Long Term Behavior Care

 

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

Congratulations! You’ve completed a multi-visit training regimen with your dog trainer or dog behavior consultant. You’ve made excellent progress with your dog. The behavior you wanted to modify is under much better control. Maybe it’s even “fixed.” Kick back and relax. You’re done now. Right?

Um, no.

But, don’t worry. The hardest part is over. Behavior change is difficult. Maintaining your dog’s improved behavior is a bit easier. It still takes attention and work, though. Here’s how it looks. All this should be very familiar to you.

Manage your dog’s behavior. Always set your dog up to succeed. Be aware of his surroundings. Watch to make sure we aren’t loading up too many stressors for him to handle all at once. Give him quiet time in his crate or in a safe place behind a baby gate. Use his muzzle and leash as needed. Maintain distance from triggering events when necessary. Protect your dog from making a mistake.

Stick to the plan. Over the past weeks or months you’ve learned an excellent plan for helping your dog. You’ve taught him new ways to behave. You’ve taught him that he is safe in various situations that used to upset him. Stick to your plan. Your dog is relying on the predictable patterns you’ve set up. Varying from the routines you’ve taught him can be confusing. At worst, they can trip him up altogether and cause a regression. Stay consistent.

Reinforce good behavior.  This is always a good idea. Keep noticing all the times your dog does something right. Support his good choices. Praise him. Give him treats. Play with him. Do this for the rest of your lives together. Really, keep doing this forever.

Help your dog navigate change. Behavior is always changing. Our world is always changing, too. Over the course of your dog’s life there may be a lot of changes. You may move to a new home. You may meet a new soulmate. Your work schedule may change. You may meet new friends and have them over to the house. With each change, help your dog by reviewing and adjusting his training routines. Teach him the skills to navigate these new experiences. In many cases you’ll be reinforcing old skills. This is a good way to remind your dog that he’s safe and that you’re there to help.

Flag trouble early. If you see a recurrence of your dog’s old unwanted behavior patterns, call in help. Don’t wait for it to occur several times. Call your trainer or behavior consultant right away. It doesn’t mean your efforts failed. It doesn’t mean your dog is doomed. He’s simply communicating the best way he can, with is actions. Most of the time, with some help, you can get things back on track.

Here’s a quick review:

  • Manage behavior (you’ve been doing that all along)
  • Stick to your training plan.
  • Practice – Reinforce good behavior.
  • Help your dog navigate changes in his environment.
  • Flag trouble early. Call in help as soon as you notice any unwanted behavior.

You’ve come a long way already. You’ve learned so much and so has your dog. I suspect you two are closer to each other than ever now. That’s how it’s supposed to work. Better communication. More trust. Happier times. And a lifelong commitment to keep learning together.

 

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston, TX. He specializes in dogs who are fearful and behave aggressively.

 

 

Dog Training Begins with our Eyes

 

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

What is your dog doing?

It’s funny. When I ask this people almost always answer the wrong question. He’s acting shy. He wants food. These are answers that come from our brain. These are answers about what we think our dog might be feeling or thinking. But the question is what is your dog doing? The answer to that question does not come from our brain. It comes from our eyes. Look. Pay attention. What is he doing?

We dog trainers (you as a trainer) are in the business of behavior. Behavior is what our dog is doing. Behavior is physical movement in time and space. Behavior is verbs. Watch. What is your dog doing?

Is he walking? Is he running? Is his chest moving? Is his tail wagging? Are his ears twitching? Is he licking his lips? Is he barking? What is happening now in this moment and in this place? These are questions for our eyes. What do we see?

I like to do this. Sit and relax in a chair or on the ground. Watch your dog. Observe without judgement. It’s more fun if he doesn’t know you are watching him. Track his movement. Take note. What is he doing? Don’t worry about good or bad. Let go of what your dog might be thinking or feeling. Notice the actions, your dog’s behavior. Try not to interrupt. Be the dispassionate observer. Jane Goodall. David Attenborough. Ethologist on safari.

It’s fascinating.

After a while go back to life-as-normal. Think of what you saw. What did your dog do? Are there some things you would like to see him do again?  Set aside right and wrong. Think of the things you’d like your dog to do more frequently. What would you ask to see again?

I suggest a short list. Maybe it’s just one action. Observe and reinforce. You can use food. Observe and reinforce. Turn it into a habit. Your dog looks at you. Reinforce. That’s one example. He sits when you walk in the door. Reinforce. That’s another example. Dogs do these things all the time. You’ve seen him do it.

