Dog Behavior – What I Learned from Animals on The Galápagos Islands

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

On about the 5th day of our trip it occurred to me that The Galápagos Islands are one of the few places on earth where everything is still as it should be. There are very few humans. We fish there, but not too much. Birds and large mammals, like the sea lions, are mostly safe from us. We haven’t crowded the animals out or paved everything over. There are a few towns and two small airports. There are small ports and motorized boats. Still, in most ways the animal inhabitants of The Galápagos live as they have for hundreds of years.

What happens when animals live with relatively few pressures from human beings? This is my opinion as a matter of experience. They thrive. This appears in their physical and reproductive health. It also shows in their behavioral health. Because of strict conservation laws, humans are not allowed to hunt or harass animals on the islands. As a result, many are very trusting of us – friendly, in fact. Curious juvenile sea lions routinely approached us on the beach and in the water. Penguins swam up to us and around us, sometimes within inches. Iguanas tolerated our clumsy trodding over them. Birds flew and landed nearby. Giant tortoises plodded along with nary a notice. These are animals under absolutely no pressure from humans. I daresay they are better for it – happier.

It got me thinking about our dogs. The hard truth is we put our dogs under a lot of pressure. Even the Belgian Malinois at The Galápagos airport on Baltra is under pressure. Say on a leash. Stay in a crate. Climb the luggage and sniff for contraband. Meanwhile back in Houston we insist our dogs answer our every command. Stay alone for hours on end. Move at our pace on walks. Meet who we want them to meet when we want it, including other dogs. All the while remain friendly. Never express an emotion unless it’s one of the ones we like. Behave this way in public, in crowds, wearing a harness and a leash and silly clothes.

What if we just let our dogs be dogs? Would that be enough for us? Aren’t they already enough? What if our influence on them was light and kind? What if they got a fraction of the empathy and respect we were required to show the sea lions on the beaches of The Galápagos? Our dogs are noble animals. They are not toys. They are not Disney characters. They’ve evolved with us. They are uniquely suited to live with us. But, our life with them is not all about us. This isn’t all about us.

Human beings, Homo Sapiens, have walked the earth for about 300-thousand years. Only in the past 500 or so years did we really start to spread. Whalers stumbled upon The Galápagos in the early 1500’s. The industrial revolution started just 200 years ago. Two hundred years is very recent compared to 300-thousand. I’ve often said to clients that we humans have already won the evolutionary race. We inhabit every bit of the earth. For better or worse, we’ve won.

I stood on a beach no one had walked on since the last high tide. I could see stingrays and eagle rays in the surf. Bright orange crabs clung to the lava rocks. A green sea turtle crawled out of the water. Giant frigate birds, broad-winged but barely 2-pounds in weight, floated above. This is where everything is still as it should be,  I thought. It wasn’t that long ago that the whole planet was like this, 400 years ago, 500. What happened? When did we decide it was all ours and only ours?

For many of us, our dogs are our only real connection to the natural world. That’s a lot of responsibility for one species. It’s even more responsibility for us. I’m in the business of helping people teach their dogs. But I wonder. What could we learn from our dogs, or from the squirrel, or the cardinal, or the possum, those fragments of the wild that remain? What could they teach us about ourselves?


Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston, TX. He specializes in behavior related to fear including aggressive behavior.

Five Things to Know about Dog Resource Guarding


Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

Many dogs hide, cower, freeze, stare, snarl, growl, snap or bite when they are guarding something. For the purposes of this blog post we will call that resource guarding, dogs who claim possession and guard a prized object, place, food related item, or food itself.

Resource guarding is normal dog behaviorThis fact surprises a lot of people. We have a romanticized view of dogs including the idea that some are good and some are evil. Ascribing this kind of moral code is a disservice to them and to ourselves. They are animals, as are we. Animals protect valuable resources, as do we. Wanting to keep our stuff is hardwired into us. Yes, we can share. But, you might also have a few things to say to a random dude at a restaurant who pops one of your french fries in his mouth and walks off.

Normal does not mean acceptable. Some dogs do take it too far. I agree. Who among us really wants our dog’s scrap of stinky frayed fabric that used to be a stuffed toy? It doesn’t make sense that he bit Aunt Sally when she reached to pet him while he rested his head on that disgusting thing. Some dogs (and humans) can get weird about their prized places and things. It seems a bit out-of-context, a bit too much.

It can be dangerous. Dogs who guard a lot of things, including random stuff they find, can be hard to predict. Is he guarding that leaf, that remote control, his poop? It can get especially dangerous if the dog bites to protect his vast and changing collection of valued things. One mistake can turn bloody.

