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.  :)

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Breathing for Dog Trainers

We are under pressure. Our dog’s behavior is dangerous. We need to change it. We’re in a hurry. We have no time. The only comfort we have, if there is any to be found, is that we are not alone. So many of us taking on complicated dog behavior problems get tripped up. We flail and sometimes feel like we are drowning in despair.

I’ve written elsewhere about the process of dog training and how we solve common dog behavior problems. We’ve also talked about the illusion of control in dog training and our human tug towards punishment in training. What I haven’t addressed head on, until now, is the basic human life skill at the root of excellent teaching and learning – at the root of life, in fact. Breathing.

You might have guessed by now that I’m not talking about that shallow in-and-out that keeps us upright. It’s not the gasping and sighing we do while we prattle off commands to our dogs either. No, I’m talking about mindful breathing. It’s the take-a-breather, focus on your body, draw it in, let it out slowly, stay in the moment kind of breathing. Breathe.  Notice your lungs pulling in the air. Relax your belly, then fill your chest. Pay attention while you let it out.

In.

Out.

This is the breathing you’ve done in yoga class, or at least tried. It’s the foundation of meditation. It’s part of prayer and contemplation in every religion (the root of the word “spirit” is breath). Breathing, real attentive breathing is at the heart of who we are as humans. It certainly plays a role in our relationship and our ability to communicate with our dogs. Here’s how.

Breathe to prepare your mind for teaching your dog. Take five minutes. Sit quietly and focus on the in and out of your breath. This is a simple and short meditation. That word scares some people, I know. Breathe. You know how to do it. In. Out. The idea is to focus on one thing for a short period of time. Your breathing. You’re breathing.

IMG_0737I sometimes cheat. My focus becomes watching my dog as I breathe. There is no talking, simply observing and breathing. I’ve caught Stella looking back at me and we’ve held that observant vigil for minutes on end – long enough for me to get lost in it, awakened only by the tear tracking down my cheek. (I’m a sap, it’s true). Watch. Breathe.

Breathe while you teach. So much of what you and I are doing with our dogs is about modeling calm behavior. Mindful breathing helps us do that. Focus on the process of training, yes. Observe your skills and how they affect your dog’s behavior in the learning session, definitely. But, don’t forget to breathe. That remembrance will keep you connected to your body and your mind space. Are you tense? Are you losing patience? Are you okay? Take care of yourself. The teaching and learning will come more easily if you breathe.

I sometimes take a mini-breather while training. It’s easy to do when switching between exercises. I especially like to do that if I’m going to transition from clicker training to a play break. Remembering what I’m doing and breathing through it helps me smile in learning sessions. That keeps me connected to my dog and the work we’re doing together. It fuels the fun and the joyful praise in the moment.

Houston-Dog-Stewie-AdorbsBreathe in the space in between. So often we are caught in the illusion that learning and teaching are only things that happen in “sessions.” Take just a second, or a minute, or two. Then take a breath. Look at your dog. Is she looking back? Raise your eyebrows and say “hello.” It’s such a powerful moment. If she comes to you, pet her. Let everything else that is happening fall away (It will be there when you get back). Breathe through this experience with your dog.

Not just sometimes, but every day I sit on the floor with my dogs and let them come to me. I don’t talk. I breathe with them, and touch, and nuzzle. I do this even after very long days with everyone else’s dogs. It connects me to Stella and Stewie. It also reminds me of how I’m connected to my clients – all dealing with the stressors and the drama life – none of us really alone – keeping our heads above water. All of us, when we can, remembering to breathe.

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston TX. He specializes in dogs who behave aggressively and fearfully.

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Five Training Fouls to Avoid

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT

We do our best teaching (training) when we set our dogs up to succeed. We make it easy for our dogs to get it right – to perform the tasks we want to reinforce. Once we build some momentum we increase the difficulty, but not before.

Stella-EyesAs trainers, we want to do the same thing for ourselves. Let’s set ourselves up to succeed by eliminating the stuff that get in the way of good solid learning. They are the distractions and interference that slow us down or even derail our teaching efforts. I call them training fouls. Here’s my short (but not exhaustive) list of the worst culprits of training fouls. Don’t fall victim and, please, don’t get flagged for a training foul yourself.

The Session Thief. This is perhaps one of the most common fouls. A trainer is in a session with her dog. Perhaps the dog is a bit slow to respond to a cue. Then, another well-meaning person jumps in with another cue and steals the session. You can see how this would confuse our dog and frustrate the first trainer. Don’t be that person. And, don’t let others foul you in this way.

The Dog Shamer. Nothing kills training like someone making you feel bad about how you are raising your dog. This foul may come as a surprise. After all, it’s my job to help get folks back on course with teaching their dogs. But, giving professional advice and guidance isn’t the same as making someone feel like an idiot. Don’t shame your fellow dog lovers – they are doing the best they can with the information they currently have. And if you want to be helpful to someone else, be helpful. Leave the criticism and same on the other side of the foul line.

Whispering Uncle Buddy. We all have a friend or relative like this. Our dog is sensitive to new people he doesn’t know well. Maybe he’s even bitten before. But our kind-hearted (but bumbling) friend or relative is certain our dog will love him anyway. “I have a way with dogs.” “All dogs love me.” “I’ve had dogs all my life.” Sigh. These are most often the folks who get bitten. They feel bad. We feel bad. They are walking, talking, smiling, training fouls. Certainly don’t be that person. And keep that person away from your dog.

