About MichaelBaugh.com

Welcome to MichaelBaugh.com, my personal blog and repository for dog writing I’ve done here and there.  I guess now it’s all … here.

The blog is set up pretty simply.  To the right you will find categories for articles and essays I’ve written organized by source and subject.  Pieces with video are also listed under “video.” Articles and essays written exclusively for this site are categorized as “site original.”  Material by guest writers is stored under the author’s name and subject where applicable.

The latest postings are always directly below this one and listed to the right under “recent posts.”

Above there’s a little something about me and information about Michael’s Dogs Training and Behavior in Houston, TX.

Please link to this site freely and often.  :)

Posted in Site Original | Tagged | Comments Off

Seeing it From Your Dog’s Point of View

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

Phenomenology is one of my favorite geek words. It’s the study of subjective experiences, how another individual perceives the world from his or her point of view. It’s also the philosophical study of other being’s awareness of self. Think about that for a moment, and then let your thoughts wander to your dog. Think just for a moment, but not too long. Pretty soon you’ll circle back and realize all we can really know is our own experience of self and the world around us. I don’t want us to get that far, though.

DSC00587Those of us who love dogs have all contemplated phenomenology. Chances are you’ve looked at your dog and wondered what is he thinking or how does he feel about this or that or does he love (specifically, does he love me)? We humans are natural storytellers from as far back as our cave drawing days. We try to answer those questions about our dogs and sometimes not too well. We think we know what they know or what they feel and we tell it like we see it. Maybe we’re right, but chances are we’re not. That’s the thing about phenomenology. How do we know for sure what what another being’s (our dog’s) private experience is?

Short answer: We can’t. Slightly longer answer: Of course we can try. We should try.

You don’t have to know me very long to know my personal point of  view on “training” dogs. Teaching and learning are keys to opening a door between two beings – us and our dog – thinking, feeling, living beings. What better way is there to learn who our dog is than by pushing that door wide open? Let’s be present and aware of what our dog is doing and how he responds to what we do. We know from experience (and the great work of behavior scientists) that dogs learn from the feedback we provide them. And yes, we are learning from the feedback they are providing us (their understanding or misunderstanding of us is evident in their behavior). So, here we are, Dogs and humans in a steady exchange of information – learning the world as the other perceives it. We could call it a phenomenological approach to dog training.

As long as we’re geeking out let’s talk about the philosopher Martin Buber. He brought us the ideal of the I-Thou relationship between two beings. These are genuine connections in which the individuals see or strive to see who the other really is and how the other sees his or her existence. It’s a short hop to phenomenology and what Psychologist Carl Rogers referred to as a phenomenological approach to counseling and teaching (see, I didn’t make it up). At the root of all this, of course, is empathy.

Let’s get back to our dogs. We can start to experience how our dogs feel and think by watching how our they interact with their world. We just need to stop – stop and be with them – stop and notice them quietly. Stop talking for a moment. Set aside all those commands and ideas of what he should or shouldn’t be doing. Just watch. Who is your dog? What is important to him? Given the chance, how does he begin interacting with you? This takes a fair bit of patience sometimes (not always). It also requires that we dig a bit into our own empathy reserves. Can you imagine? Can you relate? Give phenomenology a test drive – see the world as your dog might – imagine yourself as your dog imagines himself (whoa).

I forgot to mention something else about Martin Buber and the whole I-Thou thing. We go into this process humbly. Neither being is above the other. That was a big deal for Dr. Rogers in counseling and teaching, too. We meet our dog on equal ground – just two living, thinking animals in a common space and time. Cesar Milan and the other “show ‘em who’s boss” trainers are spinning at the thought of this. But, give it a go. It might do you and your dog both some good. What’s it like being you? What must it be like for your dog to be him? Open mind. Open heart. I-Thou.

How different is it now to think about training? Could we take a phenomenological approach – we and our dogs meeting on a level playing field – learning together – from each other – interested in each other – equally? As equals. Heresy? Nonsense. It’s thrilling. Fun even.

Hello dog, I’m bipedal and take great pleasure from things I see and here. Dog: quadruped – enjoys smells that to him are like symphonies and Cezanne’s.

Human: speaks but also has facial expressions and other non-verbal communication.

Dog: communicates nonverbally but also vocalizes.

Predator: Dog – check. Human – check.

Emotions, including joy, fear, anger, sadness, and excitement: Human – check. Dog – check.

Wanting and seeking good things / pleasure: Humans and dogs – check and check.

Avoiding pain and other crummy stuff: Yup. Both of us.

