Dog Training and the Dominance Question



A whole lot of dogs lovers are carrying around a heavy burden. I want to take a moment to lift it off our shoulders. Well-meaning friends, family, even some of my fellow trainers set it on us. It’s just words really, but those words weigh us down and too often we end up dragging them around like shame. The most common variations of this verbal yoke sound a bit like this: You need to be your dog’s pack leader. You aren’t dominant enough. You need to show your dog who is boss. Like all words, these are illusory until we assign them meaning. What do they mean to you and how hard must they be to carry around? This kind of  “advice” (and really it’s just cheap reprobation) is a huge disservice to our dogs. The implication is that we need to assert ourselves over them with violence (Cut their airways; Pin them; Shock them). It’s also a disservice and an insult to our own human intelligence and accomplishment.

We humans split the atom. We turned the ancient remnants of dinosaurs into fuel and made cars and airplanes and leaf blowers. We learned to roast coffee beans, grind them and press them in hot water. And, we discovered how to ferment the press of grapes. We invented jazz. Humans created spoken and written language, more than 7-thousand of them. There is no place on earth to which humans have not laid claim. Most of it we’ve cleared, burned, paved over, built out, and lit up. That is dominance. We have, for better or worse, clearly won the evolutionary race.

Street Dog in Saigon

We have nothing to prove to our dogs. We are all that and more, and we have been since the beginning of dogs. Most dogs are not really “owned” by humans. All around the world street dogs simply live near us, but depend on us nonetheless. They survive on our wasted food and our generosity, taking shelter under our lean-tos and outside our doors. Dogs in the U.S., for the most part, live in our homes, eat from bowls in our kitchens, pass their days in comfort and good health. But, they do so only if we see to it.

They die, too, at our discretion. It’s usually because of behavior we deem unfit for dogs or unacceptable to us. They die by the needle, by the gun, by the knife, by our hand. They die, too, abandoned and alone. They die from convenience and inconvenience. They die and live, just as we decide. There is, in fact, no dominance battle between us and dogs. It was over before it started. We win. Always. No matter what.

Stewie Enoying a Private Concert

That leaves us with a question that spans much wider than our life with dogs. What do we do with all this power? That’s a big philosophical ask for evening chats drinking wine or coffee. Maybe the more immediate question is how do we responsibly use this power to help our dogs, who are so much farther down the evolutionary ladder? How do we help them fit in to our complex and often dysfunctional human lives? How can we give them what they need from us and still get what we want from them?

Here’s my answer. Lead with compassion and intelligence. We don’t have to be rocket scientists or nuclear physicists. And most of us have the compassion part at least started (We love dogs, after all). But, there is a science of dog training that is grounded in kindness. There have been volumes written on this and the data dates back a century or more. This is the bottom line. We can use our superior intelligence (Think: dominant species) to 1) teach our dogs what we want them to do without frightening or hurting them and 2) teach them to enjoy learning – to love learning – dare I say, to do our bidding with enthusiasm and joy. It works. It’s measurable and reliable. It works with easy dogs and with hard dogs. Intelligent human-driven training works with aggressive dogs, too. In fact it works especially well with them. And, it works with more than just dogs.

If that’s the case (and it is), then why are we so hung up on dominating our dogs? Why do we turn to harsh dog training methods when easier more effective ones have been available all this time? I have some ideas (and some links for deeper dives). 1) Punishment is reinforcing for the punisher; our brains fool us into thinking it’s the best choice. 2) Celebrity dog trainers lie to us (Real dog training is rarely as glitzy or simplistic as a well-edited TV show). 3) We humans are fixated on dominating (wait for it) each other. Humans, like many primates, have a hierarchical social structure. We are all about power, who has it, where we can get it, and how we can keep it. And, a big part of dominance for us in our broader lives is fueled by punishment. The scientific term is coercion. We conquer; We take; We oppress. Underlying all that is fear, pain, and the threat of death. How ironic that we so often use the phrase, “it’s a dog eat dog world,” when the reality has nothing to do with dogs at all. We are describing ourselves.

We humans are carrying around this heavy burden and really I just want to lift it off our collective shoulders, ease our suffering. It’s too big to do all at once. So, let’s start where we can. Learn what coercion is and then forget about ever using it again. Even better, seek out inspiration for ourselves, for each other, and for our dogs. Teach the way we already know we love to learn – joyfully, patiently, intelligently. Cast this burden to the side and leave the reprobates behind.

Let us all, together, boldly reclaim what it really means to be the dominant species on the planet. Be smart enough to be kind. Be powerful enough to care deeply. Let’s make our evolutionary victory lap a celebration of healing. And, let’s begin with our dogs.

Michael Baugh is a human being in Houston, TX. He specializes in aggressive dog training and other behavior related to fear and anxiety.

Do I Need a Dog Behaviorist?



Do you need a dog behaviorist? I’ll get directly to the point with a somewhat vague answer. It depends.

