Better Than a Stuffed Dog

Houston-Dog-Trainer-TriggerMichael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

“What you want is a stuffed dog.”

 It’s cynical dog trainer humor. When friends, relatives, and even some clients list the qualities they want in their dog we fire off that zinger. They want a dog who doesn’t pee in the house, doesn’t bark, doesn’t jump on people, doesn’t pull on leash, and doesn’t chase the children. Stuffed dog. They want a dog who doesn’t “have a mind of his own,” isn’t dominant, and won’t cause any trouble. Stuffed dog. They want him to be, but they seemingly want him to do nothing. Stuffed dog.

I think we sometimes forget why we love dogs so much, and it’s a bit ironic. While we’re tripping over all the things we want dogs to not do, we forget what it is about them that we like so much. Behavior. Their actions. What dogs do. The way they run, the looks they give, the tricks they learn, that’s what makes us smile, pulls us in, and draws us out of ourselves.

So much better than a stuffed dog, real dogs move and breathe and make noise. They use their eyes and faces and bodies, so that we look and move and talk in turn. We call it communication. Joy. Love. Dogs come toward us, walk the path with us, pick up and bring things to us, play with us, tug at a toy and our hearts. It is in their doing that we discover their being. Animated. Warm. Living. Just like us but also not at all.

And yes, they pee and bark and jump and tug at their leashes. They chase things and sometimes cause trouble. They have minds of their own. Yes. It’s that mind, and ours, interacting, working together. Our actions, kind and informative, replying to theirs. We help our dogs choose differently, discover new behavior. And their behavior helps us act differently, think more clearly. We call that communication too. Teaching. Learning. What each is doing informs what the other does. Feedback. Who’s training whom, and who cares?

Houston-Dog-Trainer-Stewie-CuddleAnd at the end of the day who your dog is is all his doing. He burrows under the blanket. He curls and presses his back to your chest. He slows his breaths and snores. He twitches and barks a muffled sound against some dream we cannot see. He is an amazing being, so different from us but so connected to us.

So alive. So warm and real. So much better than a stuffed dog. And, exactly what you want.

10 Practical Reasons to Teach Your Dog “Sit”

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

“Sit” may be one of the most undervalued things we teach our dog. Everyone teaches it, and just about every dog can get really good at it. So, let’s start applying it in situations that count. This one simple life skill can prevent a whole bunch of problem behaviors while promoting good manners at the same time.

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Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA teaches dog training in Houston TX. Special thanks to Cleveland dog trainer Kevin Duggan CPDT-KA for contributing to this post. Thanks also to Peta Clarke for the final photograph.

Positive Thinking – Positive Training

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

You know the look they give us. They cock their head and flash those weary eyes. It’s as if they are saying, “For God’s sake human what are you thinking?” It’s the way our dog, Stewie, looks at us just about every day.

If you ask me our dogs are on to the right question. What we think and how we perceive our world has a huge impact on how we feel and how we humans behave day in and day out. Psychiatrist, Aaron Beck writes about cognition and its impact on depression, relationship problems and other psychosocial maladies. For Beck and other cognitive behavior therapists the trick to feeling and living better begins with changing the way we think. Hmm, makes sense.

So, let’s think about our dogs for a minute. Better yet, let’s think about how we think about our dogs. Take a moment just to let some random thoughts run through your head. Cognitive therapists call these “automatic thoughts.” They’re the things we think about without really thinking. As a trainer I get to hear a whole bunch of people’s automatic thoughts about their dogs. Most of them aren’t too upbeat. “He’s stubborn.” “She’s too distracted by other dogs.” “He’s aggressive.” “She’s shy.” “He won’t do that.” “She doesn’t like treats.” And then there’s my all time favorite, “My dog is being dominant.” Add to the list if you’d like. We could fill the page.

Negative thinking is like poison. This is particularly true in dog training. Our thoughts and beliefs serve as filters for all that we observe and experience. They directly and immediately influence our feelings and actions. Here’s an example. Our dog jumps on a visitor. We may think our dog is “bad,” or maybe “overly friendly.” That can leave us feeling hopeless or even angry.  The result may be that we give up on trying to help our dog change his behavior (mistakenly believing that training a lost cause). Or, worse yet, our anger may lead us to harsh or abusive training methods.

Now let’s look at the exact same scenario again. The only thing we will change this time is how we think about the situation. Our dog still jumps on the visitor, but instead of thinking poorly (and inaccurately) about him we notice that the dog is behaving the same way many dogs do. We may feel some comfort knowing that behavior can change (if my dog learned to jump on people, he can also learn other things). There are no feelings of hopelessness or anger.  We can take calm rational action. We can teach our dog some new skills.

The point here is that dog training really does start in our head. Yes, it involves timing, eye-hand coordination, knowledge and skill. But you can throw all that stuff out the window if you’re not in the right frame of mind. It’s time to weed out some of that negative thinking.

  • Step One: Be aware of your own negative thoughts. Some of them are just plain obvious. If you’re mumbling “stupid dog,” then you can pretty much chalk that up as a negative thought. But others might be a bit subtler. Here’s my favorite way to identify a negative thought in dog training. Ask yourself, “Does this belief or way of thinking help me train my dog or does it just upset me and leave me confused? If it’s the latter then discard the thought. It’s negative and therefore useless to you.
  • Step Two: Think happy thoughts. It worked for Tinker Bell and Peter Pan. No, I’m not kidding! Think happy thoughts and imagine where you can go with your dog. I suggest you start by speaking well of your dog. When you get a chance tell someone how smart your dog is or what a fast learner she is. Then take it a step further by telling your dog how wonderful you think she is. Maybe she’ll understand you. Maybe she won’t. But by verbalizing positive thinking you will automatically begin to think more productively about your dog and training.
  • Step Three: Visualize. You already do this everyday. You might map out directions in your mind before you get behind the wheel of your car. Golfers imagine sinking a putt before they actually hit the ball. We say things in our head before we speak them aloud. So why not visualize training your dog. Picture a nice crisp sit. See your dog heeling beside you. Imagine her greeting a guest politely without jumping. If you’re seeing good behavior in your mind’s eye then you are crowding out negative thinking. You’re already on your way to better results.
  • Step Four: Build on success. Make positive thinking a way of life just as you have with positive training. The fewer negative beliefs there are getting in the way the more you will succeed. The more you succeed the more confident and positive your thinking will become. You can see how this quickly snowballs into ultimate success.

None of us got a dog so that we could think poorly of him. None of us wants a ho-hum relationship with our dog. And certainly none of us wants to fail at training our dogs. So, by all means, let’s get rid of anything that gets in the way of what you really want – a powerful and satisfying bond with the animal you love.

Think well.   Feel good.   Act it out.

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston, TX. He specializes in dogs with aggressive and fearful behavior.