The Hurricane Dog Training Challenge

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

Hurricane season ends November 30th, and not a moment too soon. This season was particularly brutal, with three major hurricanes hitting U.S. shores in less than a month. The most impactful for us in Houston, of course, was Hurricane Harvey.

IMG_7901The storms this year, and Harvey in particular, got me thinking long term about what we all need to teach our dogs so that we are well prepared for next year’s hurricane season and the ones to follow. These aren’t quick fix tips. This is a training challenge for all of us for the next six-months ahead. What can we do now so that our dogs are best prepared if the worst happens – again?

The Hurricane Dog Training Challenge.

Potty Training. During the many long nights and days of Harvey’s deluge, I got more texts and emails about dogs not wanting to go outside to potty in the rain than any other subject. There were few easy answers at hand. We were in the middle of a crisis, all of us  including my dogs and I.

One former client posted this great photo of sod she’d purchased and put under her carport. It’s a great solution if you’d thought of it ahead of time.

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I leveraged a cue I’ve taught my dogs: “go outside go potty” to get them revved up and out the door. This rather dark video is an example from Sunday Night in the storm.

The Training Challenge: Retrain Potty training with a cue for going going out. Here’s a link to my potty training handout for your review. And here’s a link to my potty training video. Be sure to add the cue, as I did.

Crate Training. Thousands of dogs (yes thousands) ended up at the George R. Brown Convention Center shelter during and immediately after Hurricane Harvey. They, along with the other dogs at shelters around the area, were required to be under control and safely confined. Many other dogs were crated as they were rescued from flooded homes and remained in crates for long periods of time.

A disaster should not be the first time our dog has to spend time in a crate. It would be so much better if all our dogs were familiar with their crates as a safe comfortable place for transport – or to just relax (as much as is possible in a hurricane).

The Training Challenge: Teach or Review Crate Training. I used Susan Garrett’s Crate Games to teach my dogs to love their crate. Here’s my short video intro to some Crate Games concepts. And here’s the link to Susan’s excellent DVD.

Leash Walking. I’m the kind of guy who scanned the TV coverage during Hurricane Harvey looking for the dogs. Some didn’t have leashes but most did. Dogs being carried through the flood water dangling a leash. Dogs on leash swimming through the flood water. Dogs leashed up on boats floating through their neighborhood. Dogs in the baskets of helicopters with their humans – leash on collar – the other end wrapped around a tightly clenched fist.

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Our dog’s leash should be a comfort line, the symbol of the safe emotional connection between the dog and human. When or if a crisis occurs, the leash is a life line as well – an essential training tool – but also a reminder of the dog’s routine of calm self-control outside the home.

The Training Challenge: Teach our dogs to comfortably wear a harness and walk calmly and confidently on leash. This is my favorite YouTube video for leash walking. It’s by my friend and colleague Kelly Duggan.

Building Trust. I couldn’t imagine getting in a basket dangling from a helicopter. It would be a first-time-ever thing and I doubt any of us have prepared for it. I can’t imagine (as many of you have experienced first hand) coming downstairs from the second floor to get in a canoe and paddle out my front door. What is the training for that? I’ve stayed at hotels with my dogs, but never in a shelter with 10,000 other people. There are no practice sessions for this either. The idea is surreal for most of us – but each of these situations was all-too-real for a lot of folks and their dogs during Hurricane Harvey.

I’ve listed three specific things above that we can work on to prepare for next hurricane season: potty training, crate training, and leash walking. Think of these Training Challenges as a framework for the much more important overriding project of building trust between us and our dog.

Teach these core values to your dog as a way to build trust and keep communication open on a daily basis.

  • You (dog) are safe with me. Let’s create situations in which our dog can learn to look to us for direction and support in novel situations (we traditionally call this “training.”) We’ll use nonthreatening and nonviolent methods to achieve this. We’ll also be careful not to lead our dogs intentionally into danger or into situations they perceive as dangerous. We’ll comfort our dogs to help them through situations that are overwhelming, scary, or painful without concern that we are “reinforcing fear.” We aren’t.
  • Humans are reliable and consistent. We are not, but we can learn to be with our dogs. We don’t threaten and harm them in the name of training one minute and then treat and pet them the next. We reliably and regularly use reinforcement based nonviolent training techniques that encourage our dogs to think and, when in doubt, to look confidently to us for instructions. We don’t stray from this path.
  • You (dog) can relax with me. Every day, often many times a day, I sit on the floor and do nothing with my dogs. There are no cues (commands) and no expectations. We just hang out. If one of the dogs initiates play, we play. If they want to lie down, we chill. If they approach for some cuddles, I lean in and touch them.