Dominance and conflict-based training can make it worse. From the dog’s point of view resource guarding is about a perceived conflict. He’s already gearing up for a fight. Training methods focused on dominance are conflict-based. This outdated training approach frames every interaction with our dog as a competition with a winner and a loser. We end up proving to our dog that his already-inflated sense of danger is in fact justified. That sock is very valuable. This is a challenge. Violence is possible if not inevitable. Every time we approach resource guarding from this skewed  perspective we risk the dog escalating his response. We actually make the resource guarding and the intensity of our dog’s behavior worse.

There is hope. We humans have already won the evolutionary race. We have nothing to prove to our dogs other than this: I can help you. This is good news for dogs and for humans. We now have smart, simple, and effective aggressive dog training techniques for quelling resource guarding in dogs. These reinforcement-based methods work and (I promise) do not jeopardize our position as the dominant species on the planet. You can reach out to me or a similarly credentialed dog behavior consultant for help. Or, contact a veterinary behaviorist.

Bottom line: Resource guarding is normal but it is not okay. There is hope.  You can have a long and enjoyable relationship with your dog.

Michael Baugh specializes in aggressive dog training in Houston TX.

How Shock Collar Training Hurts Us All



TL;DR A personal post about shock collar training and how it tragically impacts not only our dogs but us as human beings.

I’m writing you because I care about you; I like you. From the start I was interested in your wellbeing. I wished a peaceful and joyful life not just for your dog but for you. Some of what I have to say might hurt, though. So, let’s agree now that this is not about you, not you as an individual, not just you, but you in great numbers, an amalgam of you the many.

You called me when your dog was two. She had bitten three people on walks, two of them runners. One of them threatened to file a report. She said she’d have your dog put down. You were crying. I was quiet. I listened. If you remember this call let me say again, this is not about you. You’re an amalgam, which means you call me this way about once a month, sometimes more, sometimes less. You are crying because you love  your dog and I’m listening because I care about you as a fellow human being. You mention the shock collar training you did. I don’t say anything. I think about it, but let you dry your tears instead.

When your dog was a puppy you used to laugh when she tried to pick up a ball half her size. She’d run a few steps and stumble. You laughed and picked her up and offered her a smaller toy and you played until she was exhausted and she cuddled on the sofa with you until you both fell asleep. When she got older your dog pulled on leash and barked at people. She got bigger, more gangly, stronger. You hired a trainer who taught you how to yank on her leash and then how to yank on her leash with a prong collar. You trusted the trainer and did what she said. It was a neighbor who told you about the shock collar. No, it was a friend. But, she called it an e-collar. No, it was your aunt. Someone told you. It was someone. They used the shock collar or sent their dog off to a trainer who used it. Their dog was perfect, they said. And, that sounded perfect to you.

You called to tell me your dog wouldn’t leave the back patio. You have a huge yard with an invisible fence. Your dog can see the woods and the wildlife and she has so much space, but she won’t budge. Why will she only poop and pee on the patio? You called to tell me your dog barks and snarls at men who come into your home. Your trainer used a shock collar to teach her this was wrong. Yesterday your dog bit someone coming in. You called to tell me your dog is afraid to go on walks. It’s cool and sunny out but she won’t walk past the driveway, even when you take the shock collar off. You carry her for the first block and even then she keeps pulling to go back, head low, panting the whole time.

When your dog was a puppy she came to you, face bright and tongue flapping out the side of her mouth. You called her your bouncing pom pom, the way she ran to you. You played and she licked your face and you thought you were the luckiest person in the world, which you were. Your friends loved her. She was beautiful. Even at 8 and 9 months when other dogs start to look awkward in their own bodies, she was beautiful. But she jumped a lot and knocked things over. She wanted to play all the time. She just wouldn’t settle down. So your neighbor-friend-realative told you about a place you could send her. Their dog went there for 3 weeks and was perfect. Perfect sounded good and you sent her away. She was thin and seemed a bit shy when she came back home. She was more subdued, slept more, hung out by your side and didn’t cause much trouble. When the barking started and the chewing, you sent her back again. If once was good, twice would be better.

I know this hurts, I tell you when you call. When we meet I tell you how shock collars work. That’s hard.

I know this hurts, I tell you when you call. We meet for weeks and I never tell you what the shock collar did to your dog. It would break your heart.

I know this hurts, I tell you when you call. You don’t hire me. We never meet. I have an extra cocktail with dinner. I forget that has anything to do with our call and forgetting feels good.

I know this hurts, I tell you when you call. And, it doesn’t matter. Your dog is shattered. You already know how this is going to end. I do too. I don’t sleep well that night.

