Aggressive Dog Training – Eliminating Triggers


Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

I teach several techniques related to aggressive dog training. They all help. However, none is as essential as preventing your dog from being triggered. Trainers call this managing your dog’s environment or, simply, management. Some add “just” before the word “manage.” We can just manage the problem. I think this dimunitzation is a mistake. Controlling and preventing environmental triggers is key to your dog’s success.

Here’s an example. Our dog consistently barks and lunges at guests we invite into our home. If the dog is in another room or in the backyard, our dog does not see the guest. Barking and lunging does not occur. It’s tempting to discount this technique by saying we are avoiding the problem. I get that. The technical term is actually antecedent control. We are preventing the problem one occurrence at a time.

Let’s say we have a broken pipe in our home. Our home is flooding. The first and most important step is to turn off the water. We can’t fix a pipe with water gushing out. Eliminating our dog’s triggers is like turning off the water. It’s the first fix. Our other positive training interventions are analogous to repairing the broken pipe. We do these with the trigger absent, muted, far away, or otherwise controlled. Staying with the plumbing analogy, the water is still off.

Remember our dog who barks and lunges at guests? We’ve stopped triggering him with unexpected strangers. Good. Now we can teach him some relaxation and other coping skills. We can even begin letting him see people in our home under controlled, non-triggering circumstances. I call these “controlled exposures.” All the while, we maintain our promise to protect our dog from surprises and his own hair-trigger responses. When we aren’t training, we are managing his environment. This is how we ease our dog into a new skill set of calm, confident behavior.

(Video: Your Dog’s Behavior Thresholds)

I frequently ask clients how long it’s been since their dog’s last aggressive incident. The longer the duration, the better off we are. Our dog needs a low-stress environment to learn new skills and new emotional self-regulation. They also need people and places that are consistently safe and stress-free. We can relate to this. It’s hard to work on our own anxiety or depression when stimuli keep coming at us. Overbooked calendars, traffic, loud noises, toxic people, distressing news reports. Any of those can disrupt our mental wellness. Two or three can derail us. We need people who will give us a soft place to land, a place where we can exhale.

Be that person for your dog.

Avoid this common mistake. Stop testing your dog. Too often, we intentionally expose our dogs to things we know upset them. We might think we are helping him get used to it. Pause and think about that for a minute. Does flying in a helicopter with the door off help us get over our fear of heights? No, of course it doesn’t. It’s worth repeating. Stop testing your dog. Let’s keep our promise to protect and help him. Let’s provide that safe place where scary things never happen. Be your dog’s safe person. Commit and stay committed.

I received an email recently from a client I hadn’t seen in a long while. She’d hired me back when she and her partner moved in together. They were and still are very much in love. Each of them had a dog. And, the dogs didn’t like each other. They fought. You can imagine the strain that puts on a relationship. We love each other. We love our dogs. Something’s got to give, or so the saying goes.

“They’ve progressed well over time with patience and not rushing it,” the email read. My clients had kept the dogs separate and controlled the environment. When everyone was together, it was in thoughtful and controlled exposures. “That has provided a lot of peace and happiness in the house,” she went on. They stayed the course, trusted the process, and never tested. “…thank you very much for your help,” she wrote before telling me about their new puppy.

The email ended with a photo. I stared at it for a long time. Two dogs curled on a bed, their backs pressed one to the other. Maybe they didn’t love one another like their humans did. Maybe they did. We don’t get to know those secrets. But the photo made this clear enough. They were safe. They were home. And “home” meant each other.

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston, Texas.

Do I Need a Dog Behaviorist?



Do you need a dog behaviorist? I’ll get directly to the point with a somewhat vague answer. It depends.

The answer is “No, you do not need a dog behaviorist”  if:

  • You’re interested in teaching your dog manners and tricks. Dog trainers are excellent at this work
  • Your dog is a puppy who has typical developmental (and annoying) behavior. Again, qualified and certified dog trainers are the experts you need.
  • If your dog has some interesting or quirky behavior that is not a problem to you, is not a cause of or sign of suffering, and is not a danger to himself or others. Every dog has is own behaviors that make him or her special. Don’t let anyone dog shame you.

