Make it Stop

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

More than anything, we humans just want out dogs’ unwanted behavior (i.e. “bad” behavior) to stop. Barking. Make it stop. Biting. Make it stop. Jumping, running, digging, you name it. We want it to stop.

So, how do we make things stop? One way is punishment. Technically speaking, punishment is anything we apply or take away that decreases a behavior. We humans love punishment, because it often has instant results (though, often not very lasting results). See: The Allure of Punishment.

The trouble with punishment is that the standards are quite high if we want to see any long-term effects.

  • We have to punish at a level that is sufficiently crummy for the dog. He either loses some very desirable privilege of gets some level of painful nastiness (and most of us don’t really want to hurt our dog).
  • We have to punish in a timely manner, like the moment the bad behavior occurs. We humans are notoriously bad at timing.
  • We have to punish every occurrence of the bad behavior. Every one. No exceptions.

If we don’t met the three criteria above, then punishment will fail.

Fortunately there is an easier way to end bad behavior without having to jump thorough all the difficult hoops of punishment. We can, without much hassle, teach our dogs what we want him to do. This is a proactive approach to training. What behavior do we want our dog to perform instead of the unwanted (bad) behavior?

There are technical terms for this. One of them is Differential Reinforcement of an Alternate Behavior (DRA). But, I like to simply call it giving our dog a landing spot. Don’t do that. Do this instead.

Here’s more good news. Most alternate behaviors (replacement for the bad stuff) are very easy to teach. It’s simple stuff like stand, sit, and lie down – things our dogs do anyway. I came up with this short list of unwanted behavior and simple solutions to fix them below. It’s a short list but it gives you an idea of how this works.

  • Stop jumping on guests becomes stand with all four paws on the ground. Reinforce with food and petting.
  • Stop biting guests becomes go lie down over there on your bed or mat. Reinforce with food (keeping guests away from the mat or bed is also reinforcing).
  • Stop pulling on leash becomes walk beside me and check in every once in a while with a glance up. Reinforce with food and praise.
  • Stop barking out the front windows of the house becomes come when called and hang out here with me. Reinforce with food, praise, play, etc. (Limiting access to the front windows also helps).

If a behavior problem seems too complicated for you to figure out, certainly bring in a qualified positive reinforcement trainer or behavior consultant to help you come up with an alternate behavior (or series of alternate behaviors). But, for the most part, this is pretty straight forward. Take your focus off the stuff you don’t want your dog to do Put your mind and your energy into what you want him to do instead.

In other words, teach your dog to do something.

Michael Baugh Teaches dog training in Houston Texas. He specializes in dogs with problem behavior including aggression.

When to Start Training Your New Puppy

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

I get this question a lot. “When should I start training my new puppy?” My answer is the same every time. “Now. Right now.”

It is never too early to start teaching a puppy how to make life in our crazy human world work for them. Notice I didn’t say how to obey our every fickle human whim. That’s not what training a puppy is about (or an adult dog, for that matter). Our responsibility is to help our fresh new puppies learn what’s what. And it is a responsibility.

Dogs live with us at our discretion. We decide what they eat, where they relieve themselves, where they sleep, who they meet, where they go, where they stay, and yes – if they live or die. That all adds up to huge responsibility. So, we’d better be ready to step up and teach our puppy, who by the way just got to the planet a few weeks ago.

My dog, Stella, at 4 1/2 months.
My dog, Stella, at 4 1/2 months.

So, let’s start now. Right now. We have two broad lessons to teach our puppy. The first one is time-sensitive. The second one will be a lifelong work in progress. Ready?

Lesson One: The world is a good and safe place for dogs. We need to make this abundantly clear to our dogs in the first 18 weeks (weeks) of their life. Our puppies are weighing curiosity against caution more in the first 4 1/2 months of their life than at any other time. We have a great opportunity to tip the scales in these early weeks by teaching them that the people, places, objects, sounds, and common experiences in their life are safe.

We have a lot to cover – lots of people of many shapes, sizes, and colors – lots of things to see – lots of experiences to take in. And the clock is ticking. Start now. Yes, now.

  • Introduce your puppy to as many people as you can in a thoughtful, calm, and joyful way. Each new person should give your dog a nice treat. Be mindful not to overwhelm your puppy. Give her a chance to take breaks when she needs to. Meet people outside the home and invite many many of them into the home.
  • Introduce common household sights and sounds – vacuums, lawn equipment, blenders and ice makers. Hook all that up with your calm smiles and encouragement. Associate each sound with a tasty treat as well.
  • Introduce your puppy to fully vaccinated socially savvy dogs. Let them sniff and play. Enroll your puppy in a puppy class for fun social activity after her second round of shots.
  • Think of all the experiences that your dog will have on a routine basis and teach her these are joyful experiences: trips to the vet (treats), trips to the groomer (treats), car rides to fun places, joyful walks and outings to coffee shops and restaurants (treats).

