Inside Michael’s Dogs – How We Survived 2020

Michael Baugh, Houston dog trainer
My last in-home client in March 2020

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

I saw my last in-person client on March 18th 2020. A week later my partner, Tim, and I had a hard talk about how long we could keep Michael’s Dogs afloat. Could we keep it afloat, period? Were we built to survive a pandemic? After all, in-home dog training and behavior consulting is close-contact work. It’s house-to-house work, in the living room work, passing treats and handing off the leash work. In other words, it’s potentially dangerous work.

My Dad was an entrepreneur. He was a child of the depression who reinvented himself more times than I can count – from hard times to good times to the best of times. He passed away in 2014. And, in those early days of April 2020 I missed him desperately. I pulled from memories and stories he shared through the years looking for inspiration – for advice – for answers. What would Dad do?

Victoria Thibodeaux had joined me in the group in January. It was just the two of us then. We talked every day that Spring. I told her that my dad had taught me that when the business is slow you work on the business. So, Victoria and I worked on the business and we worked hard – trying out ideas, taking on projects, pushing the company hard into the waves that

Jack Baugh 1924-2014

threatened to sink us. We launched online classes, including Puppy Socialization in a Time of Social Distancing and a prep course for clients working with aggressive dogs. And we started using Zoom for Live Video Consultations.

All the while, there was a voice in my heart (perhaps it was Dad) leading us back again and again to our core values. Our mission is to help people who are suffering with their dogs. The world was changing, yes. But, the mission wasn’t.

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I’d done online dog behavior consolations before. Victoria and I literally transitioned to doing them exclusively overnight. The first one was March 19th 2020. As of this writing we’ve done over a thousand Zoom consultations and resolved scores of complicated cases start-to-finish. We’ve had clients in Houston, of course. But, our service area quickly became all of Southeast Texas and beyond. We’ve helped families with their dogs in Austin, San Antonio, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Seattle, Rural Missouri, Suburban Washington D.C., and more.

Of course, we weren’t the only ones. This was an industry-wide shift. The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) launched a campaign to provide behavior consultants with useful resources for making the transition to online work. The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) and The Pet Professional Guild (PPG) followed with similar efforts.

I won’t say that the pandemic has been a  good thing for any of us. As the months added up, so too did the friends, clients, and colleagues who fell ill. My niece, an intensive care nurse, got a bad case of Covid and spent a night in the hospital herself (she’s recovered). Another dear friend in the dog community has permanent complications. We’ve all suffered in some way, even if only from the isolation and the drudgery of it. But I will say this: our mission to help people and their dogs has seen us through even the hardest days.

Victoria Thibodeaux and Freddie. I haven’t seen them since March.

Some folks were hesitant about doing the training online at first. But, we’ve learned that the benefits of online dog training are actually greater than we’d imagined. We’ve been able to help more people and dogs than I ever thought possible (twice as many clients in 2020 than we helped the year before). To meet that need we added two additional certified dog behavior professionals, Erin Richardson CPDT-KA and Jeannie Seuffert CDBC, as well as an assistant, Everett Lowenstein. Hard as this year has been, it has also been the most thrilling and fulfilling year of my professional life.

Do we miss seeing our clients in person? Yes, of course. We especially miss that close contact with dogs (even the ones who appear they want to hurt us at first – haha). And, yes, we will return to that work as soon as we can. Our plan is to start seeing clients in their homes again as soon as each of us is vaccinated. But we won’t just go back to “business as usual.” This pandemic has taught us too much for that. We will continue to offer live video consulting online even after the pandemic. As I sometimes like to say, it’s not an either-or proposition. It’s a yes-and one. The benefit for clients of online dog behavior consulting is just too great to abandon it. We’ll be able to help people far beyond our boundaries, as we are now. And we’ll be able to help our local clients and their dogs more efficiently with a combination of online and in-person options.

We have learned so much these past few months. Personally, I have learned how important human connections really are both personally and professionally. I think we can all relate to that. There was a real fear that physical distancing and isolation would break those connections. But, here’s the most beautiful thing I’ve learned. Humans always find a way. We’ve been able to connect in new ways. We’ve forged new relationships. We have held close the connections that mattered most to us. And, we’ve grown even closer to the people we love.

Because that’s what we do. Turn into the storm, head high above the water, towards the rising sun and the new year ahead.

 

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

Be Your Dog’s Christmas Miracle

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

A lot of us want things from our dogs. We mostly want them to behave differently – less of that behavior – more of the other. If we are smart we don’t expect we can wish better behavior into being. We know we can’t simply complain the unwanted behavior away. It doesn’t work like that.

Real Dog Training is a process. It’s work. It’s hinged on our own human behavior. In order for our dogs to change, we need to change. We need to change.

  • Force your dog less
  • Set them up for success more
  • Protect them from the things that trigger them (over and over and over again)
  • Teach them how to better handle triggering events gradually (little by little by little)

Learning and teaching is a process. It’s sometimes fast. It’s always steady. Thoughtful. Gentle. And, therein lies the magic.

