Dog Training and Dr. Google

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

I’m tempted to suggest you refrain from seeking dog training advice on the internet altogether. That, however, would make for a very short and unrealistic blog piece. It would also be hypocritical. I search Google for advice and information all the time. It’s the world we live in now.

I do have some advice, though, about how to evaluate the dog training information you find. What do you adopt and put into action? What do you throw out as garbage? All the tips below have one thing in common: consider the source very carefully.

Seek credentialed sources. Generally speaking, individual vet behaviorists and the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists post legitimate information. So do the Veterinary Behavior Technicians. Everything they teach (and post) will be grounded in solid behavior science. The Academy for Dog Trainers and Karen Pryor Academy also post great practical information grounded in science. Articles about peer-reviewed research on behavior and training techniques are definitely  worth of a look. I’ve noticed that this kind of information is most often shared by certified trainers. Look for the CPDT or the CDBC attached to the trainer’s name. None of this alone guarantees every bit of information you find will be gold. But, it does mean you are on the right track.

Confirm with at least two additional sources. Back before the internet, journalist like myself were trained to confirm all information with at least two other trusted and reliable sources. Example: if a politician said something we’d check her claim against official documents or subject matter experts. You can do this with things related to dog training and behavior that you find on the internet. What if I have information about dogs who jump on guests? Maybe you trust me as a certified trainer. Still, look for at least two other credentialed sources to see what they say about it.

Avoid vagueness and mysticism. Sources with nonspecific “certified dog trainer” references should be cast aside. Which certifications are we talking about? Who certified you? Similarly, steer away from information providers who proclaim a propriety method. I use the proven and perfected Billy Bob Method and trained directly under him. Behavior science is a century-long collection of reliable and verifiable data with countless contributors. Mystical guru dog trainer methods are bunk. Give them no credence. Move on from folks who claim their own messiah status. I’ve trained thousands of dogs and dozens of dragons and have never lost a case. Um, okay. Show me your data.

The most valuable dog training information on the internet teaches positive reinforcement training. The research suggesting the benefits of positive reinforcement training is vast and becoming more irrefutable by the day. The risks of using fear and pain in dog training are considerable. That said, there might still be some value in reading the dissenting opinions. Hold them to the standards above and see who presents the best evidence and makes the stronger case.

If you are working with a professional dog trainer, a certified dog behavior consultant, or a veterinary behaviorist, bring what you have found on the internet to us. We have hundreds of hours of education and we can help you quickly sift though what is valuable and what is junk. If we are doing our job right we aren’t going to shame you for trying to help your dog. There is  good information out there. We might just have to wade through some muck to find it. I, for one, am happy to put on my boots and be your guide.

 

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston TX. He specializes in fearful and aggressive dog training.

Stella and the Season of Now

Michael Baugh

24, July 2022

 

Dear Stella,

I will confess what you already know. We humans are fickle. When Summer comes we wish for Winter. When Winter arrives we long for Summer again.

A client asks me “how much longer will this last?” Their dog is barely a year, goofy-grinned with a taste for pillows and hands. Amok and adorable, she reminds me of you at her age, Stella, boundless and more sure-footed than her gangly body would suggest. I answer my client who is far into a future he’s created, one that may never come. I think of you and wish I could say to him: Look at this beautiful being in front of you, running, leaping, healthy, the promise incarnate of more years ahead than the months behind. I wonder why he wants to speed up time. I wonder if he will know what he’s missed once this season has passed. The dog bumbles into me and sniffs my ear and then takes it in her mouth. I think of you, Stella, how you used to bobble and dance, awkward jester. I remember how you used to leap with abandon into the water and dive for sinking toys. I remember our hikes up the Arizona red rocks, not all that long ago, just two years. So much has changed, so many seasons.

And then I remember, I am just like my client. Look at this beautiful being in front of  you, I think as I walk to my car. You are still here now, Stella. Why am I stuck, melancholy over what you no longer are? You are deep into the Winter of your life. Why am I longing for Summer when this Season of Now is so beautiful even as it is sometimes brutal. I think these things and head for home because I can’t wait to see you again.

Dear Stella, you are old and you are sick. I will share this letter with our friends and clients. We humans find it easy to share with each other all that is ordered and optimistic (not to mention properly filtered). But the lotus flower grows from mud. It is beautiful and oderly because it is made from mud and water and sunlight. Our life now, Stella, is no less beautiful because this season has grown harsh, because the flower has become frayed and faded. You were born of the earth and water. Your very name means starlight.

Now. All that has come before, Stella, has led us to Now. You and me here, now. I carry you to the door. You walk the short distance to the grass to pee. You fall. I lie beside you because it’s shady and there is a breeze. We have never done this before, lie in the grass together. You are tired. I am tired. We rest. It’s beautiful. As I carry you inside I catch our reflection in the glass door. You are heavy. You are relaxed, confident in my arms. You trust me. All that has come before, all that trust we built together, here it is now. I do not cry. My heart is heavy but it lifts a little because this moment is also beautiful.

