Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA
I train dogs for real life. We aren’t running an agility trial. We aren’t competing in the show ring. Everything I teach, everything we practice, applies to our daily life with dogs.
We don’t need our dog to behave well just in training sessions. We want our dog to be comfortable, calm, and well mannered in our daily lives. When Aunt Milly comes over, we want our dog to accept a brief pet and then go lie down, for example. Or when the nieces and nephews come charging in the door, we might want our dog to go into his room for a while and rest quietly. We want to see our work pay off. This is true for all of us, most especially for those of us who have dogs who have behaved aggressively.
Make training look like real life. Make real life look like training. The bridge between our dog training sessions and everyday life without dogs can be hard to navigate. Dogs with emotionally driven behavior issues (think: aggression or other fearful behaviors) rely on patterns. We can train specific protocols for meeting new people. Dogs learn those quickly and depend on them when we have guests. In fact, dogs can learn all kinds of patterns. We can teach them to go to a room when they yard men come. They can learn how to disengage from other dogs on walks. Even our formerly aggressive behaving dog can learn rituals for interacting with new people. We teach these in contrived training set-ups. Our dog builds confidence and trust. When we are at our best, the training looks and feels exactly like it will in our regular lives. We aren’t just teaching tricks. We’re teaching life hacks.
Practice what you teach. Once we’ve taught our behavior patterns, we need to stick to those patterns day in and day out. Now we cross that bridge between training sessions and real life. For example, our dog used to bark and run away from friends who came into our apartment. We trained for weeks, teaching the dog how to wait quietly for the guest to be seated before we let her out of her room. Then we taught her how to sniff the guest politely, accept a pet, and go lie down. Great. Our dog knows the routine. She also depends on it. Every time a new person comes over, we run the same pattern, just like we trained it. It’s up to us to stick to the plan with every guest, every time. If we go off-plan and tell a friend they can go into our apartment on their own because they left their phone, we are setting our dog up to fail. We didn’t practice what we taught. It’s likely the dog will panic, bark, retreat, or worse.
Here are some other examples:
- We taught our dogs to go to a room when the yard men come, but then left them outside. We broke protocol.
- We taught our dog to disengage from dogs on walks, but then let a friend’s dog charge into our home. We didn’t train for that.
- We taught our dog a specific pattern for getting petted by a stranger, but let a stranger tease and hug our dog. That’s off-plan.
Many dogs have great behavioral flexility. They learn lots of patterns and protocols for life with humans. Some they learn on their own. Others we teach them. Because I work with dogs who are fearful and behave aggressively, I see a lot of dogs who are not very flexible. These are the ones who need the most attention and our greatest care. They can learn. They can adapt. But they need our help.
Train well. Stick to the training in daily life, for your dog’s life, for a happy life together.
Michael Baugh teaches aggressive dog training in Houston TX.