How a Pandemic Reintroduced me to my Dogs

 

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

My dog, Stella, is 10. Stewie is probably around 12. Our relationship is pretty solid. I’m a dog trainer, after all. I teach people how to build relationships with their dogs. That’s my job. But, here’s the truth. I often didn’t have time for Stella and Stewie. I’d come home from a long day with clients and crash. We’d chill together, yeah. But the day had slipped away. There was so much to do for everyone else and not enough left for them.

Stewie

Now? Well, you know. Things are different.

All of my dog training appointments are online now. I shower and get dressed (yes, really) and work here at home. My lunch breaks and coffee breaks are just downstairs. I’m guessing this isn’t all that different from your work days recently. We’re at home all day. Because, that’s the way it needs to be. Sure, it’s mind numbing at times. But oh, I keep thinking, what an opportunity this is as well.

By circumstance more than design I’m getting a whole new outlook on what my relationship with my dogs could be. Yes, I’ve discovered they bark much more than I ever imagined. And, yeah, they sleep way too much. But, I’m also discovering just how cool they are. Okay, I knew they were cool. But, their personalities! Senior dogs have such a gentle wisdom about them. I’m actually getting to know Stella and Stewie all over again. Let me share a little of what we’ve been doing.

We play. My old dogs still love to play. I know your younger ones do too. Stella especially loves playing tug and retrieving. It’s refreshing really. The time I would have normally spent driving between clients I can now use to take a breath and play. Play is like the cement that bonds social animals. I can tell you with certainty that it crosses species lines. You want to really get to know your dog? Take some time today to play with him. If you have more than one dog, sit back and watch them play with each other. It can be a beautiful dance.

We walk. What I really mean is we explore. Stella and Stewie do okay walking on leash. What we really like, though, is exploring off-leash. We walk the narrow path along the drainage creek back to the green space behind our subdivision. I’ve spent years teaching these two a strong recall. We practice it every walk. The safer option is just as good. Take your dog out to a wooded area or field on a long line. They love to wander around and sniff. It’s great physical and mental activity.

We train. We practice coming when called every walk. I mentioned that. Next week we will start teaching mat work at the front door. I’ve taught this to hundreds of client dogs. I think it’s time I take on the challenge with my own dogs. Don’t you? Haha.

Stella

We hang out. Life goes by so fast. Our dogs are puppies and then just like that we look over and they are white-faced and cloudy-eyed. Where did the time go? And, where was I all that time? Sorry I’m so late. I’m here now.

Most evenings I just get down on the floor for them. They don’t care how long it’s been or what I’m wearing or even if I’ve showered. One or the other comes in for the huddle. Usually it’s the pair, like an old married couple. They totter over and plop themselves down. And, we don’t do anything. We just share the moment and settle in.

It’s funny how many details we miss when we don’t really look. Their toes and the soft fur in between. The way their mouth curls up at the corners like they are smiling. Their eyes, heavy, when we rub their bellies. Sometimes I just watch them breath – and then notice how my breathing falls in with theirs. It’s a kind of meditation, letting the rest of the world fall away just to be present in this one moment. Stella. Stewie. Me. Nothing else.

What an opportunity. And they were right here the whole time waiting, these damned dogs. All it took was for the world to go crazy enough and grind to a stop, so that we could pause and find our sanity again – in them.

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston, TX. He’s currently offering online behavior consultations.

Video Remote Dog Behavior Help

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

I’ve actually be doing remote dog training consultations with clients for long time, mostly for dogs who are too fearful or aggressive to tolerate anyone being in their home – and sometimes for people who are outside my in-person service area. Teaching and training at a distance is nothing new for me. You could say I’ve been preparing for this age of social distancing for years.

Setting goals together. The first thing I do in any consultation is listen. More than anything I want to know what is important to you. What matters most for you and your life with your dog. Tell me what’s going on. Before our consultation you’ll have completed a questionnaire to give me some background. During the conversation online (or in person) we can fill in some gaps. I want to know what’s troubling you and your dog.

That leads us to setting concrete goals for our work together. Once we have goals jotted down we can lay out a training plan for our dog. How are we going to fix the stuff we don’t like? How are we going to teach you dog to be the best version of himself?

Dog Behavior change is rooted in training. If we want our dogs to stop doing bad stuff (dangerous stuff), we have to teach him what we want him to do instead. That’s how we change our dog’s behavior. We know what we want him to stop doing. Let’s set some new boundaries and safety measures for our life with out dog, of course.  But now what do we want him to actually do? We can make a list of things you’ve already taught him. And, let’s map out the skills he still needs to learn. That’s the heart and soul of our behavior change plan.

The mechanics and timing of dog training. The foundation of dog training is actually human learning. Whether we are in the same room or connected by a live video link, trainers are teaching their clients how to communicate with dogs. Dog training is about learning mechanical skills and good timing – what behavior are we asking the dog to do? How are we letting him know when he gets it right so he does it again? How do we time all that so it is a clear and understandable message for the dog?  We trainers teach a series of simple but crucial human skills:

  • How to position our bodies
  • Where to place or rest our hands
  • When to click
  • When to reach for the treat bag (and when not to)
  • How to deliver the food reinforcement
  • And how to cue. Yes, we teach the cue last in many cases.

