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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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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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

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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.

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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.

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What Panting Means (Not All Panting is the Same)

By Guest Blogger Lore Haug DVM MS DACVB

We all know dogs pant for thermoregulation. But panting can provide information about the dog’s emotional state as well. Dogs pant when under heat or physical stress or psychological stress. Panting also can appear associated with any type of arousal or exertion (e.g. excitement, aggression, or anxiety).


Figure 1: This is a relatively neutral, temperature related pant. The dog’s facial expression is alert but relaxed. While there is some caudal retraction of the commissures of the lips, the lips themselves have a downward relaxed droop. Additionally, the span of the tongue and protrusion of the mouth are commensurate with the amount of lip retraction.


Figure 2: This dog also shows a relaxed pant. Again, the ears and facial expression are relaxed. The eyes are soft and there is no excessive wrinkling or tension of the skin and muscles on the face. The dog’s lips have a pronounced downward droop and there is no extension of the tongue out of the mouth.

pant-fig3  pant-fig4

Figures 3 and 4: This is a relaxed pant related to heat and exertion.   There is marked protrusion of the tongue with expansion of the tip into the “spoon” appearance.   While there is notable caudal retraction of the lips, there is again a lot of downward droop. In the second photo, this downward droop makes a pucker at the commissure as the retraction of the commissure causes the lip to slightly fold over or bulge outward. Again, otherwise the skin and muscles are relatively smooth and the eyes are soft – no exposure of the sclera . This dog would exhibit normal frequent and “full” blinking of the eyes.


Figure 5: Compare this photo to Figure 1. In this photo, the dog is showing more anxiety compared to Figure 1. The tongue is extended about the same amount; however, there is more caudal lip retraction and more “upward” lift of the lips themselves. There is more tension and wrinkling of the skin and muscles along the muzzle and particularly under the eyes. Additionally, the ears are slightly dropped at the base.


Figure 6: This is another dog with an anxious element to the pant. The level of retraction of the commissures of the lips is excessive as compared to the amount of tongue extension.   The dog’s mouth is open relatively wide, yet there is very little “spooning” or expansion of the tip of the tongue as would be expected for more effective heat dissipation.


Figure 7: This photo shows an almost pure anxiety/fear related pant. There is marked lip retraction with no protrusion of the tongue. The lips are vertically elevated (no downward droop) to the point that almost all of the dog’s teeth are visible. (Compare this to all the other photos where there is NO exposure of the upper canine teeth.) The scleras are visible (“whale eye”) and the ears are rolled back in a high stress position. This dog would likely show little and/or abbreviated blinking.

Dr. Lore Haug is a veterinary behaviorist in Houston, TX

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10 Practical Reasons to Teach Your Dog “Sit”

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

“Sit” may be one of the most undervalued things we teach our dog. Everyone teaches it, and just about every dog can get really good at it. So, let’s start applying it in situations that count. This one simple life skill can prevent a whole bunch of problem behaviors while promoting good manners at the same time.













Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA teaches dog training in Houston TX. Special thanks to Cleveland dog trainer Kevin Duggan CPDT-KA for contributing to this post. Thanks also to Peta Clarke for the final photograph.

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Puppy Classes: Fun and Important

Michael Baugh CDBC, CPDT-KSA

There are lots of good reasons to take a group puppy class with your new dog. There are so many reasons, in fact, that I’m actually shocked more people don’t do it. (Can you believe fewer than 5% of new puppy owners engage in any training at all?). That’s crazy. Why? Well, for one puppy classes are so much fun. Add to that, they’re incredibly important.

Puppy classes are “brain changers.” Really good puppy classes are specially designed for dogs between 8 and 18 weeks of age, youngsters. At that stage of their development, our puppies’ brains are still growing, making connections, and creating receptacles for important brain chemicals. Puppy classes that include interesting and enriching activities like play, exposure to novel sights and sounds, as well as fun interactions with other humans can help our young dogs’ brains grow stronger (and measurably bigger, too).

Puppy classes prevent fear and aggression. Young puppies are adventurous sorts, always walking a fine line between bravery and fear. They’re figuring out what is safe in the world and what may not be so safe for them. A well-designed and properly supervised puppy class helps our young dogs learn that the world is full of wonder, with other dogs, new people, and new sights, sounds and smells. Better yet, they learn that all those new experiences come with a variety of smiles, praise and treats. Our dogs grow up learning that life is good, and the world is safe for them. They aren’t fearful, and they don’t grow up to be aggressive dogs.