It’s a bit ironic that the dog trainer’s hero, Dr. Burrhus Frederick Skinner, frequently disagreed with and publicly debated Carl Rogers. Skinner is the one who showed us how to influence another being’s behavior by providing or withholding reinforcement. Folks back in the day (most especially Rogers) thought the approach was sterile and non-feeling. The irony here is that it’s exactly this approach that fuels communication with our dogs in the real world. It takes little more than a few minutes to realize that what we call training sessions are actually conversations. We are showing our dogs how we’d like to live with them, reinforcing their behavior. But aren’t they too showing us what they want and need? Don’t they reinforce our behavior? Let’s meet, dog and human, and work this out. I-Thou, indeed.

And what about that question of love I so deftly left behind? Phenomenology. Seeing the world as you see it. Understanding the idea of another being’s self as you understand yourself. Does my dog love (specifically me)? Can we know for sure? I’ll save us both the disappointment of the short answer. My hope is that the longer answer, the real answer, lays out on that level playing field, the place where we teach and learn with our dogs, equally engaged and connected if only in the moment. Love and hope, they are so closely related. Maybe it’s best if we keep both always at hand, inextricably bound to our own sense of self, and our own perception of the world. Let those help us tell the story of our dog, and the love and hope we trust he must also feel.

Posted in Mindful Dog Training | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

Mindful Dog Training – Showing Up

Michael Baugh CDBC, CPDT-KSA

I once wrote that I fell in love with my dog, Juno, while we were practicing “stay.” We were across the room from each other at a busy training class. She was a good 20-feet away, but we were so very close, watching each other intently, fully in the moment. It was magical and I’ll never forget it.

Humanistic Psychologist Carl Rogers said this presence, this connection, is key to all healing and learning relationships. It’s not just about physically being there, going to class, pulling out the clicker and treat bag and doing the session. Instead, it’s about making genuine contact. Rogers (who didn’t have dogs) referred to it as psychological contact.  Some trainers say it’s like being in sync or in the zone with their dog. For me it’s about showing up in a very real and committed way. Stop, step away from the rest of the world, make eye contact and share a moment (or several moments) with your dog.

DSC00626For those of us who are clicker trainers, this sweet spot of connectedness is very accessible. So much of how we teach our dogs is about noticing them, what they are doing, how they are moving, even what they are looking at. We have to step away from the cacophony of everyday life to experience this. How else could we adequately capture and shape behavior? We’re providing feedback to our dog who, quite literally, is figuring out a training puzzle. We’d better show up, pay attention, be present. This is communication at its best, both actors fully aware (dare I say mindful), and in contact – psychological contact. How cool that so often not a single word is spoken.

These intense learning moments are a great and necessary joy. But, for me, they are not enough. The days are busy and the outside forces on our lives are relentless. We get into our routines and the work of training can sometimes feel done. We get swept up in jobs and traffic and email and the comings and goings of friends – let’s meet here – so good to see you – we must do this more often. We feed the dogs, take them out, maybe for a walk while we check social media on our phones. They seem fine, these easy-going noble creatures. The dogs are fine. So patient. So forgiving. But it’s not enough – not for them – not for us either.

Have you every felt a rush of joy when you look directly at your dog and see him looking back? Does the room seem to quiet down? Does your breathing slow a bit? These moments actually cause a release of the hormone Oxytocin. The love we feel is physical – measurable. Our dogs have oxytocin too and it’s a two way street, this hormone induced warm-fuzzy feeling. I can feel it when I train, but that’s not the only time. Oxytocin helps us bond with each other, other humans, and apparently with our dogs too. By all accounts, it’s good for us. It keeps us sane and psychologically connected. But, once the training ebbs and eventually fades away, how to we recreate these important moments, and the powerful  feelings of wholeness and relationship that come with them?

Stop, just for a moment or two. Step off and away from the world.

Every day (usually several times a day) I get on the floor with my dogs. It’s easy and I like easy. I put the phone away, leave the TV off, and set human conversation aside. Stella and Stewie and I just hang out. We show up and hang out. Sometimes Stella brings me a ball. More often now she sidles up for some petting while Stewie cuddles in my lap. We stay this way for as long as we can, with a nod to Dr. Rogers, while we soak in all that our shared biochemistry is designed to provide.

It’s amazing and good for us and I can’t get enough. Stewie and I play. Stella tugs and retrieves. Sometimes the dogs and I swim together. We all act silly together. So, Maybe it’s my age or the fact that so much of my life is about dogs, but these moments give me pause (and paws). I’ll look at Stella or Stewie and think to myself I don’t ever want to forget this. This is what life with dogs should be about. Stop and step into what is happening, what you are feeling, and seeing and experiencing – right now.

