Just Plain Ordinary Dogs

Michael Baugh CPDT-KSA, CDBC

It always comes down to this for me.  Would I live with that dog?  You see, I don’t endorse dogs for adoption lightly; that’s bad business for dog trainers.  If I’m going to put my name behind a dog, he or she has to be a dog I’d honestly and freely welcome into my own home.  I’m also not the kind of dog trainer who adopts rehab cases.  I want to live with a just-plain typical dog, magical yes, but in the way ordinary dogs find magic by settling deep into your heart.

My dogs are those kind of dogs.  They are mutts, as we used to call such gifts, mixed breeds of questionable origin.  But, this isn’t really about them.  It’s not about my adopting a dog either; our house and our hearts are full.  This is about other ordinary dogs, magical dogs with no home, mutts whose origins and looks draw their worth into question.  They are dogs who’ve touched my heart and even now risk breaking it.


When I posted pictures of Tara and Oreo on my facebook page, my brother posted only one question about them.  “Are they pit bull mixes?”  The question made me angry, and at first I wasn’t exactly sure why.  My answer to him was staid.  Breed identification based on visual observation is only about 30% accurate.  He didn’t reply.

I met Tara and Oreo more than two months ago.  They were scrappy adolescent dogs pulled from the streets of the Corridor of Cruelty in Houston and placed directly into a boarding facility.  Oreo was literally a mangy mutt, black and white, slightly squared at the jaw.  Tara was and is brown and muscular with a blocky head and slanted amber eyes.  My job was to assess them and a third dog, a shepherd mix named Skipper, for a program called Project HEEL.  The program places homeless dogs from Corridor Rescue Inc. with teenage boys in the custody of The Harris County Juvenile Probation Department.  When I first met them, the three dogs ran amok and were definitely untrained.  Nevertheless, they got along well and within a week they were sent off to a juvenile probation home in the rural reaches of a Houston Suburb.


It’s hard to ignore the parallels – tough-looking dogs with tough-looking teenage boys, all behind the double locked doors and barbed wire of the county.  For the dogs and the boys both, the trouble is more about how they look, than what they’ve done or ever will do.  The boys at least know what they’re up against when they get out.  The dogs have no idea.  Block headed, bully bodied, banned in some places.  They are totally, if not blissfully, unaware of how hard it will be for them to find a place in this world, a home, a family.

Someone claimed Skipper, the shepherd mix, weeks before Project HEEL ended.  Skipper’s leash will be handed to his new guardians at a graduation ceremony.  No one will take Tara’s leash, or Oreo’s leash, the ones my brother summarily asked about.  They will return to their crates, and if time runs out they will go back to the boarding facility to wait.  I don’t know for how long.  I also don’t know if they are pit mixes.  It doesn’t matter.  They look the part and that’s enough of a mark against them.  And here’s the irony , bitter as it may be.

I’d live with either of these dogs, Tara, Oreo.  I would if it weren’t for the dogs who’ve already claimed me.  Tara, tough as she may look, with her muscled body and serious eyes, would have a place beside me – curled and pressed against my chest please.  Oreo would learn tricks and accompany me on TV, the eager learner, the clown.  I’ve looked at each of them squarely and asked myself soberly, would I live with that dog.  The answer is yes.  I’d put my name behind either of theirs, and let them settle into my heart to find the magic life of an ordinary dog.

I don’t endorse dogs lightly, but these are dogs with whom I’d live.  Wouldn’t you?  Won’t you?  Please.

Adopt. (Haiku)

Michael Baugh CPDT-KSA, CDBC

Mali Chi's Alex


Rescue Dog Proclaims:

I am not guilty as charged.

Can we go play now?


My Foster Buddy

Michael Baugh CPDT-KSA, CDBC

The funny thing is, life never seems to turn out exactly as planned.  For example, I didn’t really plan on fostering a dog.  Tim and I haven’t had much success with it in the past, and frankly I didn’t think he’d go for the idea.  As it turns out, Buddy was available as a short-term “holiday foster” and Tim said yes.

My guess is that Buddy’s life isn’t going exactly as he’d planned either (if in fact dogs do any planning at all).  The folks from Corridor Rescue Inc. found him in a parking lot, homeless and without a human.  He had heartworms (light positive) and probably hadn’t had a good meal in a while.  He settled in nicely at a local kennel until the holidays rolled around.  The kennel needed his run for the holiday rush, so Buddy came to us.  Now, here he is by my side gnawing a bully stick (video) as I write.


I really didn’t expect Buddy to be so amazingly and beautifully – average.  Certainly he has the magic and wonder that all average dogs have.  It’s not an insult.  It’s just that most of the dogs I see day in and day out have problems adjusting to and coping with life with humans.  Some have serious problems.  Buddy, despite his questionable beginnings, doesn’t.  Despite having no place beyond his modest run to call home, despite having nothing – not so much as a collar, Buddy is undamaged – average – just a typical dog – just Buddy.

He renews my faith in life and all its plans gone awry.  He hadn’t been in our home an hour before he was playing.  It was vigorous and joyful.  It wasn’t play for the weary; it was play for the living, for those filled with life.  He dodged and chased and hip-checked Stella like he’d known her forever.  She tired of it long before he did (and let him know it).  Given the chance, he’d have played on.  I’m sure of it.

I’d planned on training Buddy.  It was my plan to send him back better than I’d found him.  It’s clear that there isn’t a hand signal or a verbal cue that registers familiar in his happy little brain.  It’s also clear that he’s learned a whole lot about what it takes to survive in our crazy human world without any help from me.  Here’s what he’s shown me so far.

  • Car rides are for sleeping.  When the car stops, wake up and begin the next adventure.
  • Leashes are more comfortable when not pulling.  Sniff along the way but not for too long.  Avoid garbage bags.
  • Crying in the crate might work (not at our house).  If it fails, sleep in crate instead.
  • My name is Buddy.
  • People are safe.  Go to them when they call my name.
  • Chase the ball; bring it back.
  • Dogs equal play.   If a dog doesn’t want to play, keep trying.

Of course, that last one doesn’t always go as planned. A couple of dogs can be great fun.  Too many dogs at once can be scary.  Buddy didn’t do too well in his first try at dog daycare.  He was tense, and sometimes a bit too intense.  He didn’t make friends easily or quickly; he didn’t made friends at all really.  The stress built; he lashed out; then he got kicked out of the group.

Life is unpredictable, but you can count on one thing.  It usually leads us where we need to go.  Buddy needed a place to lay his head for the holidays.   As for me, I guess I needed a Buddy – a guy who is sometimes a bit rough around the edges with social scenes, a guy who’s learned a lot about life but never tires of learning more.

Buddy is available for adoption immediately.  He is appropriate for a household with other dogs who enjoy athletic play, and he is reportedly cat familiar.   He’s an excellent training candidate.  My dog training services come with him (Houston Metro Only).