Good manners start at puppy class. Our young puppies are clean slates. They haven’t learned any bad habits yet. Smart puppy classes fill their brains early on with lots of good habits, simple tasks that even very young dogs can learn. It’s amazing to see how much and how fast a very young dog can learn. They are ready, and oh so willing.

Puppy classes are good for humans. Humans who engage in early training with their young dogs bond more strongly with their dogs. We learn how to communicate with our dogs at a level other dog owners don’t. Plus, we learn skills for training our dogs even more useful and complicated tasks as they mature. So yeah, we learn stuff too.

Don’t forget reason number one: Puppy classes are fun! Seriously, they are big fun. The best puppy classes include lots of off-leash play and games for humans and their dogs. It’s low stress learning for everyone. And, c’mon, you’re in a room with lots of really cute puppies. How could it not be fun.

Now, you have permission to stop reading. Go find a reward-based puppy class in your area (I’ve provided some links to Houston Area trainers below). Take some cute pictures from your puppy class experience and post them to my Facebook page. I can’t wait to see them.

Houston Area Puppy Classes

Peace Love and Dogs (Spring Branch)

Houston Dog Ranch (Houston)

The Fundamental Dog (The Woodlands)

Rover Oaks (Bellaire and Katy)

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



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Positive Thinking – Positive Training

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

You know the look they give us. They cock their head and flash those weary eyes. It’s as if they are saying, “For God’s sake human what are you thinking?” It’s the way our dog, Stewie, looks at us just about every day.

If you ask me our dogs are on to the right question. What we think and how we perceive our world has a huge impact on how we feel and how we humans behave day in and day out. Psychiatrist, Aaron Beck writes about cognition and its impact on depression, relationship problems and other psychosocial maladies. For Beck and other cognitive behavior therapists the trick to feeling and living better begins with changing the way we think. Hmm, makes sense.

So, let’s think about our dogs for a minute. Better yet, let’s think about how we think about our dogs. Take a moment just to let some random thoughts run through your head. Cognitive therapists call these “automatic thoughts.” They’re the things we think about without really thinking. As a trainer I get to hear a whole bunch of people’s automatic thoughts about their dogs. Most of them aren’t too upbeat. “He’s stubborn.” “She’s too distracted by other dogs.” “He’s aggressive.” “She’s shy.” “He won’t do that.” “She doesn’t like treats.” And then there’s my all time favorite, “My dog is being dominant.” Add to the list if you’d like. We could fill the page.

Negative thinking is like poison. This is particularly true in dog training. Our thoughts and beliefs serve as filters for all that we observe and experience. They directly and immediately influence our feelings and actions. Here’s an example. Our dog jumps on a visitor. We may think our dog is “bad,” or maybe “overly friendly.” That can leave us feeling hopeless or even angry.  The result may be that we give up on trying to help our dog change his behavior (mistakenly believing that training a lost cause). Or, worse yet, our anger may lead us to harsh or abusive training methods.

Now let’s look at the exact same scenario again. The only thing we will change this time is how we think about the situation. Our dog still jumps on the visitor, but instead of thinking poorly (and inaccurately) about him we notice that the dog is behaving the same way many dogs do. We may feel some comfort knowing that behavior can change (if my dog learned to jump on people, he can also learn other things). There are no feelings of hopelessness or anger.  We can take calm rational action. We can teach our dog some new skills.

The point here is that dog training really does start in our head. Yes, it involves timing, eye-hand coordination, knowledge and skill. But you can throw all that stuff out the window if you’re not in the right frame of mind. It’s time to weed out some of that negative thinking.

  • Step One: Be aware of your own negative thoughts. Some of them are just plain obvious. If you’re mumbling “stupid dog,” then you can pretty much chalk that up as a negative thought. But others might be a bit subtler. Here’s my favorite way to identify a negative thought in dog training. Ask yourself, “Does this belief or way of thinking help me train my dog or does it just upset me and leave me confused? If it’s the latter then discard the thought. It’s negative and therefore useless to you.
  • Step Two: Think happy thoughts. It worked for Tinker Bell and Peter Pan. No, I’m not kidding! Think happy thoughts and imagine where you can go with your dog. I suggest you start by speaking well of your dog. When you get a chance tell someone how smart your dog is or what a fast learner she is. Then take it a step further by telling your dog how wonderful you think she is. Maybe she’ll understand you. Maybe she won’t. But by verbalizing positive thinking you will automatically begin to think more productively about your dog and training.
  • Step Three: Visualize. You already do this everyday. You might map out directions in your mind before you get behind the wheel of your car. Golfers imagine sinking a putt before they actually hit the ball. We say things in our head before we speak them aloud. So why not visualize training your dog. Picture a nice crisp sit. See your dog heeling beside you. Imagine her greeting a guest politely without jumping. If you’re seeing good behavior in your mind’s eye then you are crowding out negative thinking. You’re already on your way to better results.
  • Step Four: Build on success. Make positive thinking a way of life just as you have with positive training. The fewer negative beliefs there are getting in the way the more you will succeed. The more you succeed the more confident and positive your thinking will become. You can see how this quickly snowballs into ultimate success.

