Meeting Tad

Michael Baugh CPDT-KA, CDBC

I love a good story of redemption.  That’s probably why I’m drawn to dogs we commonly call fearful or aggressive.  They’re the barkers and growlers and lungers and biters.  They walk a hard path and are often misunderstood. They are the hard cases with no guarantees for anyone involved.   Few have walked a path more difficult than Tad, my newest client.  A young woman named Tiffany found him along the side of a country road in Montgomery, Texas late last March.   Tad was eaten away by mange and malnourishment, weak and wounded.  The veterinarian at the clinic where Tiffany works wondered if Tad would survive the night.  He did.  As he grew stronger, though, his behavior grew worse.  Tad started barking and growling at visitors to the clinic.  Then he bit Tiffany’s father who had the double misfortune of falling and frightening Tad in the process.  That would have been the end of the line for some dogs.  But not Tad.

It turns out Tiffany is a storyteller, and a good one at that.  She began blogging about her Abandoned Dog the day she found him.  She posted  pictures and videos of Tad, and before too long he had a worldwide following (nearly 5,000 fans on Facebook as of this writing).  When Tad needed money for expensive veterinary care, hundreds of people responded.  And when word came that he needed a trainer, more help rolled in.  It only took a phone call for one of his followers to find me.

I liked Tad the minute I saw him.  He’s smaller than he looks in pictures and video (about 55 lbs).  He’s also loose and wiggly most of the time, a young dog coming into his prime.  We met outside of The Fundamental Dog near The Woodlands.  I like to meet dogs like Tad on neutral territory, outdoors if possible.  The idea is to make it easy for the dog to make the best choice possible.  If Tad didn’t like me, he had plenty of room to move away, an easier choice than barking or lunging.  This wasn’t his place, so there was no pressure on him to make me go away if I looked like bad news.  Fortunately, he trotted right up to me.  He seemed pleasantly surprised when I pulled out my “secret weapon:”  Cheeze Whiz (Tad’s favorite).  It wasn’t a bribe.  If you come to my house, and I want us to be friends, I’ll offer you a snack.  It’s good manners.  Of course, there’s good behavior science behind it too.

I won’t take too much time talking about the science of dog training.  Most people already know I depend exclusively on well tested and verified behavior science in my practice.  Very little (if anything) of what I teach is based on folk wisdom or popular consensus.  That’s my bias.  If there isn’t a body of data to support a training protocol, then I’m not teaching it.  More importantly, I don’t use any methods that frighten or hurt a dog.  Tad’s been frightened and hurt enough.  What he needs now is to learn that people are safe, and that good things happen for him when new people show up on the scene.  I got to be one of the first to teach him that.  Tad liked me and my colleague Marie.  It made my day.

This is about as geeky as I’ll get.  Tad is learning that every time he sees a new person (or even an unfamiliar person he’s seen before) tasty bits of food soon follow.  Some of these people may actually choose to hand Tad the food themselves.  This is called Classical Conditioning.  Person predicts Yummy food.  In addition, we’re pairing up the sound of the door chime at the veterinary clinic with lovely snacks as well, because the chime is also associated with new people coming in.  Chime predicts Yummy food.  Right now chimes and people are  associated with increased heart rate, shallow respiration, dilated pupils, elevated cortisol (most likely), and piloerection (hackles up) – in other words, fear.  In order to change the association, we’ll need to be careful to protect Tad from repeated full-on exposure to the scary stuff (new people).  He’s going to meet his new friends much the same way he met me, in a controlled and calm setting.  The rest of the time he’ll be away from the hustle bustle.  Tad never has to be afraid again.

Was Tad abused?  The physical evidence clearly points to that.  The behavioral evidence, interestingly enough, is less clear.  Many dogs display behavior similar to Tad’s without any history of abuse.  Lack of experience with a wide variety of human beings can lead to what we call “socialization deficit.”  Dogs who behave in ways related to fear and aggression often didn’t have enough positive exposure to human beings early in life (5-16 weeks of age).   That lack of experience is enough to create serious problems down the line.  We trainers see it a lot in puppy mill dogs, and even in some dogs who come from  so-called reputable breeders.  This is precisely why well-designed classes for young puppies are so important.  A lot of street dogs, like Tad, have a very mixed bag of early socialization.  Regardless, remedial socialization in canine adolescence and early adulthood can help turn things around.  That’s what I’m hoping for with Tad.

