge fan of these crates. They tend to only work for dogs who are extremely mild mannered. However, these are great for small dogs and for travel!
Sky Kennels: These are the kennels that are approved by airlines. They are big, bulky, plastic crates with less ventilation, but they are more difficult for the dog to escape from. They offer more seclusion and comfort, but they are also a little harder to keep clean than the wire crates, and are by far the ugliest option. All in all, though, I do like these crates!
Heavy Duty: For dogs who are escaping the crate, bending the wires, or just opening the doors from inside, there are a few heavier duty options out there. Impact Dog Crate is a example of this style.
The X Factor!
This one seems like common sense, but when putting your dog in the crate, be sure that they have been sufficiently exercised, so that they will be tired when they are in the crate. This will require a change in your routine, as we don’t typically have much time in the morning before we leave for work to get our pups tired out, but guess what. Set your alarm an extra 30 minutes early to give your dog, the animal who loves you more than anything on this planet (can you say “guilt trip”) and give them what they want and need!
Size of the Crate
The goal here is to keep the crate as small as possible, while still allowing the dog enough space to stretch out and lay down comfortably. Too big of a crate and your dog has a better chance of having a potty mistake inside of their crate. Too small and your dog won’t fit!
There are a few other options to make your dog feel more confident and comfortable inside the crate. One is to cover the crate with a blanket, completing the den area feel. Like mentioned above, if our dog starts chewing or pulling the blanket into the crate, remove it.You can also leave music on the radio or television to drown out any outside noise so your puppy can maintain a calmer state with limited distractions.
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