Toxic Training (When “Helping” Hurts)


Training your dog doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact it can be fun and satisfying, and I hope it is.

The best dog owner / trainers seek out support from other dog enthusiasts, maybe even a professional dog trainer. We humans are great for helping each other out. And, sometimes we are terrible at it, no matter our best intentions. We can trip each other up and derail the learning process. If you’re part of a training team, with a spouse or other family member for example,  remember to be patient, supportive, and encouraging. Avoid these three toxic training traps:


The Training Foul

Dog training is about learning timing and mechanical skills. So much of what we do when training is a precise sequence of events (Giving a cue –> Noticing the dog’s response –> clicking the clicker –>reaching in the treat bag –> delivering a treat). It sounds and looks easy until you try to do it yourself.

When we  interrupt someone else’s training efforts and take over without our permission, that’s called a “training foul.”  We’ve interrupted their training sequence and gummed up their learning in the process. Let’s not jump in with cues to help or click for them when their timing is off. At best, that’s unhelpful. At worst, it’s rude. Don’t do it. Let your partner come to a natural stopping point in training and then ask. “May I have a turn?” or “Can I share my observations?”

Holding Back

The opposite of The Training Foul can be just as bad – withholding valuable reinforcement. We humans thrive on reinforcement. “Let me know when I’m doing it right.” Our dogs are great at reinforcement. When we are training well, they respond. That taste of success is so very important when it comes to keeping the process going. Thank you, dogs. Equally important is the feedback and affirmation we give each other. Let your training partner know what you see that they are doing well. “Great timing on that click,” or “Good work keeping your hands at home position.”

Most of the time that’s my job as a trainer, coaching and supporting my clients. But, it’s not only my job. You can do it too. And, you should.


This is the most toxic of the toxic training traps. I’m sorry to say, a lot of us trainers are guilty of it. When we shame our training parters, or when trainers shame their clients, they are stopping the teaching and learning process dead in its tracks. Shame is worse than criticism. Criticism can give us pause. It can even sting a bit. But, shame? Shame is crippliing. Shame suggests our training partner is simply not good enough.

“You need to be a stronger leader for your dog.” Shame

“You need to make your dog respect you.” Shame

“Your dog listens to me. Why doesn’t he listen to you?” Shame

“Here let me show you.” Training foul + Shame

Silence when the person training succeeds anyway. Holding back + Shame.

This can be tricky stuff. That’s why I call them traps. I don’t think people set out to be mean – to foul – to withhold – to shame. We can intend the best and still deliver the worst. It happens. So, my plea here is: be careful.

Dog training can be hard sometimes. Life can be hard. Take great care with each other. Take great care of each other. Tread lightly. Give thought. Take the time. Here’s my short list of how we can support each other well when we are working with our dogs (and it is a short list).

  • Take turns. This helps us avoid the training fouls. Ask to take a turn. When you are done ask your partner (or professional trainer) what did I do well?
  • Reinforce excellent training. Let your training partner know what you observed and what you think they did really well. If you are on a break or between reps training, give some constructive instructions for next round. (e.g. “This time I’m going to pay close attention to your hand movement. Do you remember the sequence?”).
  • Assume the best. One of my friends and mentors says “I choose to believe that at any given moment this person is doing the best they can with the information they have now.” That steers us away from shaming.

None of us set out on the journey of training our dogs to muck it up. We’re doing the best we can at the moment. And quite often the best we can do is to call in some help. And before long we might be the ones to get the call, to answer, and to step up and help.

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston TX. He’s also mentored other trainers at lectured at the IAABC conference on coaching humans. Sometimes he mucks it up – resets – and tries to do better next time.



The Case of the Whining Greyhound

Michael Baugh CPDT-KA, CDBC

(from all things dog blog):

I have a situation I’d like to submit for the Ask a Trainer posts. My dog, Desmond, whines nearly all night long.

He’s sleeps in our bedroom, in his own large dog bed, right next to our bed. He has a blanket and a pillow, too. When it’s bedtime, he starts out fine, sleeping away no problem, but a few hours later, he starts whining and doesn’t stop.

At first, we were getting up to see what was wrong. We tried taking him out to the yard to go to the bathroom, but that’s never it. We’ve also tried simply ignoring him to make him stop, but that works only some of the time–and only after quite a while of him whining 45+ minutes. The only thing that makes him stop is when we pet him for a little while and/or recover him with his blanket. Even then, he sleeps for only a few hours and then starts whining again. We’ve also tried a nightlight, but it didn’t change anything.

Sometimes on weekends we let him sleep in our bed withus, and then he almost never whines. We don’t want him in our bed on a regular basis.

What’s his problem? Is he cold? Does he miss us? Is he scared? Is he just not tired enough (He goes out for a 30-minute walk/run every morning and we try to take him out for another 30 minutes after work but sometimes it doesn’t happen. We also play with him in the yard/house.)?

He’s 18 months old. Greyhound mix. We’ve had him almost 6 months. He’s done this almost the entire 6 months! We’re exhausted. Please help us!


Dear Greyhound owner:

You present an interesting case, and a perfect one for helping us all understand how behavior works.

First, rule out any medical causes. As it turns out, most of the cases I handle don’t have medical causation. Nevertheless, we always want to make sure the dog isn’t in any discomfort or pain.

Second, identify the behavior you want to change. This may seem like a no-brainer, but in some cases it takes a bit of thought. My guess is that in Desmond’s case you want to change the whining behavior. Keep in mind behavior is an action, something your dog is doing. Waking up and whining.

(Read More)

High Rise Potty Training

Michael Baugh, CPDT-KA, CDBC

Dear Michael;

I just got a little furry baby from the rescue in my area. She is a mix of who knows what, cute and cuddly with curly fur. I live in a high rise apartment building and am starting to use puppy pads for training. I know there will be times when I cannot be there to take her out. How would you suggest I use puppy pads and crate training together? We are just starting and already unsure as to how to get the message across.
Thank you, Jess
Dear Jess,

Great questions!  Potty training a puppy is a pretty straight forward process, regardless of where you want the puppy to “go.”  Most dogs seek out absorbent surfaces, like grass.  Unfortunately some seek out carpet as well.  The potty pads are absorbent too, which is good news.  I can tell you, they are most effective if used in an area with hard flooring.  Don’t put them in a carpeted area.  If you want to train your dog to use the potty pads some or most of the time in your apartment, then lead her to the pad right after letting her out of her crate.  As soon as she’s done doing her business, praise and treat her.  Repeat this process often and she will learn the pad is the preferred indoor potty area.

(read more on All Things Dog Blog)