That’s the way it was in the big training room in Kirkwood, Missouri all those years ago. Just me and a golden retriever named Juno a couple dozen steps away. This moment. That dog. Everything else slipping loose just for a moment, maybe two. Never forgetting. Even now, I remember it so well.


.

 

Posted in Mindful Dog Training | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

Dogs are Good

Back in graduate school for becoming a counselor we had to write a position paper that addressed a pivotal question. Are people inherently good or are we flawed, destined by our very nature to ill will, crime, and other malfeasance? We then had to explore how the answer to that one question would likely shape our approaches to being a counselor and our techniques with our clients. It turns out I didn’t become a counselor. Still, the question resonates with me to this day, and it applies to our work with dogs.

Houston-Dog-Trainer-Stewie-CuddleAre our dogs, all dogs, inherently good? Or is their nature flawed, dooming them to misbehavior and conflict with us humans? I’ll skip to the end here. People: good. Dogs: also good.

But let me explain this thinking a bit further.  I’m not talking about good versus evil. In the movies dogs are cast as moral icons. For a lot of people that image is comforting, dogs as spiritual exemplars. That’s a shame, though, and a disservice to dogs who are natural thinking and feeling beings. Like all beings (even human beings) they make choices – they choose behaviors that keep them safe and serve their needs. We like many of the choices our dogs make (and we call them good choices). Some we don’t. But none of that has any bearing on the goodness of dogs, born of dogs into our human world. It’s not up to us to assign any higher value to them. The dog is what he is and that’s enough. Good enough.

Dogs think (and learn). They feel. They perceive. They communicate. They engage their bodies with the world around them in work, play, and rest. All good.

So much of the time, the problem with dogs is ours. It begins in our own heads. We have this idea of good and we try, despite evidence of our folly, to plaster it onto our dogs. Good dogs, we say, think just like us. They jockey for power and adulation, like us. They fall victim to brooding over emotions like us. They see the world like us and understand words (sentences) like us. Their bodies are to be tempered, controlled, as we try (and fail) to control our bodies. It’s how we think of our dogs all too often. All wrong.

There are volumes written about the nature of dogs. I won’t do them justice here. But when we think about the real goodness of dogs, as they are not as we press them to be, then we begin to honor one of the world’s most amazing animals. They think and feel. There is new evidence emerging even now about how vibrant our dogs’ mental and emotional lives might actually be. They take in the world through all their senses, but most especially their noses. It’s a rich perception of the environment we can’t even begin to fully imagine with our ocular and auditory brains. They interact with other species, not just other dogs, with a rich vocabulary of body movements and facial expressions (we’d serve ourselves well to learn this language of dogs). And, they are physical, beautifully physical, athletic, elegantly so – and also calm at times, even languid, eager to cuddle and pleasing to touch.

How can we think of engaging these animals with anything other than deep admiration and respect? Exploring the goodness of dogs always leads back to this. They’re cool. There is so much to them. And the more we look the more we notice how much more there is. Our ideas of good dog and bad dog pale when we begin to see what they really are. And, so our choices are naturally shaped by the goodness at hand.

We teach dogs kindly in a way that honors their intelligence and emotional lives. This is how the question of goodness leads us to how we approach dogs and the techniques we use in teaching and communicating. Shame on us who impose our own damaged view of the world on to them. More shame if that view leads us to hurt them as perhaps we are hurting. We humans are stuck in a constant loop of need, to feel good, to feel in control, to achieve and flaunt. Not so our dogs. Better to take a breath and notice who they are than to put that on them. Listen by watching. Take in how they take in the world. Get lost in their motion, the subtle move of their eyes and ears. Be the quiet primate and move with equal measure of subtlety to a common ground.

The person and the dog, it is the stuff of stories, no dramatic embellishment needed. Here’s to finding our own human goodness, better still shared with another.

Posted in Human-Canine Bond, Site Original | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Dog Bite Prevention

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

None of us expects our dogs to bite. Even folks who have dogs who’ve bitten before are still sometimes surprised by their dog’s behavior. The reason is simple. Most dogs don’t bite, and those who do tend to do so infrequently and in very specific circumstances. We’ll get to that last part in a bit.

The best way to prevent bites from our own dogs is early intervention. No surprise there. Teaching young puppies important life skills and exposing them to the human world in thoughtful ways can prevent tons of problems, most notably aggression. Puppy classes for young pups (as young as 8 weeks) are an essential start.

StellaFaceAs your dog matures, the most important bite prevention skill humans should have is awareness. Notice your dog. Specifically, notice what frightens him or makes him uncomfortable. Fear fuels aggression. We can often prevent outbursts (and bites) by simply avoiding situations that scare our dogs. Otherwise, we can help our dogs around those situations. Ideally, we’ll help our dogs though the scary parts of life with some long-term training and behavior help.