Command and demand less. Pause and observe more. Simply be. Be your dog’s guild. Be his safe place. Today and always, be the Christmas Miracle your dog has always wanted.

 

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

Home for the Holidays – A Success Story

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

This is a success story. It’s the happy ending kind of holiday story about well-earned success through smart and dedicated training.

Perla (I have permission to use real names) barked at strangers, primarily strangers she saw on walks. This is a dog behavior problem I know a lot of you can relate to. But there was an added twist. Perla and Jennifer, her human, were flying home for the holidays in just 4 weeks – Perla’s first time flying under the seat and her first time meeting a ton of family.

Let’s cut to the ending. Perla did fine.

Here’s how we pulled it off.

Training is a process. We follow three overarching steps.

  • Set the dog up to succeed. In Perla’s case this meant creating learning experiences in the beginning that were lower-stress so that she could wrack up a bunch of wins, build her confidence, and take on new challenges at her own pace.
  • Teach functional skills. In order to navigate a flight Perla needed to learn to see people and remain calm, relax in public (on her mat), and successfully ride in a soft-sided carry-on crate.
  • Teach the learner that she is safe throughout the process. Emotions matter. Perla learned that she was safe performing her simple skills because Jennifer always set her up to succeed. She lowered the intensity of exposure to people when Perla needed it, taking breaks and increasing distance.

I know a lot of you are familiar with these principles, too. It’s the science of behavior change in a nutshell.

Jennifer taught Perla:

  • To look at people calmly without barking. She practiced at home and on a nearby walking path.
  • To lie on her mat and really relax. She taught this at home as well.
  • To go in her soft-sided carry-on crate and remain relaxed.  Jennifer carried Perla in the bag and fed treats.

After a couple of weeks of daily work, Jennifer and Perla went to the airport for some real-life practice. Below are some quotes from their training journal.

I gotta tell you,” she wrote. “it went MUCH better than I could’ve imagined. I have happy tears.” Perla grumbled a couple of times from the carrier as they were walking into the airport. Once inside, Jennifer sat down and helped Perla get more comfortable (taking a break and increasing distance from people). A few people walked past us,” Jennifer wrote, “no bark, so I kept the treats coming. Then I picked up her carrier, this time heading to the check in area (there were more people, but still- not very crowded at all). I walked past a few people checking in, no bark, marked yes, treats, good girl. I stood in what would be a check in line- walked up to the counter and asked the lady if that’s where I would check in with a dog- almost on cue, Perla barked the lady, I “sshhh” Perla and hid her a little behind the counter so that Perla couldn’t see the lady directly but could hear her talking with me- Perla didn’t bark so I put treats in her carrier. I kept the treats coming while speaking with the lady at the counter as she explained the check in process with a dog and I explained to her what I was doing with the training. I slowly kept moving Perla’s carrier to be more in sight of the lady as we kept talking, keeping my eyes on the lady but placing treats into the carrier since Perla wasn’t barking. I was able to finish the whole conversation with the lady and there wasn’t additional barking. I kept the treats coming.”

Jennifer did a great job reading Perla’s emotional response to a challenging training session. It may not have been perfect, but they were on their way. A week later they went back to the airport.

Jennifer wrote again in her journal. “It went like this. I drove with Perla, arrived at the parking lot, put her in her carrier and walked from the parking lot to the airport. I had my rolling carryon bag with me as well as her carrier. I went directly were the check in area is, Perla was a little restless in the carrier so I went to some chairs across from the check in area, set her on the seat next to me, talked to Perla for a little bit and gave her treats for being there and not barking at the people walking across from us.

Once she was a little more settled, I stood in line as I would for checking in, as I waited (I had about 3 people in front on me) I continued to give treats to Perla inside her carrier. She did not bark at all. When I went to the counter, I talked to the person behind the counter, asked them a few questions, told them about the training, all the while putting treats into Perla’s carrier. She did not bark at all when I went up to the counter nor when I started speaking to the person.

From there I walked to the security check area. There were some chairs next to the security area so I did a little bit of mat training next to the security area so that Perla could see people and hear the sounds of the area. She did not bark, she stayed on her mat for the most part, though she did get up a couple of times to look around a little, but would settle back when I asked. I have her treats through the whole process.

After a few minutes, I walked back to the outside area and took her out of her carrier and walked her around a little. She went potty and we stayed for a few minutes. Before going back in, I put Perla back in her carrier. We went back into the airport, took the elevator (no one was around) and I walked back to the car. Someone crossed our path as we were making our way back, but again, Perla stayed settled, no barking. All in all, it was a little less than 30 minutes between the parking, training and leaving.”

When the day on their flight arrived Perla and Jennifer were ready. They’d worked hard and learned so much. Traveling can be hard on the best of days. But, Jennifer and Perla had figured out how to navigate it together.  It was their big holiday adventure. But, more importantly, it was a journey of the heart. I think we can all relate to that, too.. Because no matter where we are and no matter where we end up – if we are with our beloved dog – that is home.

 

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston, TX.