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.

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.

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.