Look and Listen


HOUSTON – A lot of people think their dog has selective hearing when it comes to basic obedience cues, especially coming when called.  No matter how many times they call their dog, it seems he’s just not listening.  Some folks even worry their dog may be ignoring them out of spite.  Fortunately, that last one probably isn’t true.  He just hasn’t been trained yet to tune into you when you call.

It turns out the key to really effective dog training isn’t so much about listening.  It’s about teaching your dog to look at you.  Dogs who are keeping their eyes on you are also keeping their ears attuned to what you are saying.  In fact, most precision obedience training is really about the dog’s visual attention, not his listening.  Dogs actually learn visual cues (hand signals) more easily than they learn verbal cues (words).

Start at the beginning.  The first thing I recommend people teach their dog is eye contact.  It’s important that dogs learn to focus their attention on our faces.  It sets them up to catch our verbal instructions on the first go around.  It also allows them to better read our facial expressions for feedback on how they’re doing (dogs are experts at reading human facial expression, even subtle change in our expressions).

Here’s how to do it.  Keep some of your dogs kibble in your pocket.  Every time you catch him glancing up at your face say “yes.”  Then, immediately follow up by giving him a piece of his food.   This is called capturing a behavior.  In a short time, your dog will be watching you all the time regardless of whether or not you have food on you.  Once you he’s doing that you can start calling his name (only say it once please).  When he responds to his name with a look up to your face, immediately say “yes” and treat him.  Repeat this often so that his name becomes like a magic word that draws your dog’s attention to you immediately every time.

Before long your dog will be glued to you, watching attentively for further instructions.  Your friends will all say, “Wow he really listens.”  Of course you’ll smile and agree, because you know he’s looking at you.


(from myfoxhouston.com)

The Truth About Canine Aggression



“Your dog isn’t dominant; he’s frightened.”  I say that to clients who have dogs with aggressive behavior more often than you might think.  People are surprised, and many are relieved.  The dog isn’t being mean to take control.  He’s just trying to make something frightening go away or stop.

Understanding that leads to a fundamental shift in how we approach dogs who are behaving offensively.  If a dog is afraid, it doesn’t help to assert our own authority (often with some aggressive behavior of our own).   It helps much more when we teach the dog how to behave calmly under pressure.  Better yet, let’s teach our dog that the thing he’s afraid of isn’t so scary after all.  Now, there’s the challenge.

I see a lot of dogs who are afraid of people they don’t know, men in particular.  Sometimes this fear is a result of trauma or abuse.  More often, there was a lack of socialization with people in the dog’s early development.   Whatever the cause, dogs will try to create distance between themselves and the thing they perceive as frightening.  Some dogs increase that distance by running away or hiding.  Others, the ones we call “aggressive,” try to increase distance by making the scary thing go away.  They bark, growl, snarl and lunge.  Some bite.  Regardless, the goal is the same:  Make the scary thing stop. (A person reaching for a dog will pull back when a dog growls).  Or, make the scary thing leave (dog growls – person retreats – dog is relieved).

In most cases, like the example above, dogs who are behaving aggressively are trying to avoid something.  Specifically they are avoiding close contact or interaction with something that scares them.  Cases in which the dogs are aggressive to attain something are rarer.  Most of those situations involve predatory behavior, in which a dog is chasing an animal or a person who is running away. Dogs who guard their food bowls and toys are somewhere in the middle.  They are trying to keep a resource.   Though some would say they are afraid of losing that resource, which brings us back to fear.

In the end, teaching your dog that the world is a safe place is your responsibility.  So is training your dog to behave attentively and calmly in the presence of frightening things.  Calm resolve and a focus on upbeat reward-based training is the key to success.  Of course, there is help available.  And, finding the right kind of help is absolutely essential.

Dog Behaviorists and Dog Behavior Consultants are qualified to assist people with dogs who exhibit aggression.  The person you choose should be very familiar with applied behavior analysis and desensitization / counter conditioning techniques.  Avoid trainers who use force to suppress behavior, or who insist you assert yourself as your dog’s “alpha.”  That could just lead to more fear and unwanted behavior.  Remember, he’s not trying to take over.  He just wants to feel safe, and to know that you’re there to help show him the way.

Houston Dog Trainer Michael Baugh CPDT-KSA, CDBC specializes in cases of canine fear and aggression.

Taking the Pull out of Walks

Robyn Arouty Photography

It’s one of the most natural things in the world for us human beings, walking side by side.  Unfortunately it’s not at all natural for our dogs.  Rarely do they walk that way on their own.  When they do, it’s usually only momentarily.  That’s what makes teaching loose leash walking so troublesome for so many folks.

Add to that, when our dogs pull we often follow.  Dogs learn very early on that putting tension on the leash is just what they need to do to get where they are going.  We don’t set any limits and as a result we actually reward our dogs for pulling.

What we really want to do is reward our dogs for walking next to us.  I like to start off-leash (yes off-leash) in a safe enclosed area, like a fenced in back yard.  Start by walking around the yard casually at your own pace; don’t say anything to the dog.  As soon as your dog sidles up beside you simply say “yes” in a cheerful voice and offer him a special bit of food (cheese or boiled chicken is always nice).  Then, continue walking on silently.  When he comes up alongside you again, say “yes” again and deliver another treat.  Before long, you’ll notice that your dog is walking with you with that expectant doggie grin of his.  Keep saying “yes” and treating him until you can’t get rid of him.

All that’s left now is putting the leash on, right?  Well, that’s almost right.  Your dog will notice that things are different out in the wide world, and if he has a history of pulling he’s likely to fall right back into old habits.  Here’s what you need to remember.  If your dog pulls, stop.  No one makes any forward progress when the leash is taught.  Gently call your dog “this way” and begin walking the opposite direction with him.  Because you’ve changed direction you’ll find that for a moment he’s right beside you where you want him.  Say that magic word, “yes” and give him his special treat.  Now you’re playing the same training game you were playing in the fenced in yard.  The only difference is, you’re out front and the leash is on.

Let’s break this down, because your training really does need to be specific to work quickly.  Dog pulls: stop.  Change directions.  Dog beside you: “yes” and treat.  You may “yes” and treat multiple times so long as the dog is walking nicely beside you.  For the time being, all of your walks should be this kind of training walk.

Now for the ultimate reward.  What your dog really wants to do is sniff and explore.  So after a nice spell of walking by your side, smile at your dog and say “yes, go sniff.”  Then gleefully let him guide you around a bit for some doggie nose work.  It’s okay to let him pull for a short while in this context.  We call it a life reward.  The dog actually gets what he wants by giving you the behavior you want (walking nicely).  It’s  powerful reinforcement, with a proven track record.  It also happens to be the most natural thing in the world for your dog.

Houston Dog Trainer Michael Baugh, CPDT-KSA, CDBC specializes in behavior related to fearful and aggressive dogs.