The Alpha “Expert”. This guy (and it’s usually a guy, sorry) might also be an Uncle Buddy (see above). He may not a dog trainer by profession, but he’s seen lots of TV shows on dog training and maybe a few YouTube videos. He knows how to show a dog who is boss – how to make him mind – and he certainly knows more that the trainer you’re working with. Foul. I already know you are not that person. Don’t let The Alpha “Expert” confuse you about how to teach your dog. And please, don’t let him hurt your dog in the name of training.

The One-More-Timer. This is a training foul we most often do to ourselves. A learning session is going exceptionally well. Our dog seems to be grasping the concept and that last rep was perfect. We’re so proud we want to see it just “one more time.” Stop. Record the win and take a break. “One more time” is the curse of great trainers worldwide. Don’t foul your dog (or yourself). Celebrate the success and end on that note for the time being.

Most of these folks are just humans, like you and me, trying their best. Be firm with them, but kind. Help them become better teachers and dog lovers, just as you have become. We are all learning. And we all know the learning comes faster and easier when the humans involved are patient, relaxed, and clear thinking.

Learn. Smile. Breathe. Teach. Repeat.

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

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Human Centered Dog Training

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

Yes, good dog training is mostly about teaching the human. And, there’s absolutely no shame in that.

All the stuff our dogs do, their behavior, is largely influenced by their external environment. Some would say behavior is driven exclusively by the dog’s external environment. Sure, our dogs have internal experiences, like pain, hunger, illness, etc. and those play a role in behavior.

stewie-houston-sun-dogStill, our dog’s external experience is key. Dogs walk, run, lie down, chew, poop, pee, bark, and jump – all in their in the physical world, our homes and neighborhoods. How the environment responds to those behaviors determines if the dog keeps doing that stuff, and if so where, when, and how. Here’s one example. My dog lies down and stretches out. He’s learned over time that areas in which the sun is shining provide him warmth. He seeks those areas out more often. The environment (angle of the sun) has influenced when and where he lies down. The world is always teaching our dogs which behavior is reinforcing and which is punishing. Right?

What does all this have to do with us humans? Everything. No doubt we are the most important players in our dogs’ environment. Every day we determine when they eat, where they sleep, when they are let inside or outside, what opportunities they have for social interaction (with humans and nonhumans), and how they live their physical, mental and emotional lives in general. Nothing influences our dog’s behavior more than we humans do. Nothing.

Of course our dogs think (and feel). They may not muse and contemplate. Those processes involve verbal language. But our dogs are expert observers, constantly assessing the world around them for potential danger or sources of pleasure. Our job is to line up the feedback we give our dogs (when they eat and when they have access to other pleasurable activities) with what they are doing. That’s called reinforcement. Our dogs remember, and memories of reinforcement (and punishment) guide their behavior. We call that learning. Harnessing this process is the most natural way to train dogs. It’s the natural way all animals learn.

We humans are the most important player in our dog’s world. But, there’s a down side to this. Whether we intend it or not our dogs are always learning from us. The only question is are they learning what we want them to or are our actions teaching them the wrong lesson? Here’s my short list of stuff we should avoid doing around our dogs (this is not an exhaustive list).

  • Yelling, Hitting, Choking, Shocking: teaches the dog that we are dangerous – may lead to them avoiding us or aggressing against us.
  • Lying to our dog with our actions (being inconsistent): teaches the dog that we are an unreliable actor in their environment – will lead to unreliable/ inconsistent behavior from the dog.
  • Misusing food / bribing / giving food at the wrong time: teaches the dog that they get food for doing wrong things (like begging at the table) – can lead to the dog only responding to us when we have food.

Noticing the mistakes we’ve made with our dogs is actually a good thing. Don’t ever let anyone shame you about the choices you’ve made. Just use the information to make better choices from here on out. Our dogs can learn. But, so can we. We learn which of our actions work and don’t work just like our dogs (learning by doing). We also learn by watching others model behavior (imitation), by listening, and by reading. So we’re actually in really good shape. We can learn to:

  • Be better observers of our dogs – notice when our dog gets stuff right and how to reinforce behavior we want him to do more.
  • Set our dogs up to succeed – creating opportunities to do the things we want them to do more and then providing reinforcement that strengthen those good choices.
  • Put those great behaviors “on cue” – teaching our dogs to do what we want when we ask it.
  • Be consistent – making training a lifestyle of good behavior and reinforcing experiences throughout the day and not just when we have a treat bag on.

Houston-Dog-Trainer-Stewie-CuddleSuccessful dog training hinges on our human behavior. That’s big, maybe even a little scary. But it’s empowering too. I call it human-centered dog training – teaching humans how to teach their dogs. It’s a two species process – always. That’s a lot of brainpower and lots of heart working toward changing behavior, even reversing the most troubling behavior problems. We are learning together with our dogs, learning cooperation – humans and dogs not in conflict but on the same team – making choices with each other – finding better ways to live with each other – looking together for that warm spot in the sun.

Dog Trainer Michael Baugh specializes in behavior related to fear and aggressive dog behavior in Houston, TX.

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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.

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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.


.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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

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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.

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