The best way to teach these human skills is by demonstrating. Then we observe while our human client tries these new moves out for themselves. We can do this with clients in person, yes. And, it’s just as effective when taught using a visual link in real time with a laptop or tablet.

Watch this. Many of us are visual learners. A dog behaviorist or trainer on remote consultation will often demonstrate a skill live on the video link using his or her own dog. That can be fun. But one of the coolest parts of doing a video remote is the ability to share our screen so we can show you detailed pre-recorded video instructions in real time. Often the best way to make a lesson clear and relatable is to show how it is taught – but also how it will look when it’s done. That, in my opinion, is one of the real advantages of remote video learning. You have all the resources on my laptop right there at your fingertips.

Follow up.  Once we are done working together you’ll want to have resources you can reference days, even weeks later. No problem. We’ll record our consultation for  you and then share it for you to review at your convenience. And, we’ll send out the notes we took during our session in a comprehensive report:

  • Your goals
  • The plan agreed on together
  • And all the exercises we covered
  • Plus links to relevant videos and other resources

We’ll also stay connected every day using our exclusive online training journal.

Remote dog training and behavior consultations are full-service. They are, I daresay, as good if not better in some cases than in-person work. They are:

  • Convenient to schedule (we often do remote consults at times we would to be able to see clients in person).
  • Not limited by geography. It doesn’t matter where you live in the world.
  • Safe and distraction free.
  • Less expensive.

All that said, please don’t misunderstand me. I do like meeting people and their dogs in person. Of course I do. But more than anything, I like helping people and their dogs. I’m genuinely happy there is technology and know-how available so that you can get tha help no matter how far we are from each other.

 

 

Michael Baugh and Victoria Thibodeaux teach dog training in Houston, TX. But, through remote consultations they are able to help people and their dogs around the world.

 

Coronavirus: Our Response – Be Safe and Stay Flexible

Michael Baugh, Houston dog trainerMichael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

Anyone who’s worked with me knows I preach this all the time: It only takes a small shift in the environment to  change behavior (sometimes in a big way).  And there aren’t many things smaller than an itty bitty microscopic virus.

Michael’s Dogs Houston dog trainers Victoria Thibodeaux and I are staying flexible and shifting our behavior in response to the change in our environment (I’ll say the name – The Coronavirus that causes Covid-19). Here’s where things stand right now.

We are still doing in-home dog behavior consultations and training lessons. There is no change in our schedule. However, you will notice some slight changes in our behavior.

  • We will ask if we can wash our hands at the beginning of our appointment and maybe again at the end.
  • We will ask that you have your own treat bag (the kind that can clip on to your shorts or trousers). We will not be passing our treat bag back and forth.
  • We will provide you with your own clicker and ask that you keep it. We will also not pass clickers back and forth.

We are waiving the cancellation penalty for illness. You can now cancel or ask to reschedule within 48 hours of your appointment if:

  • You have fever or other flulike symptoms (even the day of the appointment). Call and cancel or reschedule. Note: we will reschedule a minimum of 4-weeks later (time for you to recover and self-quarantine).
  • Anyone in your household has the virus.
  • You have been exposed to someone outside your household who has the virus.

We are on the honor system here. Do not cancel or ask to reschedule if:

  • You forgot your child had a game the same evening of our appointment (they are all probably cancelled anyway).
  • Your hairdresser had an opening and you want to go to that instead.
  • You had too much wine last night and you are hung over today.
  • Any other non-health related reason. Please, just be cool about this.

We will not risk your health in the interest of our financial bottom line. That would be selfish and stupid. We will cancel or ask to reschedule if:

  • We have fever or flulike symptoms. Note: I have seasonal allergies. To make sure I am not otherwise sick I’m taking my temperature twice daily
  • We have been exposed to anyone with the virus in or outside of our own household.

Remote Consultations – We will maintain our commitment to you and your dogs even if you or one of us is quarantined. I’m happy to say Victoria and I have been ahead of the curve when it comes to offering effective remote dog behavior consultations. We will be suggesting these for cases that are most appropriate. We will also honor your request to work remotely with us. Here’s a link to our Video Remote and Phone Consultations Page so you can learn a bit more about it. I’d also be happy to chat with you to share more information about how they work.

Quick Recap: Here are the main points to rememberer.

  • We’d still love to see you in person.
  • Let’s be thoughtful about our in-person meetings (scrub-a-dub-dub).
  • Rescheduling is fine – we may have to reschedule, too (but I hope not).
  • Remote consults are a good option.

Here’s the other thing you know I teach and preach all the time. Behavior changes. That is the nature of things. We can expect the behavior of this virus to change. It will not be as intrusive a factor in our lives forever. We will get through this – and Victoria and I will be here for you and your dogs through it and long after.

Stay safe and stay healthy.