Meet Veterinary Behaviorist Dr. Lore Haug

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

Tons of folks have heard of Dr. Lore Haug. Many of you have probably worked with her to help your dog or cat with behavior issues. Dr. Haug is a board certified veterinary behaviorist here in the Houston Area. For those of us at Michael’s Dogs Behavior Group she is a trusted colleague, a mentor, and a friend. Dr. Haug is who we routinely turn to for professional counsel (often with our own pets) as well as personal chats to celebrate or commiserate. We work with lots of her patients. Collaborating with a professional of Dr. Haug’s caliber is a privilege and a joy. I feel particularly lucky to have her in my life.

Dr. Haug has been a veterinarian since 1993. She actually started out in general practice with a strong interest in neurology. But, Dr. Haug also had a keen interest in training and behavior that went all the way back to her childhood. “My love of training persisted through college and veterinary school, so when I graduated, it was a logical progression to evolve my love of training with the physiology and neuroscience behind the learning process.”

Dr. Haug became a board certified veterinary behaviorist in 2002. “Veterinary behavioral medicine is one of the only disciplines in our profession where residents receive education in all aspects of veterinary medicine.” Dr. Haug and I chatted about her beginnings and a range of other topics. Here is our brief conversation, mostly unedited.

MB: People often get the various behavior professionals confused. What exactly is a veterinary behaviorist? What is it that you bring to the table that is different from what we do as Certified Dog (and Cat) Behavior Consultants?

LH:  The term “veterinary behaviorist” simply refers to a veterinarian that practices behavioral medicine. Technically, there is no legal restriction on the use of this term; however, within the veterinary profession, there are strict guidelines for being able to use the term “specialist”.

While board certified veterinary behaviorists do receive extensive education in learning principles and behavior modification, our program is still centered around medicine and how the animal’s physiology and medical status relates with its behavior issue as well as the treatment modalities that may be utilized. So we are uniquely qualified to evaluate both the animal’s brain (and behavior) and its body.

MB: You have such excellent training skills that, honesty, some behaviorists lack. How important are solid training techniques to the work you do?

LG: While you can learn quite a bit by reading books, watching videos, and watching other trainers, there are nuances that can only be gleaned by personal training challenges. Decades ago, many veterinary behaviorist did lack hands-on training skills. I feel this was in part because the origin of our discipline focused highly on medicine and ethology. Our newer generation of boarded veterinary behaviorists has an impressive array of hands-on skill and experience.

Other individuals, such as myself, started in this discipline as trainers. This is how our love of behavior melded with our passion for medicine. I love training. While I certainly find solving the puzzle of a medical problem very reinforcing, taking the journey through a learning process with an animal is equally if not more reinforcing to me. So despite the fact that I work with an amazing group of trainers in the city, and have a talented behavior technician myself, I will never want to completely relinquish those hands-on training challenges entirely to those individuals

MB: A lot of folks got dogs during the Covid 19 pandemic. I am sure many have ended up in your office. What do you wish every new dog owner knew that would keep them from having to see you or us for help later down the line?

LH: Bringing an animal into your family is an obligation and there are certain minimal interventions that must be provided to ensure that animal’s mental and physical well-being. Many of my acquaintances and clients are surprised to discover that I have only one dog and one horse, but I realize that spreading my time and financial resources across more animals will only do them all a disservice as none of them will receive the level of attention and care that they deserve to keep them happy and healthy. Educating the animal is one of these obligations; we can’t expect them to be well behaved if it is our fault that they are “illiterate.”

So as the famous Ken Ramirez states, training is an obligation just like feeding and watering your pet. It is not something that you do only if or when you have time.

MB: The world is changing super fast. There are young trainers coming up the ranks and new technology emerging every day it seems. Look in your crystal ball. When you imagine the future of dog training and behavior care what do you see?

LH: The comment about new technology is interesting. I think technology can fall into categories that are going to make us better trainers, behaviorists, and pet parents – or that are going to remove us from the picture.

Science and technology that provides new knowledge allowing us to improve our relationship with our animals, design training protocols that provide more clarity, and further reduce stress during the learning process will be a boon to our professions.

However, there been a few devices come out over the years that essentially allow owners to care for or train their pets with a device rather than in person. Training is largely about establishing a bond and a relationship with your learner. Removing the owner from the equation, especially for a social species that evolved to live and bond to humans, will not have a good outcome. This type of technology is going to be extremely detrimental to our animals’ behavior and welfare in our relationship with them. What’s the point of having a dog if you don’t want to talk to it, touch it, and take a learning journey together? How sad if we missed seeing the expression on our dogs’ faces when they earn a
reinforcement or solve a training puzzle? My oxytocin level is probably dropping just thinking about how I would feel if I could not come home to my dog or go out to the barn and see the eagerness and “joy” in my dog’s or horse’s face at the chance to have a training session together.

