Laura began training professionally in 1999, and is author of the best-selling book Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out: Training Crazy Dogs from Over-the-top to Under Control and her newest book, released earlier this year, Social, Civil and Savvy: Training and Socializing puppies to become the best possible dogs.
She owns Canines In Action, Inc. in Indianapolis, speaks at workshops and seminars, and is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member.
To be released 10/27/2017, featuring Denise Fenzi to talk about the Fenzi TEAM Titling program and her upcoming book.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we will be talking to Laura VanArendonk Baugh.
If that name isn't familiar to you, no worries. Laura is actually our first non FDSP instructor to be on the show.
Laura began training professionally in 1999 and is author of the best-selling book Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out, training crazy dogs from over-the-top to under control. And her newest book, released earlier this year, Social, Civil, and Savvy: Training and socializing puppies to become the best possible dogs. She owns Canines in Action Inc. in Indianapolis and speaks at workshops and seminars. She is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member.
Hi, Laura, welcome to the podcast.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Hi, Melissa. I am thrilled to be here.
Melissa Breau: Good. I'm looking forward to chatting with you. To get us started out, do you want to just tell us a little bit about your dogs and what you're working on with them?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I have two dogs at this time. Penny is a Labrador who was raised as part of a Clicker training research project with guide dogs for the blind, and she actually ended up coming back to me. As a trainer, it's important for me to say her training was great. She did not come back to me for a training reason, which would've been fine too, but that's always like, my little, “No, I'm a trainer. She was good.” So anyway, so she now has very important tasks at home. She has to hold my couch down, she has to check my ponds daily to see if it's wet, so that's Penny's life right now.
Melissa Breau: Critical.
Laura: VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah, Yeah. Those are important tasks. I also have Undómiel, who is my young Doberman, and she's Danish, so she has ears and a tail and all the extra bits, and she's pretty high-energy, and pretty fun, and I actually have some guilt because you ask what I'm doing with them right now.
Right now, they both are just dogs, which is a little weird for me because they spent so long in the dog sport world. And I took some time off mostly with Undómiel because she loves to work, but she wasn't loving mondioring, which is what we were doing with her as a puppy, and I think that was in part physical. I needed…she had some fairly loose joints and I think it just wasn't comfortable for her, so we could go back and do it now, but she's matured a little bit, but I've scheduled my life poorly so that’s why we’re in a holding pattern still, so yeah.
Melissa Breau: Far enough. So I know I kind of mentioned you've been in personal training since 1999, but I wanted to ask a little bit about how you got into it. So how did you originally get into training professionally?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I didn't want to do what I went to school for is the short answer to that question, so I graduated with a couple of degrees in, you know, mass communications, and a foreign language, and all these things that, you know, I'm like oh, okay, those are nice, but I don't want to do that. I ended up getting into…I’d done some obedience training and such previously. I ended up getting a job doing that actually at a big box store, so that kind of thing. I worked up there, became a regional manager for the training program, and it was actually while I was there that I went… I'm a crossover trainer and I was originally trained in more the Koehler approach and kind of encountered clicker training and was like oh, this makes sense, oh, this works really well, and then so I had my crossover experience, and yeah, just kind of never looked back after that, which is funny because for so many years I was like oh, food and toys are stupid, we don't bribe dogs, and that's totally not where I am now, so. Well, I'm still in the we don't bribe dogs, but toys and food are not necessarily bribing, so.