The answer is “No, you do not need a dog behaviorist”  if:

  • You’re interested in teaching your dog manners and tricks. Dog trainers are excellent at this work
  • Your dog is a puppy who has typical developmental (and annoying) behavior. Again, qualified and certified dog trainers are the experts you need.
  • If your dog has some interesting or quirky behavior that is not a problem to you, is not a cause of or sign of suffering, and is not a danger to himself or others. Every dog has is own behaviors that make him or her special. Don’t let anyone dog shame you.

The answer is “Yes, you do need a dog behaviorist” if:

  • There is a particular behavior or pattern of behavior that you want to change. This is especially the case if your dog is suffering (for example with separation anxiety) or if you dog is a danger to himself or others (for example if he has aggressive dog behavior toward other dogs or humans).
  • But, this also depends on what the definition of dog behaviorist is (see below). At Michael’s Dogs we are Certified Dog Behavior Consultants who specialize in behavior-change. In other words, we teach training techniques and lifestyle adjustments aimed at changing patters of unwanted, emotionally painful, or dangerous behavior. Some people use the label dog behaviorist for us. Others use behavioralist, dog behavior expert, trainer, or even aggressive dog trainer. We are, in fact, behavior consultants and dog trainers who focus on this one aspect of dog behavior:  its propensity to change and the specific interventions available to influence that change for the better.

So, what is a dog behaviorist? That also depends on whom you ask. Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorists lay claim to the legal title. They have state licenses to practice veterinary medicine and board certification to specialize in animal behavior. Most also have extensive hands-on experience with dogs as well as training acumen. (Think: book knowledge and street cred). Others may appropriate the title without any significant training experience or clinical background (Think PhD researcher). As a rule, while Certified Dog Behavior Consultants and Certified Professional Dog Trainers are sometimes referred to as dog behaviorists we do not use that misnomer when referring to ourselves.

Michael Baugh is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. He and his team teach dog behavior and dog training in Humble Texas, Kingwood, Houston, and Katy.

Online Dog Training – Your First and Best Choice


It wasn’t that long ago that folks thought of online dog training (live video coaching) as a second choice. We considered it a good-enough option when in-person training wasn’t available. There are some reasons for that. Dog trainers weren’t as good at remote training as we are today. Fair enough. The other reason, though, is that we just didn’t know what we didn’t know. The pandemic, quite frankly, forced us to immerse ourselves in online learning experiences. Little-by-little it became a welcome part of our comfort zones. We got good at it and we learned how good it could be for us.

Dog training and behavior coaching has some key elements in every case:

  • Setting goals
  • Charting a training plan
  • The trainer modeling specific skills and exercises
  • The client practicing those skills hands-on and getting feedback
  • Review and Follow up

The truth is, not only are all of those things able to be accomplished live on a video connection, some of them are actually better accomplished that way. I take notes for my clients and can often send clients a written training plan the very same day if we are working online. I also record demonstrations and practice sessions and can send a link for those to the client within minutes after our consultation.

And, believe it or not, there are real disadvantages to seeing a client and their dog in-person. For dogs with aggression issues, having a stranger in the home can be very stressful. Half of a training session or more can be wasted just getting the dog to calm down. We don’t have that problem with live video coaching. The client can work with their dog in a calm stress-free environment, skill-building and preparing the dog for real-life encounters later in the process. Dog separation anxiety training is done entirely online. The idea is to help the dog learn how to be calm when left alone. You don’t invite someone over and then leave the dog alone, right? It’s essential that the trainer not be there so that he can monitor your dog’s behavior when left on his own.

It’s normal to have some hesitation around online training. I get it. Many of our clients did at first too. Then the reviews started coming in:

Michael is Very professional and helpful. We were worried about the training being performed virtually at first but found that the training was just as helpful as in person training if not better. – Mary C

I was worried how training might translate over Zoom since we began at the height of COVID, but everything went so smoothly and I think the distance helped Finn to be a bit more natural at home during training sessions. – Corrine B

Even through remote training due to covid, Michael’s professional assessment and training skills shone through and worked wonders. He gave us a customized plan to help her build trust and positive engagement with my husband. – Mabry Family

We met with Michael through Zoom meetings and he helped us immensely with positive training techniques that helped our pup become a loving part of our family. – Pat V

We’ve learned there are other real advantages to live video dog training sessions online, as well.

  • Expert help when you need it. There are still too few dog behaviorists and dog behavior consultants who handle difficult behavior cases. With online coaching you can access experts more easily with less wait time for an appointment.
  • Convenience of scheduling. With no worries about service area or travel time, we can make more evening and weekend time slots available.
  • Expert care and instruction no matter where you are. Online dog behavior coaching is not bound by geography or service area boundaries.
  • Safety. Online coaching is stress-free for dogs with aggression issues.
  • Less stressful for the humans, too. There’s no fuss or worry about having a stranger in your home.
  • Online training costs less.

I’m a watcher of trends. It’s one of my passions. One of the things we are noticing from the pandemic is that we will probably continue to do more work with each other remotely from our own homes. Certainly we crave social interaction in-person. At the same time we are realizing we don’t need that (or want it) for all interactions. If we can get expert help that’s better, quicker, and less expensive, that really should be our first option. Experience has shown me so far it’s likely to be our best option, too.

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston, TX. He’s also able to help people around the world with live video coaching online.