This list is not exhaustive. I’m sure you can think of many ways you build trust between you and your dog. I really like Susan Friedman’s video about how teaching and learning can help us build trust with animals. Take a look at it and let me know if you like it too.

Muzzle training. Just a brief note about this. Many of our dogs have a history of biting. Dogs under unique and extreme stress (think Hurricane) are more likely to bite. Let’s continue to build and maintain muzzle training – or start teaching it if we haven’t already. Here’s my favorite muzzle training video by Chirag Patel.

Take The Hurricane Prep Dog Training Challenge. In Houston we’ve had three 500-year floods in the past three years. I don’t think we can say whew I hope that never happens again anymore. It probably will. I hope not, of course. But, the odds don’t seem to be in our favor.

So over the next six months, from now until the beginning of next hurricane season in June, will you join me as we get our dogs ready? Start now. Let me know how you’re coming along. Post your progress on social media with the hashtag #michaelsdogs so I can see it. You can also email me. I love getting video and photos.

I’ll do the same. I’m teaching my dogs all these skills as well and will post regularly to Facebook www.facebook.com/michaelsdogs and Instagram. I’ll try to get more active on Twitter too. Follow along online and look for the #michaelsdogs hashtag.

Let’s do this together. Even if the worst doesn’t happen again (fingers crossed) – we still get a stronger more enjoyable relationship with out dogs out of the deal. And really, how cool is that?

 

My Foster Buddy

Michael Baugh CPDT-KSA, CDBC

The funny thing is, life never seems to turn out exactly as planned.  For example, I didn’t really plan on fostering a dog.  Tim and I haven’t had much success with it in the past, and frankly I didn’t think he’d go for the idea.  As it turns out, Buddy was available as a short-term “holiday foster” and Tim said yes.

My guess is that Buddy’s life isn’t going exactly as he’d planned either (if in fact dogs do any planning at all).  The folks from Corridor Rescue Inc. found him in a parking lot, homeless and without a human.  He had heartworms (light positive) and probably hadn’t had a good meal in a while.  He settled in nicely at a local kennel until the holidays rolled around.  The kennel needed his run for the holiday rush, so Buddy came to us.  Now, here he is by my side gnawing a bully stick (video) as I write.

Buddy

I really didn’t expect Buddy to be so amazingly and beautifully – average.  Certainly he has the magic and wonder that all average dogs have.  It’s not an insult.  It’s just that most of the dogs I see day in and day out have problems adjusting to and coping with life with humans.  Some have serious problems.  Buddy, despite his questionable beginnings, doesn’t.  Despite having no place beyond his modest run to call home, despite having nothing – not so much as a collar, Buddy is undamaged – average – just a typical dog – just Buddy.

He renews my faith in life and all its plans gone awry.  He hadn’t been in our home an hour before he was playing.  It was vigorous and joyful.  It wasn’t play for the weary; it was play for the living, for those filled with life.  He dodged and chased and hip-checked Stella like he’d known her forever.  She tired of it long before he did (and let him know it).  Given the chance, he’d have played on.  I’m sure of it.

I’d planned on training Buddy.  It was my plan to send him back better than I’d found him.  It’s clear that there isn’t a hand signal or a verbal cue that registers familiar in his happy little brain.  It’s also clear that he’s learned a whole lot about what it takes to survive in our crazy human world without any help from me.  Here’s what he’s shown me so far.

  • Car rides are for sleeping.  When the car stops, wake up and begin the next adventure.
  • Leashes are more comfortable when not pulling.  Sniff along the way but not for too long.  Avoid garbage bags.
  • Crying in the crate might work (not at our house).  If it fails, sleep in crate instead.
  • My name is Buddy.
  • People are safe.  Go to them when they call my name.
  • Chase the ball; bring it back.
  • Dogs equal play.   If a dog doesn’t want to play, keep trying.

Of course, that last one doesn’t always go as planned. A couple of dogs can be great fun.  Too many dogs at once can be scary.  Buddy didn’t do too well in his first try at dog daycare.  He was tense, and sometimes a bit too intense.  He didn’t make friends easily or quickly; he didn’t made friends at all really.  The stress built; he lashed out; then he got kicked out of the group.