Fear is the most common cause of bites, but it’s not the only one. Dogs in pain often bite people (we could argue that that’s fear of escalated pain, but I digress). Dogs who covet or guard food, objects, locations, and sometimes people can also bite (fear of losing those things? – Okay I’ll stop). Even in these cases, our job as dog guardians is still awareness. Avoiding, Working Around, and Working Through still apply. Be your dog’s advocate and help diffuse situations that frighten him.

Avoidance. This one is sometimes controversial. We humans are stuck on the idea of mastering our dogs and making them do things. As a result we have trainers who intentionally expose dogs to things that frighten them so they can show the dog who’s boss. Nonsense. If there’s something that upsets your dog and you can easily avoid it, do so. Keep the dog in another room, behind a solid door, or on a leash – away from the people he’s most likely to bite. That’s prevention.

Work Around. Many dogs can tolerate frightening situations if the scary thing (person) isn’t too close or too active. For short-term bite prevention, moving your dog away from the scary thing is always helpful (leash). Calming the environment (including our own human behavior) is also very helpful. Humans who don’t move, who avoid looking at the dog, and who don’t speak to the dog are doing great work. We teach children to stand like a tree: hold their feet still like roots, wrap their arms around themselves like branches, look down, and remain silent. They’re diffusing the situation and preventing a possible bite.

Work Through. This is training for longer-term bite prevention. We can teach dogs to behave better (not biting) in three ways:

  1. Teaching Tasks – This involves teaching your dog how to respond to situations that used to result in conflict, fear, or anxiety. It’s obedience training. But, some of the tasks are specifically designed to help dogs relax (resist the impulse to lash out). Note: the only way to successfully teach frightened and potentially aggressive dogs is with positive reinforcement training. Using physical punishment or intimidation will likely increase aggressive behavior.
  2. Teaching Confidence – This is about teaching your dog that situations (and people) that were frightening or upsetting are actually not so bad. Because we train with reward-based methods, your dog learns that whenever a new situation presents itself that we humans become joyful, praising and generous with food. This is called “classical conditioning,” and it occurs even as you teach tasks.
  3. Teaching your dog to make good choices (self control) – Our dogs should never be forced to “handle” or “get used to” a situation that is frightening or upsetting (see “Avoidance” and “Work Around” above). We can expose our dogs to situations in a calm setting and at a safe distance. In this way we give our dog the option to make good behavior choices on his own. Because we’ve taught him useful tasks and helped him learn to be less frightened, we are setting him up to make appropriate choices. Trainers of wild and exotic animals have known about the importance of choice in training for a long while. An educated and experienced dog trainer can help you better understand and apply it as well.

During training many dogs learn to wear a muzzle. Muzzles prevent bites by keeping the dog’s teeth away from human flesh. The Muzzle Up Project on Facebook is a great resource for us humans to learn about the use and importance of muzzles.

If your dog has already bitten someone, or many people, please see a veterinary behaviorist or behavior consultant. You can prevent future bites. This blog is a start, but it’s not enough. You’ll need more help. Fortunately, that help is available.

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston TX. He specializes in aggression and other behavior related to fear in dogs.

Posted in How Dogs Learn, Human-Canine Bond | Tagged , , | Comments Off

How Physical Therapy Helped me Better Understand Dog Training

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

They call it an impingement, and as rotator cuff injuries go it’s not one of the bad ones. That information by itself inspires the deepest respect for my fellow middle aged weekend warriors who have serious shoulder injuries. I moved my arm the wrong way once and it impingementliterally floored me, took my breath away. I thought I was going to throw up. What kind of pain must the others be shouldering, the dislocations and the tears?

“Doctor, it really hurts when I do this.” I fully expected him to say, “Well, don’t do that anymore.” He actually didn’t say that. It’s an old joke that, when you think about it, is a bit condescending and wholly unsatisfying. And yet, it’s exactly what I’ve told countless clients who are struggling with dog behavior issues. My dog goes crazy when I take him on walks. (Don’t do that anymore). My dog bites me when I pet him (Don’t do that). He growls when I reach for his toy (Don’t). When my daughter’s friends run through the house… (Stop, please).

We trainers know the logic behind this. It’s called antecedent control. If we can shut down what’s triggering the dog, the behavior stops. We get a break. It really is part of the solution. I had stopped doing what really hurt the most long before I went to the doctor – reaching, reaching up and to the side, or bending low and reaching far like the time I tried to get my dog’s ball from under the sofa. That kind of pain makes it hard to get back up. Don’t do that anymore, right?