Dr. Lore Haug is a Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. Her practice, Texas Veterinary Behavior Services is based in Sugar Land, TX.

Michael Baugh leads Michael’s Dogs Behavior Group. He teaches dog training in Houston, TX.

Dog Training Certifications – What They Really Mean

 

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

What does it mean when someone says they are a certified dog professional dog trainer? Specifically, what do all those letters after a trainer’s name mean?

First, this won’t be a complete list of all the certifications and letters. There are too many. I’m going to focus on the broader question and then the specific certifications our trainers have.

Let’s start with the bad news. Anyone can call themselves a certified dog trainer. There are no rules or laws. We can even call ourselves a dog behaviorist if we want to (see I kind of just did it). No rules. Sally Q can go to Joe Bob’s school for dog trainers, get a slip of paper (or a PDF emailed to her) and say “Boom, I’m certified.” That’s the ugly truth of dog training. We are 100% unregulated. Your vet tech needs a license. So does your hairdresser and your insurance guy. Dog trainers? Nope. Not us.

Most trainers these days pay more attention to independent certifications than they do to certificates issued by dog training schools. Karen Pryor Academy is a school. It issues the KPA-CTP (Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner). I’ve got one of those. The San Francisco SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers issued it’s own certificate. Others do, too. The certificate is only as valuable as the school that printed it and it’s only a reflection of what that school teaches (think: diploma).

Independent certifications are often more rigorous and objective. They are awarded by testing bodies rather than teaching institutions.

The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) issues the Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) certifications. There is the knowledge assessed (KA) distinction and the knowledge and skills assessed (KSA) distinction. The latter means the certificant’s actual hands-on skills as a trainer have been graded.

The CCPDT does not teach classes in dog training.

Earning their certification requires:

  • 300 hours of experience
  • Recommendation from a veterinarian, behaviorist, or Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (more on what this is next)
  • Passing a 200 question multiple choice test covering – instruction skills, animal husbandry, ethology, learning theory, and training equipment.

The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) issues the Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) and Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (CCBC) certifications. They also issue other certifications not directly related to this blog piece.

The IAABC does offer courses and webinars on training and behavior but those are not required to earn certification.

Earning a CDBC or a CCBC is quite vigorous work. It requires:

  • 500 hours of experience
  • Minimum 400 hours of coursework, seminars, or mentorships
  • Familiarity with significant behavior issues including aggression
  • Three professional letters of recommendation
  • Passing an extensive exam that includes definitions of terms and concepts, analysis of behavior case scenarios, and actual case studies from the applicant. Earning my CDBC was still the hardest and most satisfying thing I’ve ever done in my professional life.

Veterinary Behaviorists are different from trainers and behavior consultants. Many (like our own Dr. Lore Haug) are also excellent trainers. However, veterinary behaviorists have the distinction of being a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) and a Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVB). They are also licensed by the state. Most folks don’t need to take their dog to a veterinary behaviorist, though we do refer clients to Dr. Haug and we also work with many of her patients.

Non-veterinary Behaviorists are often academics with a masters degree or PhD. They may or may not have a specialty in (or even an interest in) hands-on training or the practical application of behavior interventions. And remember, the terms behaviorist, animal behaviorist, and dog behaviorist are still unregulated. Anyone can use them, and a lot of those folks shouldn’t.

Michael’s Dogs Behavior Group is a team of Certified Professional Dog Trainers, Certified Dog Behavior Consultants, and a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant. Though many refer to us as behaviorists, we think of ourselves as practical trainers and educators with a specialty in behavior change. Okay, ditch the fancy talk. We are dog aggression experts. We help people who have pets with significant behavior problems. We are the ones you call when others have failed. We are the end-of-your rope I think I’ve tried everything and I need help trainers. Experience, education and certifications are so important. More important, though, is a kind human being who understands what you’re going through, someone who can help you weed through the confusion and unpredictability, someone who will listen carefully without judging you. That’s us. We aren’t here to criticize. We are here to help. And yeah, we have the letters after our name to back us up. That helps, too.

 

Michael Baugh leads Michael’s Dogs Behavior Group in Houston TX.

 

The Case Against Emotional Support Dogs

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

In early 2002 a man came to my Sunday Morning group dog training class. During introductions he told the class that his doctor had suggested he get a dog, an adorable golden retriever, and that he should take a training class with her. Emotional support dogs weren’t so much a thing back then. And I didn’t know until weeks later exactly why his doctor had prescribed the dog and our class.

Humans’ shared history with dogs is relatively brief. In the big picture humans have been on the planet a very short time (about 200,000 years). Dogs and humans have been together for about 11,000 to 15,000 years give or take. Most of that time the work of dogs has been physical. They flushed prey and retrieved our kills. Dogs moved herds and flocks for us. They guarded flocks too and property and our lives. Dogs were extensions of our bodily will and force, weapons even. In war. In police states. The work of dogs was muscle and motion and might.