Melissa Breau: Right. So is there anything in particular that got you started on that journey? What was kind of the switch or was there a particular experience, or anything kind of that you can point to?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: There were several things. I mean, I kept seeing people doing interesting things with Clicker training. That was nice.They were doing cute tricks and stuff. And then the kind of the clincher for me was one of my dogs at that time, her name was Chaucer, she was a brilliant little dog, and she was mildly reactive, and the longer we worked the more and more reactive she became, and nothing that I knew how to do was working, and in fact, everything was getting worse, so clearly the dog was stupid. It couldn't possibly be me. And so I ended up talking with someone about Clicker training and the nugget that I got from that was to click for the behavior that you want the dog to do, and I thought okay, I want her to be around other dogs without barking and launching, so I will wait until she looks at another dog and then I will click before she barks. So this actually makes great sense and we do it all the time now, and Leslie McDevitt called it the “look at that” game, so it sounds hilarious to say that I invested the look at that game as my first Clicked behavior, which in no way am I taking credit for that because I had no freaking clue what I was doing. It was one of those things that was very logical and I accidentally got it right, but was amazing about that is it worked, like, within seconds, and I guess that she was a brilliant dog, she made this work for me despite my absolute ignorance. And so I clicked her, she turned around and got her treat, and I clicked her again and she turned around, and I was like, oh, wow. Like, we're 10 seconds in and this is working, and you know, the effect of prompt reinforcement, it changed my behavior, and so that's where I started doing more research and saying oh, this is really cool.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. I mean, especially since you've been trying other things for so long and probably got really frustrated, at that point, with the lack of results.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Oh, there was a lot of frustration. Yeah. I was so ready for something to work and I think if you look at the dogs…a lot of the dogs that we work with, a lot of the reactive dogs, you know, they're very frustrated, they're ready for something to work, and just having that really powerful instance of positive reinforcement for a different behavior, it can be massively effective because, you know, I lived that, I'm not just making that up because that's the way the theory goes, that was my experience is I was so frustrated, I got something that worked so well, and I was like okay, tell me more. Like, I'm in now.
Melissa Breau: Right. So I want to talk a little bit about your first book, and maybe…you just kind of share a little bit about this. What led you to write Fired up Frantic and Freaked out?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I was... with Canines in Action. I do a lot of in-home sessions. I work with a lot of dogs that aren't equipped, for whatever reason, to come into a group class and I realized that about 70 percent of my cases were anxiety or reactivity, and I just kept saying the same thing over, and over, and over. I'm like oh my gosh, I should just write this down, save time, so I did so. So that's honestly kind of where that came out of was I was seeing so much of it, and doing so much of it. It was made partly as a reference guide for clients if they wanted a homework sheet, you know, here's a book to follow along with, and partly so that I would maybe not have to say it quite as so often in the future, which would be fantastic.
Melissa Breau: So for those not familiar with the book, can you explain a little bit kind of about the main focus and what you talk about?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: The focus there is really on teaching dogs to think and to kind of be cognitive in the moment. One of the things I talk about is if you have a fear reaction or just a pure joyous, excitement reaction, those can frequently result in the same behavior patterns and problems because what you have is a dog who is just way too excited to think, you know, whether he sees eustress or distress, he's still stressed and aroused and not processing. So it's about teaching the dog to think in the moment, it's about reducing threshold, and it's especially about teaching the human end of the leash to develop a good splitting technique and utilize that to make it much easier for the dog to focus in a new situation.
Melissa Breau: I definitely read your first book and one of the things that really stood out to me was the nice balance you managed to strike between the what and kind of the why, so it covers both the approach to training and kind of the science behind what's going on in the dog's brain, and I think you managed to do that in a pretty accessible way. You know, when I picked up the book I definitely did not have the background that I do now, and it really kind of helped build a base understanding for me. Can you talk a little bit about how you approach training for a dog that tends to overreact, like the approach that you use in the book?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Well, first, I'm just so happy to hear you say that because I'm such a science nerd and I wanted to make that science very user-friendly, so thank you, that's awesome. So the mat is…and definitely, I am not the only person to use a mat in this way. I want to be up front. I don't want to claim credit where it's not due. There's a lot of really great matwork protocols out there, but what they all have in common is it's a really handy visual crutch for the dog and it certainly doesn't have to be a mat. There's a lot of just kind of physical or mental touchstones that could be used, but a mat is just so convenient and so easy for the human to use in that way... but what you're doing is you're building a fluency, you're building some patterns of behavior that a stressed animal can fall back on, but you're also building some patterns that they can work through, I guess on a more cognitive level. “Oh, when my mat is presented I should think about going to my mat, I should think about doing these behaviors on it.” And you can use it both as an emotional crutch. “Oh, I'm on my mat, nothing bad can happen to me,” or as a actual behavior prompt, you go through these physical actions and you can earn reinforcement for it. And then the big thing that the mat does so well, and this is why think it so useful, is it's so easy to split behaviors in a situation using that mat, so I can take it, obviously, from looking at the mat, touching the mat, going to the mat, down on the mat, chin down on the mat. But then I also have a nearly infinite number of positions that, that mat can be in, in or around a trigger, or whatever. So it's a very flexible tool, I can fade it, or not fade it based on necessity, it's just a really easy way for people to do that, and for me as an instructor. So I'm working with clients who aren't coming in with a huge skill set and a lot of background. It's easy for me to manipulate the mat and they can focus on the dog or their patterns, and it just takes some of the load off them. There's a lot of flexibility to it. I like it.