If you’ve never been, physical therapy is like going to a gym where everyone gets a personal trainer, an assistant personal trainer, and an intern. Insurance pays for it and the weights are pretty light. I liked it right away. It also helped me better understand dog training. Avoiding the shoulder pain was a good idea – just like sequestering a violent dog is a smart move. But it’s a bit unsatisfying. What’s the rest of the solution? The answer kind of surprised me – and I was surprised that it surprised me because of how closely in parallels dog training.

puppy-potty-trainingMany (okay most) of my clients think we are taking their hair-trigger cute-faced biter out into the world on our first visit to “see what happens.” As a trainer, I know that makes no sense. So, why did I think physical therapy for my shoulder was going to involve my shoulder directly – triggering the pain, stretching my arm behind my back, reaching for the peanut butter jar? What silly patient I was.

I’m not a doctor or a physical therapist, but here’s my understanding. Healing an injured joint is all about building the supporting muscles around the joint. Its also about relaxing the joint and creating room for easier motion. And all this involves teaching the body new behaviors, how to fire oft ignored muscles, how to sit and stand with better posture. For my shoulder it was all about working on my back. Go figure.

Sure, this was just a bit confusing at first, but so enlightening too. How odd it must seem to dog training clients when we begin teaching their angry dog obedience cues, impulse control exercises, and relaxation protocols. We know, but do we fully explain, that we’re teaching the dog behaviors that will support them when they feel the most stress or fear?We’re helping them self-regulate and relax so they can make better behavior choices when it matters most. Sometimes it doesn’t look at all like teaching the dog stop lunging, or biting, or growling. It’s about teaching new behavior and loosening the dog up around the problem area. Go figure.

Physical therapy, like dog training, can be challenging. There are regular visits and homework. Lots of homework. All these exercises for my back, teaching my scapula to move correctly, my chest to open up, my spine to curve correctly. In therapy and in dog training both, we break it down into individual tasks and build little by little. The dog attends to his owner more closely, targets the mat and her hand, follows better on leash, sits and lies down and stays. The routine gets boring at times – every day – more practice.

It’s hard sometimes to make the connection between the work and the goal. Maybe you notice, maybe you don’t, one day when your dog stays calm when another dog passes, walks away when you reach for his toy, snores peacefully when your kids’ friends run through the house. Maybe all you think about is that first warm cup when you reach for the coffee grinder, high up on the second shelf. You take your first sip before you realize – it didn’t hurt.

 

Posted in Site Original | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

The Allure of Punishment

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

I’ll start with a bold statement of my opinion. It is normal for us humans to feel compelled to punish our dogs when they do something we don’t like. Normal. Punishment, by definition, makes the behavior stop – even if only for a short while. When our dog’s annoying or upsetting behavior stops – our behavior, by definition, is reinforced. “Effective punishment reinforces the punisher, who is therefore more likely to punish again in the future, even when antecedent arrangements and positive reinforcement would be equally, or more, effective.” (Friedman, 2010).

We punish, or attempt to punish, all the time. And we aim our vitriol all over the place, not just at our dogs. A guy tries to cut us off in traffic and we honk or we flip him off or both. If he stops we are reinforced. We may feel better even if he doesn’t. Our dog barks – we yell – he stops. Our behavior is reinforced. Dog pulls – yank collar – he slows. You see where this is going.

We get hooked on punishment. In some cases we can’t even think about how to influence behavior any other way. And as Dr. Susan Friedman (2010) notes, punishment doesn’t help us teach our dog what we want him to do. Stop barking. Stop pulling. Okay, but now what? What do we want the dog to do?

Houston-dog-Stella-KitchenAdd to that, our actions may only punish the dog’s misbehavior in the moment or in a certain context. The effect is fleeting. The dog may stop pulling for a moment or two and then resume (same with barking or… name your doggie crime). That often leads to chronic yelling, leash yanking, or worse. Our attempts to punish increase in frequency and intensity, true testament that they are not having any lasting effect. Before long it’s simply indiscriminate abuse.

And there are other problems, especially when it comes to how fear and pain in the name of training can affect our dog. Studies dating back decades point to the emotional damage fear and pain have on the dog being punished. The data is clear, not only as it relates to dogs but other species including human children. The use of physical violence as a means of training correlates with anxiety related behavior in dogs (Hiby et al., 2004). Specifically there is a relationship between physical punishment and aggression in dogs (Hsu and Sun, 2010). In many cases using confrontational training techniques can elicit an immediate aggressive response from the dog, putting the human in danger (Herron, Shofer, Riesner, 2009).