Here’s the short version. Punishment is the introduction of a stimulus that decreases a target behavior. Example: if a dog experiences a shock to the neck when she approaches the boundary of your property, she will be less likely to go there in the future (she may stay on the patio).

You are explaining yourself to me. “It’s only the beep, she only got shocked once and now all we need is the beep.” You don’t want me to think bad things about you; you’re a good person; you are kind. I don’t think you’re a bad person. I like you. I feel bad for you. I want to help. This is what I wake up in the morning to do – to help you. I work hard at it. Sometimes it’s enough. Sometimes.

If I’m sloppy as a positive reinforcement dog trainer we end up with a dog who begs for food or stares at the treat bag. I’m not sloppy. I teach you how to not be a sloppy trainer, too. If someone is haphazard with a shock collar your dog never knows when the shock is coming, or from where (other than it attacks her neck from nowhere), or why. Why? Painful attempts to punish behavior always have side effects. Always. Your dog tries to escape the pain or the fear. She locks up on walks or runs away when you call. Your dog avoids situations altogether. She won’t leave the patio or her room or the driveway. Or, your dog lashes out. The pain out of nowhere with no escape – or the threat of it – is too much to bear. She growls, snarls, and bites. That’s usually when you call, when she’s had enough and lashes out.

You’re calling me because your dog, though physically healthy, is psychologically damaged. She paces the house, can’t seem to settle down. The vet put her on three medications that don’t seem to be helping. She cornered your husband in the kitchen. Your husband, the one who used to roll the too-big ball to her so he could see her tackle it and fall over. You both laughed so hard then. She was having fun, too. Now, she growls at your husband and at you. You’re afraid of her, your bouncing pom pom. Sometimes she lies by you, exhausted. But you haven’t been able to cuddle her in months. Not really. Not anymore.

I’m sorry. You’ve called twice today already and four times this week. Not you, but you in numbers, dozens over the past few months, scores of you over the last two decades. It gets to me sometimes and sometimes I am not strong; I am not calm. I shouldn’t let this stuff get to me. I definitely shouldn’t lash out at you. But, I tell you that the beep is like a man pulling his fist back. “You only need to get punched once to know the terror of what that means,” I say. I know my words are sharp and when I get off the phone I hate myself for saying it that way. I don’t know you yet. I don’t know what you’ve experienced, if anyone has ever raised a fist to you. I’m an asshole for going there. But, I also don’t know how to tell you that no this is not your fault but yes you caused this – because it’s not your fault (you were given shitty information) and because your choices did cause it. I know that hurts. It hurts me, too.

You call me and I can tell by your voice what this is about. We’ve worked together for months. There’s a veterinary behaviorist involved, a team of experts.

You’ve been wonderful and things have improved, you say. But, there was an incident.

You’ve been wonderful and things have improved, you say. But, it feels hopeless. That young vibrant dog you once had is long gone. You don’t think she will ever be the same again.

You’ve been wonderful and things have improved, you say. But, you are done. You don’t have any more emotional energy.

You’ve been wonderful and things have improved, you say. But, not enough. You’ve already called the vet. She’ll be euthanized in the morning.

I’m trained for these calls. And, as many times as you’ve called with this news I’ve never cracked. I hold steady. I care about you more than anything and I stand by your side. This is your decision, not mine. My role is to support you. When I cry it’s after the call. I cry for  you most of all. As my wise friend says, you were doing the best you could with the information you had at the time. I believe that. I cry for your dog, too. This should have gone differently from the start. But, it didn’t and here we are.

It hasn’t always gone this way for us, of course. You and I have had our high-fives and victory laps together and it’s felt great. You did it. You pulled your dog back from the brink. Your dog, for her part, recovered, healed well from the terror of the past. She made it. You made it. I am so happy for you, for her, for us. We’ve been through a lot, you and I, you big wonderful collective you. I’ve written too much already, I know, but I could write more. I could go on and on about you because I care about you. I like you.

I’ll end here with one small request. And, this part is for you, specifically you, reader. Will you be a voice for our dogs? You are someone’s neighbor. You are someone’s friend, someone’s family member. When someone asks you about training, about shock collar training, will you be the one individual who speaks up? They may not know any better yet, this someone you know, this someone you care about. You know better, though. Did you know shock collars are against the law in some countries? It’s because shock collar training hurts our dogs; it can damage them psychologically. In too many cases the fallout from this frightening and painful training hurts us as well, damaging our relationship with our dogs, endangering our dogs’ lives. Be the voice who speaks this truth. If this is your story, then tell it. Your neighbors and friends and family deserve to know better. Their dogs deserve a voice who will speak for them.


Michael Baugh is a dog trainer in Houston, TX. He specializes in aggressive dog training including helping dogs who are survivors of shock collar training.