Modern human history started around 6,000 years ago when we first formed what we refer to as “civilization.” Villages and Towns. Concepts around the mind and mental wellbeing came later: western and eastern philosophies and religions. Not until the 1800’s did the ideas around modern psychology start to emerge in Europe. Vienna was a hotbed of psychological thought and the home of what became psychotherapy. Dogs in Vienna back then were hunting and killing rats and mice, by the way. Many quite successfully.

Here’s what we know. Our relationships with dogs make us feel good. Please note that I didn’t say dogs make us feel good. They don’t. Not all of them. Not for all of us. Humans produce a hormone associated with social bonding (oxytocin) when in contact with their own dogs. Dogs they know. Dogs they like. This is not new information. And this reaction has little or nothing to do with the dog itself. We produce the hormone in response to our relationship with the dog. It happens with my neighbor who adodores her 10o lb shorthaired block-head dog. It happens with my sister who dotes on her doodle. It happens to me when I look into my dog’s dewey eyes. It happens in men. It happens in women. Oxytocin does not care if your dog pees on your carpet, lunges and threatens strangers, or listens when you call his name. It does not even care if your dog returns your feelings of love and admiration.

Here’s what else we know. Our relationships with our fellow humans make us feel good too. Oxytocin is associated with human bonding most especially. And certainly there are other factors at play. In fact, data throughout the decades indicate that the most important contributor to our overall emotional wellbeing as humans is (wait for it) our successful relationships with other human beings. Compared with any variation of psychoherapy, day-to-day human relationships matter more. (A therapist early in my adult life literally told me to go make some friends. It worked). Yes, human relationships are messy. They are reciprocal. And, sometimes they are not. They are dynamic, blissful, painful, all that. And human relationships are what we humans are built for. And, when done right – they are consensual.

Our dogs have no choice. When I adopted Stella she had no idea what my intentions were. Would she be a game retriever? Would she be a rat hunter? Would she be required to carry the burden of my human emotions, of which she likely has no understanding? Stalk, chase, grab, shake? Yes, dogs are built for that. Navigate the complexities of our human life? I daresay, no. Who among us has even figured that out? And may I also ask, why are we putting this added responsibility on our dogs?

The truth is our dogs need our emotional support. We have taken these formidable physical hunters and guarders and herders and put them on leashes and in cars and up against our sobbing bodies. In many cases we have denied them the sniffing and the sprinting and the seeking they were built for and (literally) boxed them into “calm down” and “hurry up” and “let’s go.” I’m guilty of it too. On top of it all, over the past few decades, we’ve added an extra burden: “and, take care of me please.”

Thirty years ago my profession did not exist. There were no trainers who specialized in emotionally at-risk dogs. And my hope is that in 30 years hence it will not exist again. Let’s shift the focus off ourselves. Let’s take the weight of our own emotional fragility off of our dogs. Let’s challenge ourselves to turn to each other for care and support. And then, let’s turn to our dog and ask “How can I help you?” In relationship with humans dogs produce oxytocin in their own bodies, too. They feel. They bond. They are social animals. Let’s make these simple commitments to our dogs:

  • I will learn to better understand your emotions by leaning how you communicate nonverbally with your body and face.
  • I will keep you safe and protect you from stressors that I can see cause you pain and suffering.
  • I will teach you how to navigate our complex human world with kind and gentle positive reinforcement learning.
  • I will play, exercise, and relax with you. I will share my time with you.
  • I will connect with other human beings to support my emotional wellbeing so that I can better attend to yours on a daily basis, every day for the rest of your life.

A few weeks into that group class back in 2002 I asked folks how they were doing. The man whose doctor had prescribed the dog and our class spoke last. He spoke softly. I will prophase as best I can remember. I have depression. He said.  It’s hard for me to get up some mornings. I don’t always like being around people. But, I have to get up in the morning to take care of (he said his dog’s name). I have to train with her. And, I come here every week. She’s having fun. I think it helps her. And, it’s good for me to get out. I think it’s helping me too.

I think of that man and his dog often. I wonder who his doctor was. What a brilliant idea he had, teaching his patient that a dog could get him up and out in the world. The healing wasn’t in the care his dog provided  him – it was in the care he provided his dog. It’s such a simple and beautiful concept. Go to a training class. It was a specific remedy to go be among people. Fellow human beings – travelers together down this same uncertain path. Even now, I remember the walk up the stairs to my own therapists office. “Go make some friends, Micheal.” Yes. Yes. “Look for the helpers,” as Fred Rogers famously said. Look for each other. Turn to each other. Bond with and care for each other, with a dog at your side if you wish. Make some friends.

And, when the time comes get a petsitter for the dog.

And, take a trip with a friend. You can always share a plane ride with a dear fellow human being.

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston TX. He specializes in dogs who behave fearfully or aggressively.