Melissa Breau: It makes the criteria clear for the person as well as the dog. It's kind of neat looking at it.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Absolutely, Yeah.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. So I knew you mentioned you like to nerd out a little bit on that stuff and I'm going to give you full approval to go ahead and do that. So I wanted to have you share a little bit about kind of why it works and what's going on in the dog's brain, kind of what you're teaching when you introduce the mat work and begin to introduce triggers and all of that.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Awesome. There's a lot going on in the brain, but what I'm specifically…what I think is great about these kinds of approaches is if I have a stressed dog and an anxious dog, and let's be honest, that's where almost all of aggression or reactivity comes from, and so I've got a dog who is not in a happy place in his head, and every time I click with a Clicker-conditioned dog there's a tiny little shot of dopamine that's going on, so if I'm bringing a dog into what could potentially be a trigger situation, and we start with low criteria and we're building up at a rate that he can be successful at, with a high rate of reinforcement, you know, constant reinforcement going on, and this dog is getting dozens or hundreds of little dopamine shots... It's free drugs. Legal. That you don't have to wrestle down his throat in a pill form. It's great.
And so I think that's a really key thing that…you know, it's just built into the system. There's no way to mess that up if we've set up our Clicker and our training situation right that's going to work for us a hundred percent of the time, so I think that's great. And so yeah, a lot of it's just taking the dog…the visual I use, and I always tell my clients, you know, if this works for you, great. If this doesn't work for you, flush it. There will not be a quiz at the end of the day. But the visual I use is there's a continuum and the dog is limbic and reactive at one end, and he's very cognitive and rational, and analytical at the other, and he can't be both at once, so we’re asking the dog to move away from reactive and toward proactive, and we do that by making him…that's why I love Clicker training, specifically shaping and capturing as opposed to luring, which there's nothing…you know, it's not a moral problem to lure, but it's less useful in this particular context because I want that dog being analytical, and kind of really just crunching down on what behaviors should I try next, and he can't do that while he's being reactive, so if I'm reinforcing being analytical it's going to change not only what he's doing, but it's going to change the chemistry in his brain.
I've had this happen a number of times, but I'm thinking of one particular incident. I was working with a client and their dog for the first time. We're in their living room, we're in the front room and we've just been introducing the mat. The dogs not even fully down on the mat yet. He's experimenting with a number of things, but he really hasn't grokked yet that down is what we're after, and while we were working a FedEx delivery guy showed up at the front door, which is the dogs worse trigger, from what I've been told, and they're knocking at the door, he's leaning in, and he's 10 feet away from this dog and the dogs looks up from the mat and he just gets like…his forehead is creased, his little eyebrows are pushed together, and you could almost just see him be like, “dude, I'm busy,” and he looks back at the mat, and I am just clicking and treating, like shot gunning rapid fire because the dog's staying on the mat. And you could see he was just really tempted to… “there's a pattern that I'm supposed to go to, but I'm really concentrating on this right now,” and it's a physically different mode that they had to get into and just like it's hard for them to get out of that…you know, if you've ever tried to talk to dog out of that reactive burst when they're lunging and barking, and they can't snap back into rational thought. It's just as hard to go the other way. So we just put them in the rational thought and then it's harder for them to fall into limbic.
Melissa Breau: Interesting. I love that example just because it really kind of illustrates what the purpose and kind of the effect. I have a change in brain space.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I loved it because it was their first session and I was like, man, if I could have set this up any better to get client buy in, you know? This was great.
Melissa Breau: I bet they followed through.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: So I want to switch gears and talk a little bit about your new book. It's a fairly different topic, so what led you to write Social Civil and Savvy?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I think it's really interesting that you say it's a different topic because I'm looking at it as these are the same things. For me, socialization is kind of the prequel, it's getting your dog to think proactively in a novel situation, potentially triggered situation, before we develop a problem, which of course is my idea. I think most trainers would love to put themselves out of business. You can always go and train, fun stuff, but you know, if we're working with reactivity and aggression and all of that we would love to put ourselves out of business there. But yeah, socialization is all about teaching young brains to look at a situation and go, “this is interesting, what can I do here to get what results,” so.