None of us got a dog so that we could think poorly of him. None of us wants a ho-hum relationship with our dog. And certainly none of us wants to fail at training our dogs. So, by all means, let’s get rid of anything that gets in the way of what you really want – a powerful and satisfying bond with the animal you love.

Think well.   Feel good.   Act it out.

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

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Is Love Enough?

Michael Baugh CDBC, CPDT-KSA

For those of us who know dogs, really know them, the love comes easily.  And for those involved in the hard and difficult work of rescue and sheltering, there is no shortage of love.  It’s what fuels us, what keeps us going day after day.  It’s what sees us through the anguish and the tears to get out once again and rescue and shelter some more.  Love is the thing.  But is it enough?

Psychiatrist Aaron Beck was writing about human relationships when he jumped to the answer.  His book from the late 80’s was called Love is Never Enough.  His idea was for people, especially couples, to use the tools of cognitive therapy to improve their lives together.  Listen.  Separate out feelings (at least don’t jump to feelings first). Be mindful.  Love was not enough.  It never was.  We had to think as well.

What would Aaron Beck say about those of us who rescue and shelter dogs?  Do we love too much?  Does our love ricochet us into darker emotions, sadness, anger, hate, and despair? Does it paralyze us; keep us from acting at all because the problem of abandoned and suffering dogs is just too big?  That was my story up until recently. Is love not only “never enough,” but is it also sometimes what gets in the way of doing the work?  I won’t speculate on what Dr. Beck would say.

Here is what we do know, the sad facts:

  • Too many dogs are abandoned or born into homelessness. In Houston the numbers are huge.
  • These dogs suffer from health issues ranging from mange to broken bodies to heartworms.  Most rescue groups raise funds for the proper medical treatment for all of the animals in their care.
  • Nearly every one of these dogs also suffers from behavior problems ranging from poor manners to extreme fear of humans to aggression toward humans or other dogs.  Very few rescue groups provide professionally structured behavior care for any of their animals.

That last point interests me the most.  Here’s why.  89.7% of dogs end up in shelters in the first place because of behavior problems (Wells and Hepper 2000).  My colleague, Carolyn Grob, presented this bit of data and more at a recent Project Rusty Seminar in Houston (more about Project Rusty in a moment).  So, we know going into this that at least 89% of dogs in rescue and shelters are there because of behavior problems.  We know it like we know they have mange or a broken leg or heartworms.

Connecting the dots is pretty easy.  If we help the dogs in our care learn better behavior, we increase the chance that their adoption will be successful and lasting.  We justify the time and expense involved the same way we justify medical treatment. Adopters don’t want a mangy dog. Guess what? They don’t want a rude freaked out dog either.

So, let’s get back to the love.  Won’t love and a little time heal most behavior issues, like fear and aggression? The short answer is no. In fact, with many dogs the problems just get worse. Can’t a dog learn to trust humans again? Yes, of course. But love and time are not enough, not really, not ever. And let’s not even talk about the jumping and leash pulling and other crazy hyper goofy behavior. Add some well-intentioned love and that unruliness can turn into downright rude-dog stuff. But, I digress.

What would Beck say? I’m not sure, but I have an idea. What if we step back from a moment and give this behavior thing some thought?  We won’t stop loving. We’ll just starting thinking a bit.  Let’s be mindful about training and behavior.  There’s a process to treating medical issues right? There has to be a process for helping dogs act better and feel better around their new humans. (Of course there is, said the trainer).

In fact, there’s a time-honored and well-tested process for teaching animals how to act and feel better. It boils down to showing the dogs in our care that their behavior (their actions) matter.  Good things happen when they behave a certain way (the way we like). Nothing much good happens when they don’t.  Because we’re using rewards (reinforcement) like food and play, we’re also teaching the dogs that we humans are safe, nice in fact.  We won’t get bogged down in the technical terms like Learning Theory and Classical Conditioning. We can just think of it like this. We teach the dogs what works for them in our crazy human world – and at the same time we teach them that we’re not all that crazy after all. Humans are pretty darn good it turns out.