But, we still do it. Our punishing behavior is reinforced. No matter that the effects are temporary. They are immediate and we get hooked. Sometimes, nothing beats a quick fix for a human. The cost to the dog takes a back seat to convenience. There are still trainers who sell it, teach it, and never look back. In many places, not to mention TV and the Internet, that’s the norm. Punish. Jerk. Pinch. Hit. Shock. Do what it takes to assert your will and assume dominance. If you care to be more euphemistic, give a correction. It’s all the same to the dog, and the flaws and side effects remain nonetheless.

So what are we, the punishment addicted, to do? Admit to the problem? Make amends? Begin behaving differently? I’m not being cheeky. The answer to all is, “yes.”

The Science of behavior change is unambiguous. It points us clearly and unashamedly in the direction of positive reinforcement training. Like the old and outdated ways, it too yields quick results. But the effects are lasting. Positive reinforcement is also the communication tool we are looking for to teach our dogs what we want them to do. There are no unanswered questions. Instead of barking, come here – lie down – relax. Instead of pulling – walk here – keep an eye on me. And, the side effects? They are nothing short of delightful – joy, enthusiasm, and an eagerness in our dogs for learning.

As the cliché goes, it’s up to us. We can learn. We can get hooked on today’s training methods and leave yesterday’s in the dust. We can take on the burden, a light one at that, of learning some new skills. We can take the burden off our dogs. The allure of positive reinforcement training: seeing our dogs behave better, thrive, and succeed. That, too, can be very reinforcing.

Michael is a dog trainer and behavior consultant. He specializes in fearful and aggressive dog behavior in Houston, TX

Posted in How Dogs Learn, Uncategorized | Tagged | 9 Comments

Dogs and New Babies

Boy-and-DogMichael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

Which dogs are best for families with small children? While there may be some breeds that  are a better fit for your lifestyle than others, the answer to the question of kids and dogs usually isn’t about breed. The dogs who are best with children are the ones we’ve taught to behave well around kids. No less important, these are also dogs who live with kids who have learned to behave well around dogs (we’ll leave that part for another blog entry).

When to start? The best time to start training your dog for a life with children is before you have your first child. I recommend folks start about 3-4 months into their pregnancy, or about the 6-months prior to brining their child home if they are adopting. Starting early allows us to troubleshoot any problems that may arise long before we have the actual child present who will need so much of our energy and attention.

Setting goals. For most families the goal is simple: maintain a healthy and peaceful lifestyle for everyone involved (most especially the dog) as the family grows. Jennifer Shryock CDBC (familypaws.com) teaches a philosophy of inclusion, training the dog how to mind his manners around the baby while keeping him fully included in the family. The idea is to keep the dog in the room and allow him to interact appropriately in ways very similar to before the baby came.

Setting limits. Some dogs (most really) will still need time away from the baby. This is as much for the dog as it is for the rest of the family. Kids are sometimes loud and require lots of attention from the adult humans. The dog might actually appreciate getting away for a while. I recommend crate training dogs to teach them they have a safe place to settle down on their own.

We may also decide that some places in the house, like the nursery, will be off limits to the dog. Best to start teaching those limits now as well.

Many dogs will also need to brush up on their manners, especially when it comes to how they’ve become accustomed to soliciting our attention. Barking, nuzzling, or pawing at us may not be the best choice anymore when we’re holding a newborn or interacting with a toddler. And we certainly don’t want even a small dog jumping up next to the baby uninvited. It’s easy for dogs to learn appropriate ways to get our attention (like sitting politely) by reinforcing that good behavior with food, praise, petting and play. Basically, we teach it by rewarding them with – attention.

Reinforcement-based training. Expecting parents should focus on teaching simple useful skills to their dogs. Training our dog to touch and follow our hand (hand targeting) is a great start. It makes making moving our dogs and redirecting their attention very easy. Sit and lie down: very useful skills. I’m also a big fan of teaching dogs “mat training.” Whenever I put my dog’s mat down, no matter where I put it, she lies on it and remains still until given further instructions. This skill allows the dog to stay in the room with the family (see inclusion above) while also keeping still and calm. All of these skills are taught with modern reinforcement-based training (think clicker training). We should avoid training that includes fear or pain (think prong collar or shock collar). We don’t want to associate the new baby or child with anything that involves scaring or hurting the dog.

Getting ready for the new and different. In some respects, everything is about to change. There will be new skills to learn and perhaps some new limits, as we noted above. There will also be lots of new sights, sounds, and smells for our dog. We should begin introducing some of the baby’s gear (strollers, infant seats, swings and bouncers) by associating them with praise and treats. Even better, we can associate these new items with calm behavior on the mat – which itself is associated with praise and treats. We can also prepare our dog for the sounds a baby makes in the same way. Search “baby crying” on YouTube and see all the offerings that pop up. Associate that too with good behavior, praise and treats. While we’re at it, we could introduce him to the smells of baby wipes and lotions. All of this preparation will make the transition less stressful when the baby actually comes home.

