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Depending on where you’re from, the words “General Sherman” might mean different things. The Cesar’s Way Offices, for example, are in Sherman Oaks, California, which was named for General Moses Hazeltine Sherman. You might also think of General William Tecumseh Sherman, who led Union troops during the American Civil War.

But the General Sherman I’m thinking of is a tree, and it’s currently the largest tree in the U.S. It’s located in Sequoia National Park in California, is around 2,500 years old, and is only about two inches shy of 275 feet (84 meters) tall — that’s as tall as a 17 or 18 story office building.

The important thing about the tree, though, is not how big it is today.

No matter which General Sherman we’re talking about, they all started out incredibly tiny. The tree was once a single seed in a pine cone, while the people came from “seeds” that were not even visible to the human eye. All three of them grew to be great things in different ways, and yet you could have held any of them between two fingers when they started out.

If you’re having multiple problems with your dog, it can be just like that. If you try to look at everything at once, it can be daunting and formidable, just like that giant sequoia. But, like the tree, your dog’s behavioral issues started out as something tiny that kept growing. Fortunately, solving the problem works the same way.

If a botanist were trying to figure out a tree like this upon first seeing it, they wouldn’t look at the whole thing. They’d start by looking at a leaf or a piece of the bark or a root. Then they’d ask themselves whether the leaf looked familiar. “Have I seen a tree like this before? Now what do I know about that kind of tree?”

It works the same way when you’re dealing with what looks like a whole bunch of misbehaviors by your dog. Maybe she’s peeing in the house, tearing up the furniture, and barking at everything on the walk. Or maybe he snaps at family members, is food aggressive, and runs away from loud noises.

In both cases, those seem like multiple issues, but how do they resemble each other? The first dog sounds like she’s acting out of frustration, while the second is probably anxious or fearful. Identifying the common issue is the little seed that is going to grow into the solution to your problem.

Last week, I wrote about how looking at the progress you’ve made so far can help you move forward when the task seems impossible. This week, it’s about how to take the very first step. Don’t try to cut down that gigantic tree. Find the seed instead, because that’s a lot more manageable.

If your dog has multiple issues, start with the one that seems like it will be the easiest to solve and focus on nothing but that until you’ve had a breakthrough. Take encouragement from your first success, then use it to help you reach the next. It will help keep you from feeling frustrated because your progress will seem manageable.

The sequoia seed didn’t grow from a half inch long to 275 feet tall overnight. It took time, but once it got going the results were magnificent. The same is true as you rehabilitate your dog. It isn’t going to happen overnight, but when it does happen you’re going to have something pretty remarkable.

Stay calm, and grow your tree!

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