The seizures are hard on you. The illness in your brain seems to confuse you at times. The medicine is hard on you, too. We will try one more additional medication to ease this journey a bit. Now is when the self-doubt wells up. You crane your head over to the ball not far from you. You roll it toward me. We roll it back and forth. This was one of our first conversations and I’m grateful to revisit it now. Thank you, Stella.

I can’t sleep now. It is 1:47 a.m. You are panting and crying. I don’t know why. I crawl out of bed and sit with you. It helps. I give you a pill so you can sleep. It does not help. Two hours pass. I take you out to pee. That was it. We sleep the rest of the night. I’m sorry. I know better, now.

You are ready to eat. Always. I prepare your food and set it down. I help you to the bowl. I won’t feed you lying down; it feels too much like surrender. You used to guard your food from me. You were so young, a puppy. I remember how ridiculous you looked baring your tiny little teeth. This is the same bowl. We’ve had it all these years. Now I see you begin to teeter. I right your body and set your feet in place all while you continue to eat. It is so hard seeing you like this. And yet, I love that we can do this because we need to. I love who we became together. Your legs slip out from under you and I lift you to your bowl again. This is how it is now.

Now I am my client again. How much longer will this last, I wonder. People say you will tell me when it’s time. I say that’s bullshit. It’s not your responsibility. It’s mine. So, now I wonder about the new medication. Can we keep going, Stella? Can we lift and stand and walk and float on the pond, Lotus born of mud and water and sunlight. Dear Stella, can we hold on a bit longer? I will stay strong as long as you can. That’s what I’m thinking about now.

You are panting and I am breathing you in. Now I remember the truth of the Lotus. We are all the water and the mud and the sunlight. We are all the pond. I am you and you are me. I am lying on the wood floor with you. It is cool. Now, I feel why you like it here.  You are still breathing now; your heart is still beating; this body is still yours to use. But even now we know the season will change. We talk to our clients a lot about change. It’s not a bad thing. It’s natural. It may not happen now. But, it will happen.

I close my eyes now, Stella, and press my face into your thick fur. You will become fire and lift into the air. You will become earth and catch the wind over the Arizona red rocks. The clouds will take you in. You will become a monsoon. You you will become the cactus blossom and the intoxicating  scent of the creosote bush after the desert rain. I will breathe you in. All the that we have shared together will lead us to that moment. The fire did not die when it became the air. The clouds did not die when they became a monsoon. They merely changed. And you, Stella, will not die when you become everything.

 

Michael Baugh is a dog behavior consultant in Houston TX. He lives with Stella 13 as of this writing and Stewie 15 and his husband, Tim.

Dog Training – No More Pack Leaders

 

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

There’s been a notable shift in dog training over the past few decades. We no longer look at training from the perspective of a dog pack leader. That’s not only an outdated paradigm but one that was debunked a long time ago. Instead, modern dog trainers teach clients to approach training as their dog’s caregiver and teacher. At first glance that may look like a softer approach (it is certainly kinder), but it’s no less disciplined and much more dynamic in its effectiveness.

Be your dog’s teacher. Stepping into the role of caregiver and teacher sets us up for success in so many ways. Most importantly, it lifts the unnecessary burden of having to be dominant with our dogs, an “alpha,” or pack leader. Those are such vague and laden constructs. The pressure and lack of clarity around those terms too often leads us to confrontation with our dogs. Someone has to win and someone has to lose. If we are the alpha then, darn it, we are going to win. For our dogs, losing frequently comes at the end of a choke chain or prong collar. In the worst cases the dog gets shocked, slammed, pinned, or hit. It’s ridiculous. Humans have already won the evolutionary race. We have noting to prove to our dogs except that we care for them and that we are here to teach them: 1) they are safe with us and 2) they can succeed in our mixed up human world.

Think proactively. Good teachers think ahead. We want our dogs to succeed. So we set them up to do just that: succeed. When our dog wins we win. An old school trainer  might actually set his dog up to fail so he can “correct” her. That’s backwards. It’s also illogical. No good leader would do that. And certainly go good teacher would.

Teach your dog what you want her to do. Good teachers aren’t focused on failure. We are focused on successfully teaching new behaviors. What do we want our dog to do? Given the chance your dog can learn more than you might have imagined. How can we replace our dog’s unwanted behavior with something better? A little more imagination and positive reinforcement lead us right to our answers. We don’t have to be stronger or more dominant. We just have to be smarter. And good teachers are nothing if not smart.

Love your dog. Do you remember your all-time favorite teacher? Of course you do. We all remember our most beloved teachers. They are the ones who showed up in our lives when we needed them most with patience, with clarity, with kindness. We grew to love them. Ego-driven teachers on power trips, we try to forget. Right? But, the teachers who gently led us to new discoveries, to our own sense of self in the world, with great skill, and love – those are the ones we remember. Be that teacher for your dog. Check your ego and choose kindness. Share the wins. Reinforce generously. And above all, love deeply.

 

Michael Baugh teaches positive reinforcement dog training. He specializes in dogs with fearful and aggressive behavior.