The process is not hard. It can be fun once we get the hang of it. But, it’s not magic either. We have to show up, and we have to put in some effort.  Get the dog out of the crate, into a space where we can interact with him one-on-one, and let’s start training.  It’s like taking the dog to the vet for medical care, equally important, but with less hassle.  Forget Aaron Beck for a moment.  Here’s what trainer educator Ken Ramirez from The Shed Aquarium says: Training isn’t a luxury.  It’s an essential part of daily animal care.

“Wait a minute”, you might say, “I’m not a trainer.” Well, that’s where Project Rusty comes in.  That’s the group I mentioned a little bit ago. Project Rusty is a nonprofit organization in Houston with a mission to teach shelter staff and rescue volunteers how to be trainers. The truth is, you are already teaching the dogs in your care every day.  Every waking minute they are learning, not just from you but also from your family, the cat, the bird, and of course from the other dogs in your home. The question isn’t whether or not they’re being trained (they are).  The question is are they learning the stuff we want them to learn. Probably not.

Let’s change that. In the months and years ahead Project Rusty will be rolling out programs to help shelters and rescue groups better care for the behavioral health of their dogs. We’ve actually already started with interactive seminars. The next step will be more intensive learning programs for rescue groups, some of which are already in development. There will also be online resources for staff, volunteers and the general public. If behavior is the problem, then we will be the solution.  All of us.  Together.

So where’s the love? I can only speak for myself on this one. I love my dogs. I love some of my client’s dogs too, and most came from shelters and rescue groups. I write about love and compassion and hope and all the soft stuff. I’m that guy. Is love enough? Maybe not.  But, maybe that’s also not the right question.  Maybe the question is how do we love these dogs?  What is the thing?  What is the stuff of love? For me it’s the moment I look at a dog and understand and know in my heart and in my brain that she understands too. It’s communication, clichéd as that sounds. It’s learning and teaching and blurring the lines between the two. Who’s training whom?

Love is a verb.

When I’m training with my dog I am loving my dog. It’s in my actions, and hers too I think.  Teaching is loving.  Learning and teaching more is loving more. And, if that’s so then loving is the thing, loving thoughtfully with our actions.  It’s what we do, mindfully and wholeheartedly?  Can we ever really get enough?

Michael will be leading an interactive presentation about this topic on May 4th in Houston.  Visit his Houston Dog Training Events page for more information.

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Making Training Work with a Busy Schedule

Michael Baugh CDBC, CPDT-KSA

What gets in the way of helping our dogs change their behavior?  Of course we need to know  how to train our dogs.  We have to learn new skills.  Our dogs do too.  But that’s really not the big obstacle.  Our dogs and we humans are actually good learners.  What really gets in the way?


We think training takes too much time, and we think we don’t have enough time to do it.  How do we get around that?

A lot of dogs are very fast learners, even dogs who have some behavior related to fear and aggression.  We can lay out a plan to teach them essential skills (often quite simple skills) to help them handle life in our crazy human world with a bit more, shall we say, grace.

Timesaving Training 

There are lots of things we can teach our dogs using clicker training that take very little time, a matter of weeks if not days.

  • Eye contact and attentiveness.  This takes next to no time.
  • Settling down on a mat.  We can shape this behavior very quickly.
  • Following us / Coming when called.  It trains quickly.

Of course we humans need to learn how to train these things, and that can take a bit of time.  The good news is we human learners can pick things up as quickly as our dogs do.  I’ve found that the Online Training Journal really helps speed up the learning process for us humans.  Clients who log daily training activities give me a chance to coach clients daily and keep the process on track.  That’s a huge time-saver in the long run.


More Awareness – Less Time

Once we teach some basic skills, maintaining (even sharpening) that training can take next to no time at all.  We don’t have to schedule any training sessions at all (or very few).  We just have to be more aware.

One of my best clients is helping her dog, Harley, adjust to having a new baby in the home.  All day long, while my client is being a busy mom, she pays attention to what Harley does.  And, throughout the day she praises and treats all the things Harley does well.  It’s awesome.  She actually keeps a log of all the great things she reinforces throughout the day and reports the results on her Online Training Journal.

  •  Harley waited patiently while I made lunch – praise and treats
  • Harley rested quietly outside the nursery – praise an treats
  • Harley gave us extra space when I asked him to back up – praise and treats.
  • Harley played nicely with the other dog – verbal praise

Yes, she spent some time early on clicker training and teaching Harley some nice manners.  But, how much time is this busy mom spending with training now?  None.  She’s just more aware.  She’s training all the time as the day unfolds.

It’s a good thing she has this system worked out.  We just learned a few days ago that she’s expecting a second baby.  She’s going to need the extra time.

Michael Baugh CDBC, CPDT-KSA teaches dog training in Katy and Houston, TX.


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