Life is unpredictable, but you can count on one thing.  It usually leads us where we need to go.  Buddy needed a place to lay his head for the holidays.   As for me, I guess I needed a Buddy – a guy who is sometimes a bit rough around the edges with social scenes, a guy who’s learned a lot about life but never tires of learning more.

Buddy is available for adoption immediately.  He is appropriate for a household with other dogs who enjoy athletic play, and he is reportedly cat familiar.   He’s an excellent training candidate.  My dog training services come with him (Houston Metro Only). 

The Truth About Humping

Michael Baugh CPDT-KA CDBC

Lots of dogs hump.  For people who live with those dogs, it can be embarrassing and upsetting.  We humans aren’t comfortable talking about things related to sex, especially when our beloved dogs are being indiscreet in front of guests.  For many of us, dogs are cute innocent “babies.”  I guess now is a good time to remember they’re also animals, and animals routinely practice behavior related to their own survival.  That includes sexual behavior: humping.

From: Houston PetTalk Magazine (October 2011)

What baffles a lot of people is that dogs hump in situations that have nothing to do with reproduction.  I have a client whose 4 month old female puppy humped a stuffed animal.  We caught our dog Stewie humping his bed.  Dogs hump human legs.  Doggie daycare professionals deal with humping dogs all day, males and females, neutered and spayed.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it.  What’s going on here?

I asked trainer educator and author Jean Donaldson (The Culture Clash, Train Your Dog like a Pro).  She zeroed in on Modal Action Patterns.  Those are the behaviors all dogs share related to fighting, fleeing, feeding and reproducing.  She said, “All of the Modal Action Pattern categories are present in play.  That’s what play is.”  Social animals, including dogs, routinely play fight and play chase. They even pretend to stalk and hunt, so we shouldn’t ignore the idea that humping might be play sex.  However, that may not be the whole story of humping.

While humping is common in play groups and day care settings, it also occurs in other contexts.  Some dogs hump people and inanimate objects.  Sugarland Veterinary Behaviorist Dr. Lore Haug says most of the time humping is “merely a nonspecific sign of arousal.”  Trainers and day care counselors agree.  Dogs get wound up or nervous and they hump.  Pamela Johnson is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer in San Diego.  Her dog used to hump her leg during training sessions.  She videotaped the behavior and noted that the humping was caused by excitement over training and frustration when the lesson got difficult.  Still, identifying what sets off the behavior doesn’t fully answer the question: Why humping and why not some other behavior?

We should keep in mind that anything our dog does regularly is reinforced behavior.  The dog is getting something out of it.  For example, dogs who wrestle or chase during play are reinforced by other dogs who enjoy wrestling and chasing.  Similarly, dogs might enjoy the attention they get for humping.  Humping may also relieve a dog’s anxiety in an uncertain social situation.  It may just be pleasurable.  That pleasure, says Dr. Haug, “obviously would come under the sexual category.”  So, we’re back to that uncomfortable subject.  Regardless, all of this information leads us to some good ideas about stopping humping.

Make humping no fun and not a big deal.   This really means we need to control our own behavior and not react when we see our dog humping.  Don’t accidentally reinforce the behavior by freaking out.

Control the Dog’s environment.  In the case of the client’s dog who was humping the stuffed toy and in the case of our own dog humping his bed, we simply removed the objects of their affection.  People who work at doggie day care facilities calmly and gently remove a humping dog from its playmate.  In all cases, the dog can’t practice the unwanted behavior anymore.

Teach the dog a better behavior.  For the client’s dog and Stewie we replaced humping objects with more appropriate enrichment toys (Kong Toys and other treat puzzles).  In daycare, counselors might direct a humping dog to a less disturbing play behavior.  Trainer Pamela Johnson greatly decreased her dog’s humping by interrupting it and taking a short break from training.  She held and petted her dog until he calmed down, then she returned to training less-frustrating tasks.  In all cases, the handler is teaching the dog to do something other than hump.

That’s the bottom line really.  Stay calm.  Interrupt the humping.  Encourage the dog to do something else, anything else.  I might choose some of those other Modal Action Pattern behaviors, like a game of tug, or fetch, or even some nice quiet time with a chew toy.  The humping one – not many of us really want to see our innocent little dogs doing that.  Sure, it’s normal animal behavior.  But don’t forget, we’re only human.

Houston Dog Trainer Michael Baugh CPDT-KA, CDBC is the director of training and behavior at Rover Oaks Pet Resort

Originally published in Houston PetTalk Magazine, October 2011.