Online 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 our 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.

Kindness: A Plea to My Fellow Trainers

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

When I was in high school we were assigned a book that has stuck with me all these years after. It was titled Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? (John Powell 1975). One of the things I liked most was the universality of the title. It wasn’t, Are you afraid or I am afraid. It assumed a truth. We are afraid, all of us, sometimes terrified.

I haven’t re-read the book in years but I remember the answer to the title question. If I tell you who I am, if I’m really open and genuine, if I put myself out there, then I’m vulnerable. You see me, all of me. If you reject me, that’s all I’ve got. It’s dangerous. I could get hurt.

We learn early on, long before high school, how treacherous vulnerability can be. Rejection, scorn, ridicule, mockery. Those are all strong punishers. We are taught from the moment of our earliest memory:

  • Don’t be different (fit in).
  • Don’t be wrong
  • Don’t be weird or awkward

That’s the short list.

If you’ve ever lived or worked in a consistently punishing environment (and most of us have at some time), then you know where this leads. And for those of us who are animal trainers we know from our own education and training experience where it leads. Animals with a punishment history shut off. They do the safest thing they can think of to avoid being hurt. In many cases that is simply to hunker down and do nothing.

When we consistenly punish our fellow humans for being different, or wrong, or awkward, we get similar results. We get humans who step back – sit down – and shut up. Worse, when we witness each other getting beaten down there can be a chilling effect. That could happen to me. I’m not putting myself out there. No way. No how. So more and more of us hunker down, too. We keep our truth to ourselves. We hide who we are. Because if we stand up, step up, and speak out we’re fucked (loosely paraphrasing John Powell).

There is an old (tired) joke among dog trainers. It goes like this. The only thing two trainers can agree on is that the third one is wrong (see also different and awkward). We are plagued by clannishness. There are camps: this methodology against that. And then there are camps within the camps, fine lines of thinking and acting that if crossed violate the arbitrary rules of those opposed. We are, for the most part, deeply dedicated to teaching animals with compassion and minimally aversive techniques. And at the next turn we are apt to savage each other.

The dramatic irony plays out most often and with the greatest vitriol on social media platforms. I’ll spare you the details because I’m so very confident you’ve seen them  yourself. At best we adhere to our own righteousness. At worst we are sarcastic and cynical. We excuse our own behavior because of what he or she said first. Or, when we feel the sting of our actions we try to quell it with the idea it was all in good fun. Humor. Jokes for which others paid.

I have been that asshole. I have fired off barbs wrapped in velvet. I have posted crap that looked sane and even poetic with the raw intention of causing pain. At my worst I’ve participated in whisper campaigns and back stabbing. I regret it every day. I drag a wake of human wreckage and I remember the names. We suffer and we cause more suffering and in the end we hurt ourselves the most.

Here’s my simple plea. Be kind. I put this idea out for consideration in my talk at the IAABC Conference earlier this year. Sometimes it’s better to be kind than to be right. This is hard for us. We trainers are in the business of being right. Our information has to be right. Our skills need to be right. We need to demonstrate and teach rightly. We are also in the business of reducing suffering, the suffering of animals and of our fellow human beings. If kindness is missing from our work we are impeding our best efforts. Information wrapped in anger or sharp edged snark is wasted. It is lost on the learner. The recipient of even our most valued truths will likely only feel the blows and the cuts. We trainers know better than to do this with dogs. It breaks trust and builds nothing. And yet, we do it to each other.

I want my fellow trainers to know that I see them and hear them. I want this most especially if we sometimes disagree. Why? Because we aren’t done yet. At our best (and I firmly believe we are all striving for our best) we trainers are voracious learners. When I value my fellow trainer, my fellow learner, I maintain access. When I speak kindly even in discourse, I get to stay in the game, stay on the path with him or her. Choose your own metaphor. When we are connected we can teach. We can explore ideas together. And, wait for it, we can learn. Play the long game. Is one tweet or one facebook post worth losing the chance to work in concert to build our profession – to lead – to heal?

So, this is a plea for kindness. It’s a plea drawn from my own experience. It’s a feeble try, perhaps, to draw compassion from suffering. Because we are all afraid, terrified sometimes, of each other. And, because when all is said and done, no matter our differences, we want the same thing. We want to tell each other who we really are (fear be damned). We are hardwired for connection with each other, collaboration, friendship and love. It’s who we are at the core. We want to be seen and to be heard and to feel safe. It’s a yearning we all have and it’s also the greatest gift we can give to each other.

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston, TX. He teaches client coaching through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Michael is a human being with many of the strengths and foibles associated with that species.