Dogs with behavior challenges. Most dogs will accept a new family member with few or no issues at all. Dogs who have a history of fear, anxiety, or aggressive behavior will need extra help.  Contact a dog behavior professional with the education and experience necessary helping you with these issues. The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants is a great resource for finding a trainer or behaviorist in your area.

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA is a dog behavior consultant specializing in aggressive behavior in dogs. He helps families prepare their dogs for new babies and other life changes in Houston, TX.

Posted in Site Original | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Correcting Unwanted Behavior with Positive Reinforcement

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

It seems like a contradiction. How do we eliminate our dog’s misbehavior with positive reinforcement?

The first step is to focus on what you want your dog to do rather than on what you don’t want him to do. This approach works with all misbehavior, but let’s look at one example in particular: the dog who menaces visitors with barking and growling. We know the problem, but let’s not focus on it. Instead let’s ask ourselves what we’d like to see the dog do when visitors come over instead of barking and growling. Quietly lying in his crate might be a good alternative. Great. Let’s use positive reinforcement training (clicker training, perhaps) to teach the dog to go lie in his crate when guests arrive. The misbehavior is eliminated (replaced actually), and we used positive reinforcement to do it.

Old-fashioned trainers will balk at this idea. Why? Dr. Susan Friedman, professor of psychology at Utah State University, says it’s simply “the perennial gap between research and practice.” Trainers, even some on TV, focus heavily on the dog’s misbehavior. They’re constrained by ever-forceful practices aimed at suppressing what they don’t want the dog to do. Here’s the disconnect. Behavior scientists have known for decades that punishment (intimation in the name of training) has its limitations and side effects. Dogs subjected to these methods often withdraw from social interaction, have suppressed responses to training cues, escalate their aggressive responses, or develop generalized fear (Friedman, 2001). Too many trainers have simply failed to keep up with the research.

But what about safety? If we don’t focus on the problem, in this example aggressive behavior, aren’t we putting people at risk of being bitten? Foregoing archaic methods does not mean we are being gratuitous or precarious in our training. Instead, at every step, we block our dog’s access to repeating the unwanted behavior. In the example at hand, we avoid surprise visitors while we build up the behavior of lying in the crate. As needed, we’d use a leash, baby gate, or other barrier to protect visitors while we refine the fluency of the crate-lying behavior. As we progress, we add other pro-active behaviors related to teaching our dog calm confidence when visitors are present. We’re safe and we’re smart about what and how we are teaching our dog.

And there’s a bonus with all this. Just as harsh training has its deleterious side effects (sometimes called “fall out”), positive reinforcement training has it’s emotional benefits. Dogs who are trained with praise, smiles, and well-timed food treats (again, think clicker training) are generally more engaged socially, respond with vigor to training, and respond more reliably with reduced aggression. This is where research and training practices merge.

As always, real behavior change in our dogs starts with human behavior change. We learn and choose modern training methods. We focus on behavior solutions rather than getting mired in behavior problems. We take responsibility for our dogs’ learning, and we take on an advocacy role for them as a result. We step out from under the burden of having to be a master. We step up to the experience of being a companion and a teacher.

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA helps families with aggressive dogs in Houston, TX.

The Facts About Punishment, Susan Friedman PhD 2001

Functional Assessment: Hypothesizing Predictors and Purposes of Problem Behavior to Improve Behavior-Change Plans, Susan Friedman PhD 2009

Posted in How Dogs Learn, Human-Canine Bond | Tagged , | Comments Off

How Dog Training Makes us Better Humans

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

I come to this work with few, if any, ulterior motives. I’m certainly not being manipulative, nor am I conducting any mad scientist experiments (benevolent or otherwise). I will admit, though, a bit of warm satisfaction when I see what dog training does to people.

Yes, even on the face of it, training our dogs helps us a great deal. It’s no secret. This is a human endeavor. We benefit as much as our dogs. Reinforcement based (think non-coercive) training helps dogs make better decisions. It helps them behave better. In turn, the dog stays in his home, lives longer, and seems more joyful. Humans? Well it’s a big relief when the bad dog goes good. Win-win all around. Everyone’s happier.

But, in my experience some other things are happening too. I’ve noticed a trend over these 16+ years in dog training. When a human being starts thinking about his dog differently, when he uses smiles and praise and food in training, when he sets aside his anger and force and restraint, something happens. There’s a change, not just in the dog. It’s a human change, sometimes subtle, but no less real.