Because you were watching and paying attention. That’s where training begins.

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston, Texas.

The Puppy Boom – What’s at Stake?

 

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

We are working from home. We have some extra time. We have some extra free attention. Regardless, we are here. And, we’ve been talking about getting a puppy anyway. Why not now?

If this sounds like what you’ve been thinking, you are definitely not alone. Dog trainers and veterinary professionals around the country have been reporting an increase in puppies. Could it be a typical seasonal trend? Veterinary practice managers say no. They think folks are using this time of social isolation to get a puppy. If it is, in fact, happening on a large enough scale we could reasonably call it a Puppy Boom. And, I totally get it. What could be more comforting in a time of uncertainty and angst that an adorable puppy?

But (and you knew there was a “but” coming), having a new puppy isn’t just about cuteness and cuddles. We are responsible for this dog’s long-term behavioral health. It’s up to us to prevent serious behavior problems down the line. And, that work needs to happen right now. The term you’ve probably heard bantered about is “Puppy Socialization.” Now, puppy socialization isn’t just about putting your puppy in a play group, though meeting other dogs is part of the process. Socialization is about thoughtfully teaching your puppy resilience and behavioral flexibility. In other words, it’s showing our puppy that they are safe in a variety of settings while we teach them how to make good behavior choices. It’s work. And, it’s work that has to be done in the first few weeks our puppy is with us. The clock, as they say, is ticking.

Proper early puppy socialization can prevent any number of serious behavior issues, inducing (but not limited to):

  • Aggression toward people
  • Aggression toward other dogs
  • Debilitating fear
  • Separation and isolation distress

In normal times we would get our puppies into a puppy class. They would learn to interact with other healthy vaccinated dogs. We would visit family and friends with our new puppy (every new person giving him a few small treats). We would have a puppy party in our home. Family and friends would visit so the puppy could learn the normal comings and goings of our household. We would accompany our puppy to the vet clinic or groomer for more feel-good meetings with praise and treats. We would explore lots of new places together, take car rides, visit playgrounds and ball fields for light-hearted investigation (and yes, smiles, praise, and treats). We would go to work and leave our puppy alone. A dog walker or pet sitter would come over midday. We would teach our puppy what normal is, no matter how crazy our normal life may be. In other words, we would totally rock puppy socialization. And, we would end up with a behaviorally healthy adult dog as a result. That’s what it looks like in normal times.

These are not normal times.

What’s at stake is significant. It is likely that we trainers will see an increase in aggression cases in the next 12-18 months. We will also see an increase in  fear related behavior problems, and isolation and separation distress. Think of it as an echo boom effect from all of the puppies happily quarantined with us now. Am I generally an alarmist? Those of you who know me know I am not. Am I sounding the alarm on this, though? Yes, absolutely.

What can we do to make sure your puppy is not part of my dire prediction? How can these “boomer” puppies get the proper behavior intervention they need now in their early puppy socialization period, even while we are in a time of social distancing? Here are a few ideas:

  • Socialize as best you can. We put together a free webinar on Puppy Socialization in a Time of Social Distancing. We explored ways to:
    • Introduce your new puppy to various types of people creatively and safely.
    • Introduce your puppy to hand-picked well-mannered healthy dogs.
    • Introduce your puppy to a wide variety of experiences (activities that we typically see as problematic in our aggression cases).
  • Seek out and schedule an online consultation with a qualified dog trainer or behavior consultant. Yes, we offer this service. But, so do many excellent dog trainers around the world. In fact, you might be reading this blog now because a trainer shared it on social media. Contact him or her for help.
  • If you have not gotten a puppy yet, please wait. I’ll put my professional reputation on this. It will be best to wait until the pandemic is behind us.

There’s the warning. That’s what’s at stake. Now, let’s all take a breath (myself included). If you already have your puppy, cool. Seriously, cool. Puppies are fun and we love them. You can still pull this off and end up with a balanced healthy life-long companion. You will have to work a little bit harder at it, though. That’s the truth. But, you can do it. And, there are plenty of people who can help. We may be separate in some ways but you are not alone in this. Your vet knows what’s going on. Your local trainers see the trend, too. I see it. Together we can help you rock puppy socialization even in this very unusual time.

And one more thing. Congratulations. You’re a puppy parent. Take lots of pictures and post them everywhere. Puppies grow up so fast.

Michael Baugh is a dog and puppy trainer in Houston, TX. He is currently hunkered down with his family including his two dogs, Stella and Stewie.