This is a very condensed description of what we commonly call “socialization.” We know without doubt that dogs who have lots of well-thought-0ut positive experiences early in their life mature into more stable adult dogs. Think: calm, confident, and non aggressive. We really can’t overdo socialization but there is a time limit. We begin to see diminishing returns on this work as early as 18 weeks. So, start now.

For a more thorough look at the socialization process, I highly recommend the book Life Skills for Puppies.

For more details about how to teach your puppy the world is safe for dogs, order this book right away.
For more details about how to teach your puppy the world is safe for dogs, order this book right away.

Lesson Two: Here’s how life in the human world works. It’s all quid pro quo. This is the natural way dogs learn. If I do this – I get that. Or, If I do this – I can avoid that. Dogs don’t have to learn this part – it’s hard wired in. In fact, it’s how all animals learn, including  us human animals.

The lesson we have to teach our puppies is which of their choices will earn them good stuff. How does the game of quid pro quo work for dogs in our human world? Maybe it’s better if we think of it like two lists: 1) things I want my puppies to do and 2) things my puppy would like to have.

My short list:

  • Poop and Pee Outside
  • Chew this instead of that
  • Come when I call you
  • Sit when I ask
  • Lie down quietly when I ask

Her short list:

  • Yummy bits of food
  • Interesting toys and chew items
  • Access to social encounters with other dogs
  • Play and exercise
  • Touch / social contact with us

All I need to do to teach my puppy the game. Trade things from my list in exchange for things on her list. If she pees outside (at the top of my list) I will give her a treat and engage her in some play (from her list). If she sits instead of jumping on me (my list), I’ll get down and pet her (her list). You see how it works?

Our constant exchange of this-for-that becomes a form of communication – a way to chat cross-species. And, when we start the process early (like, right now) we can actually influence our puppy’s physical brain development. Certainly we can and should train at home. But, again, early puppy classes are essential.

How far can we take this? We start with basic manners (sit, and down, and coming when called). But what about tricks? How about some complex tasks or maybe dog sports? Anything your dog can physically do – we can teach it. Use your imagination.

And, how long does this take? Well, we practice consistently well into our dog’s adolescence (up to age 2). Then we maintain learning through adulthood. But the truth is, we can teach new things (and should) throughout our dog’s entire life. Why not? It’s fun for the dog and us too.

All of this work adds structure and predictability to our young dog’s life. It’s comforting to know what do and when. It’s also very rewarding to know how the environment (specifically the people and other animals in our world) will respond to our actions. So, it’s clear that teaching our dogs how this process works is essential to their well being. Training (early training) is not a luxury or an add-on – it’s a core part of caring for our new puppy, like food, vet care, and exercise.

So yes! Start now. Start right now and keep going. And don’t forget to take pictures along the way. They grow up so fast.

Michael Baugh teaches dog and puppy training in Houston, TX. Click this link to his Instagram to share your puppy pics. 

Three Keys to Coming when Called

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

Dog trainers like to say that coming-when-called is an odds game. If you called your dog right now, what are the odds he’d come? Would you place a bet on it? How much. Now, what if your dog was outside, or playing with another dog, or sniffing a lamp post?

Our job, yours and mine, is to stack the odds in our favor, to make it so we’d be willing to place a big bet that our dog will come when we call him every time anytime. Here are the keys.

  1. Use a clear and consistent cue. I say “Stella, come!” (My dog’s name is Stella). I call it in a clear-throated voice, loudly. There’s a bit of lilt and lyricism to the call. It’s strong but not intimidating. I think of coming when called as an invitation not a demand. Avoid having a conversation with your dog. Don’t repeat the cue over and over. Don’t give multiple cues.
  2. Watch to see if your dog moves toward you. As soon as he does, start smiling, and praising him. Cheer him on as he comes to you (but don’t repeat the cue).
  3. Reinforce generously. Use the highest value reinforcer you can think of and give more than one treat (I recommend 3-4 in sequence). Then, if possible return your dog to play or whatever it was he was enjoying before you called him.

IMG_5680Repeat the process often, at different times, and in different places. In the early stages of training (all stages really) help your dog win the game. Set up your training so that he can succeed. I taught Stella coming-when-called using games. The process was fun for both of us, and easy as a result. We also mixed up the games to keep them interesting. I call Stella to me often when she leasts expects it and I reinforce it with a variety of things: food, play, access to fun activities. (See: Psyching Out Your Dog).

Practice throughout your dog’s lifetime to keep the behavior strong. It’s a powerful skill for keeping your dog safe from harm. But really, it’s nice just to show off that your dog is under some sort of control. How cool, right? My bet is that you’re going to love seeing your dog running towards you with that big goofy grin. Yeah, I’d put my money on that any day.

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA teaches dog training in Houston, TX