The answer is “Yes, you do need a dog behaviorist” if:

  • There is a particular behavior or pattern of behavior that you want to change. This is especially the case if your dog is suffering (for example with separation anxiety) or if you dog is a danger to himself or others (for example if he has aggressive dog behavior toward other dogs or humans).
  • But, this also depends on what the definition of dog behaviorist is (see below). At Michael’s Dogs we are Certified Dog Behavior Consultants who specialize in behavior-change. In other words, we teach training techniques and lifestyle adjustments aimed at changing patters of unwanted, emotionally painful, or dangerous behavior. Some people use the label dog behaviorist for us. Others use behavioralist, dog behavior expert, trainer, or even aggressive dog trainer. We are, in fact, behavior consultants and dog trainers who focus on this one aspect of dog behavior:  its propensity to change and the specific interventions available to influence that change for the better.

So, what is a dog behaviorist? That also depends on whom you ask. Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorists lay claim to the legal title. They have state licenses to practice veterinary medicine and board certification to specialize in animal behavior. Most also have extensive hands-on experience with dogs as well as training acumen. (Think: book knowledge and street cred). Others may appropriate the title without any significant training experience or clinical background (Think PhD researcher). As a rule, while Certified Dog Behavior Consultants and Certified Professional Dog Trainers are sometimes referred to as dog behaviorists we do not use that misnomer when referring to ourselves.

Michael Baugh is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. He and his team teach dog behavior and dog training in Humble Texas, Kingwood, Houston, and Katy.

Online Dog Training – Your First and Best Choice


It wasn’t that long ago that folks thought of online dog training (live video coaching) as a second choice. We considered it a good-enough option when in-person training wasn’t available. There are some reasons for that. Dog trainers weren’t as good at remote training as we are today. Fair enough. The other reason, though, is that we just didn’t know what we didn’t know. The pandemic, quite frankly, forced us to immerse ourselves in online learning experiences. Little-by-little it became a welcome part of our comfort zones. We got good at it and we learned how good it could be for us.

Dog training and behavior coaching has some key elements in every case:

  • Setting goals
  • Charting a training plan
  • The trainer modeling specific skills and exercises
  • The client practicing those skills hands-on and getting feedback
  • Review and Follow up

The truth is, not only are all of those things able to be accomplished live on a video connection, some of them are actually better accomplished that way. I take notes for my clients and can often send clients a written training plan the very same day if we are working online. I also record demonstrations and practice sessions and can send a link for those to the client within minutes after our consultation.

And, believe it or not, there are real disadvantages to seeing a client and their dog in-person. For dogs with aggression issues, having a stranger in the home can be very stressful. Half of a training session or more can be wasted just getting the dog to calm down. We don’t have that problem with live video coaching. The client can work with their dog in a calm stress-free environment, skill-building and preparing the dog for real-life encounters later in the process. Dog separation anxiety training is done entirely online. The idea is to help the dog learn how to be calm when left alone. You don’t invite someone over and then leave the dog alone, right? It’s essential that the trainer not be there so that he can monitor your dog’s behavior when left on his own.

It’s normal to have some hesitation around online training. I get it. Many of our clients did at first too. Then the reviews started coming in:

Michael is Very professional and helpful. We were worried about the training being performed virtually at first but found that the training was just as helpful as in person training if not better. – Mary C

I was worried how training might translate over Zoom since we began at the height of COVID, but everything went so smoothly and I think the distance helped Finn to be a bit more natural at home during training sessions. – Corrine B

Even through remote training due to covid, Michael’s professional assessment and training skills shone through and worked wonders. He gave us a customized plan to help her build trust and positive engagement with my husband. – Mabry Family

We met with Michael through Zoom meetings and he helped us immensely with positive training techniques that helped our pup become a loving part of our family. – Pat V

We’ve learned there are other real advantages to live video dog training sessions online, as well.

  • Expert help when you need it. There are still too few dog behaviorists and dog behavior consultants who handle difficult behavior cases. With online coaching you can access experts more easily with less wait time for an appointment.
  • Convenience of scheduling. With no worries about service area or travel time, we can make more evening and weekend time slots available.
  • Expert care and instruction no matter where you are. Online dog behavior coaching is not bound by geography or service area boundaries.
  • Safety. Online coaching is stress-free for dogs with aggression issues.
  • Less stressful for the humans, too. There’s no fuss or worry about having a stranger in your home.
  • Online training costs less.

I’m a watcher of trends. It’s one of my passions. One of the things we are noticing from the pandemic is that we will probably continue to do more work with each other remotely from our own homes. Certainly we crave social interaction in-person. At the same time we are realizing we don’t need that (or want it) for all interactions. If we can get expert help that’s better, quicker, and less expensive, that really should be our first option. Experience has shown me so far it’s likely to be our best option, too.

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston, TX. He’s also able to help people around the world with live video coaching online.