This is what I’ve noticed:

IMG_0861We speak less and listen more. Of course when we think of listening to our dogs, what we really mean is we watch them. Folks who’ve learned how to communicate with and teach their dogs using force-free methods do this a bit differently, though. We really watch our dogs, with soft attentive eyes, like we’re looking at a brilliant painting, or watching a fascinating film for the fist time. All of the stories we tell on our dogs, all the commands and admonitions, they all fall silent. We change. Not so much the dog, but the human, we change. We stop looking for error and evil and we start seeking out our dog’s goodness, his correctness, and his best moments of simply being.

When we do speak, our words flow from kindness. What else can we say? When we start noticing our dogs differently, we speak better of them. They are two human behaviors naturally and inextricably connected. See goodness of being; speak the same. And, we smile. We are touched and we touch; we praise; we celebrate our dogs with food and play and quiet moments. We connect at a level that seems sometimes hard to explain to others.

And, then we cross the line. This is the part so many of us never saw coming. We learn how to be and how to act with our dogs. Our dogs learn in turn how to be and how to act with us. They reflect the lesson back and teach us and before long, so often, the lesson spills over. I’ve seen it happen first hand. It’s real – inexplicable maybe – undeniable nonetheless. We start treating each other differently. So much in the habit of seeking and supporting goodness, celebrating the actions we love from the beings we love, we start doing it more. With each other. We cross the line. We watch each other with soft attentive eyes. We speak to each other from a place of kindness. It’s God’s work or Dog’s work. Backwards and forwards, it is what it is.

IMG_0816 (1)I’ve left people’s homes too many times with butterflies in my gut and an impish (smug?) smile on my face for it to be mere coincidence. Dogs on the line, we trainers know all about them. Families on the line, we talk too little about them I think. I’m not being manipulative, no indeed. But once the door is opened, it’s hard to shut. See for the first time how reinforcement changes not only your dog’s behavior, but also how you feel about your dog, and you won’t soon forget it. See how it helps create long-lasting nurturing relationships with your fellow humans, with the people you love, and it’s nothing less than life changing. How could it not be?

I’ve seen it happen, witnessed it first hand to many times for it to be my imagination. In and out for a few sessions, job well-done, thank you very much, call me if you need more help. But don’t think I didn’t see it – the child and parent smiling and working together, the man in love with his wife more so now because she loves his dog, the family listening – taking turns – encouraging each other – just like they do with the dog.

I’m no mad scientist. In fact, I take no credit. It’s like I tell my clients. I just have some information. You get to make all the decisions. This is all you.

Michael teaches dog training in Houston, TX. He specializes in helping families with fearful and aggressive dogs.

Posted in Human-Canine Bond, Site Original | Tagged | 2 Comments

Better Than a Stuffed Dog

Houston-Dog-Trainer-TriggerMichael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

“What you want is a stuffed dog.”

 It’s cynical dog trainer humor. When friends, relatives, and even some clients list the qualities they want in their dog we fire off that zinger. They want a dog who doesn’t pee in the house, doesn’t bark, doesn’t jump on people, doesn’t pull on leash, and doesn’t chase the children. Stuffed dog. They want a dog who doesn’t “have a mind of his own,” isn’t dominant, and won’t cause any trouble. Stuffed dog. They want him to be, but they seemingly want him to do nothing. Stuffed dog.

I think we sometimes forget why we love dogs so much, and it’s a bit ironic. While we’re tripping over all the things we want dogs to not do, we forget what it is about them that we like so much. Behavior. Their actions. What dogs do. The way they run, the looks they give, the tricks they learn, that’s what makes us smile, pulls us in, and draws us out of ourselves.

So much better than a stuffed dog, real dogs move and breathe and make noise. They use their eyes and faces and bodies, so that we look and move and talk in turn. We call it communication. Joy. Love. Dogs come toward us, walk the path with us, pick up and bring things to us, play with us, tug at a toy and our hearts. It is in their doing that we discover their being. Animated. Warm. Living. Just like us but also not at all.

And yes, they pee and bark and jump and tug at their leashes. They chase things and sometimes cause trouble. They have minds of their own. Yes. It’s that mind, and ours, interacting, working together. Our actions, kind and informative, replying to theirs. We help our dogs choose differently, discover new behavior. And their behavior helps us act differently, think more clearly. We call that communication too. Teaching. Learning. What each is doing informs what the other does. Feedback. Who’s training whom, and who cares?

Houston-Dog-Trainer-Stewie-CuddleAnd at the end of the day who your dog is is all his doing. He burrows under the blanket. He curls and presses his back to your chest. He slows his breaths and snores. He twitches and barks a muffled sound against some dream we cannot see. He is an amazing being, so different from us but so connected to us.

So alive. So warm and real. So much better than a stuffed dog. And, exactly what you want.

Posted in Human-Canine Bond | Tagged , | Comments Off