Tad’s not all that unlike a lot of the dogs I see day-in-day out.  Maybe that’s what  makes him special.  Being a dog is quite enough, thank you.  He doesn’t have titles or ribbons, and his coat is still pocked with mange.  He’s just a dog from a country road in rural Texas.  But His story of survival against great odds touched us nonetheless, thousands of us.  Tad is one dog who stands for so many other dogs, too many who are left to suffer and die young.  Perhaps that’s what gave so many of us pause, and made us reflect on the better measures of being human.  People failed Tad, but it was also people who lifted him up, thousands of people.  There’s a story of redemption being told here – not just his, but our own.

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13 Responses to Meeting Tad

  1. Darcy Miller says:

    Michael,
    First I want to thank you for taking Tad and Tiffany on as clients.I have been following Tad and Tiffany’s story from the beginning.It broke my heart to see what Tad looked like when Tiffany turned her vehicle around to go back and get him and she brought him back to the clinic.her and the vet nursed him back to health.Ibelieve with the training of Tad it will make him a better dog then he already is.I just love the fact that you are letting people wholove TAD and Tiffany follow Tad’s progress with your training.GOOD LUCK YAD ,TIFF AND MICHAEL

  2. Pingback: Keeping Tabs on Tad |

  3. Beverly says:

    I, too, am a Tad fan and follower on FB and have grown to love both Tad and Tiff through her storytelling and words. I am so excited that you agreed to help with Tad’s behavioral issues and your first meeting with him went so well. As fans of Tad, I think all we want is for Tad to succeed and to have a full and happy life with Tiffany and her family. I look forward to following Tad’s success stories through your blog and maybe learning a little myself along the way!

  4. gail says:

    Thank you for keeping us posted . We all care a great deal for Tad and Tiff.

  5. Peggy Whited says:

    I too, have never met Tiffany or Tad, but care a great deal about both of them. I am thrilled that the two of you have found each other. I hope for the continued healing of Tad which I know will help Tiffany – win, win for everyone! God bless all of you!

  6. Janet Ellinger says:

    I’m another who has followed Tad since the beginning. I’ve grown to love him and Tiffany, though we’ve never met. I couldn’t wait to come home, from Disney World of all places, to see how your meeting went! I’m so thankful that you have “come through” for Tiff and Tad. I have so much faith in all of you. Anxious to follow the progress!

  7. There are thousands of Tads out there. Thanks for engaging with Tiffany and Tad to facilitate behavior change for them. This story should serve as a beacon in the night for all those folks who have ‘Tads’ in their lives and don’t know where to turn or what to do… those of us who subscribe to science-based behavior change can help… we value relationships and treatment protocols that bolster relationships. Kudos Michael, Tiffanny and Tad… I look forward to continued successes

  8. Mayra Ortiz says:

    I have told Tiffany that as a Tad FB follower I feel in debt with her and I feel that we must take part in helping Tiffany give Tad all the help he needs. It is easy reading and seeing him do things from a PC monitor, but to care for such a baby is not easy at all. And that is why I feel for Tiffany’s concern over Tad’s behavior. So I am very happy that you are guiding Tad on his way from being an awesome dog to become an amazing dog. And we will go along the way with you. Thank you for seeing our baby Tad!!

  9. robyn arouty says:

    Bravo!! So happy for Tad!!

  10. Anne Golembeski says:

    I’m one of Tad’s FB fans. I absolutely approve of the science based approach. It may not be quick but chances are it will helpful. Tad is really struggling to live in this new world of his. All those things he should have learned as a pup are foreign to him. He’s doing what he thinks is needed to protect himself.

    He probably would have behaved this way when Tiffany found him if he wasn’t so horribly sick. So his body is healing, time to heal his soul. Thanks for keeping us updated on his progress!

  11. Lots of redemption going on in this story! Best of luck and a case of cheese whizz!

  12. Rhonda says:

    I have been following Tad since about the beginning when Tiffany found him. I am so glad she took him in and he was able to get the care he needed. He has turned into such a handsome boy. I sincerely hope that you can help him. He deserves to have a wonderful life…..as all animals do.

  13. lori nanan says:

    Well said :) There are lots of that love Tad and want to see lots of good things for his future..he deserves it, and so does Tiffany!