Melissa Breau: So how do you actually define socialization, either for yourself, or you know, kind of in the book?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: That's a much wigglier concept than you would think. There should be a six-word definition that would be easy to apply, but you know, even when you get into psychology texts and stuff it's not that simple even in our own species. The way…I'm going to do this as a truly practical application, I want socialization to mean I am aware of my environment, I am making proactive decisions about my environment, and I'm still thinking about the environment, so even if something is new I can compare to things I've seen before, I can say, “huh, this is interesting, what happens if I try this.” You know, I want an animal whose thinking proactively is my ultimate goal there.
Melissa Breau: Is there one place where people often kind of go wrong, or you know, kind of a misconception you think people have when it comes to socializing puppies that maybe sometimes causes more harm than good?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah, I think there's actually two. I think…and it's two ends of a spectrum where you have, you know, the I don't socialize at all, and a lot of times you hear trainers talk about…depending on what part of the country, but you'll hear trainers talk about winter puppy syndrome. The puppies come home in November or December, and the weather is horrible and nobody takes them out to do anything until spring, and by then you have dogs who are like no, no, the world looks like my living room, and then anything outside of that is scary. And in the other extreme is doing too much in the name of socialization and just really overwhelming a dog in teaching them that they don't necessarily have control of their environment and the world is a scary place, and I've seen a few articles circulating lately on the dangers of socialization, and you shouldn't socialize because it's bad for your dog, and on the one hand I was like hey, guys, you know. Several years ago I wrote an article called Don't Socialize the Dog, this isn't new, but the point is not that we don't socialize, the point is not to socialize badly, and I think if I take a dog to a situation that's overwhelming and I don't give him agency, choice and a way to affect his environment, yeah, I'm going to get myself in trouble. I'm teaching the dog that reactivity is his only choice, but that's not a fault of socialization. That's a fault of bad socialization.
Melissa Breau: So I've kind of heard it expressed as, you know, it's not just that you want them exposed to things it's that you actually want to them to have positive experiences with things. Is that kind of…
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Absolutely.
Melissa Breau: Okay.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah. I want every socialization experience, if I have perfect control of things, which we rarely do, but this is my goal. I want every socialization experience to end with “I win! What's next?” and that's…even if the dog starts off with a little bit of worry about something, or whatever, like, work through it, let the dog know that everything was a puzzle and he solved it, he's awesome. And you know, I want positive experiences and I specifically want positive experience where the dog felt like he had some control in that environment. So one of the big things…and this is why I think the socialization book and the fired up and frantic book are the same topic.
Predictability and a sense of control are the two things that I tell my clients that we crave in order to feel safe, and you know, I want to know what's coming, and I want to have some say in what happens to me, and that is what socialization is. It's teaching the dog hey, this is how the world works, this is what you can expect to see, and this is what you do to manipulate your environment and get what you want. And manipulate is not a dirty word, it's just agency, so if you want people to pet you this is what you do, if you want people to leave you alone this is what you do, and giving them that sense of control, now there's nothing to fear. Hooray. We're done. It’s awesome.
Melissa Breau: So if people were to pick up the book, read through it, and only walk away with kind of one thing, or one message. What kind of key piece of information would you want them to learn?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Give your dog a happy sense of control. I think. Is that a good…I don't know. That kind of condemns everything I just said. I want a happy puppy feeling he has choice, and yeah.
Melissa Breau: I normally and every episode with kind of the same three questions, so I wanted to give you a chance to answer the same questions, and I'm actually really excited to post under somebody who isn't just an FDSA person, so this will be fun. So to start out, what is the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I might have to say that's actually the first book just because I've gotten so many emails and stories about how that was really helpful not just to people and their dogs, which was the goal, but I've had people tell me that they used the techniques for themselves in their own personal human lives, and that's really awesome, so yeah. I mean, I feel some guilt because that doesn't even involve my own personal dog, but there's…you know, my dogs probably don't need that specific achievement to feel happy. They're having awesome lives hanging out with me. So let's just pretend that they didn't hear that question. Yeah. I'm going to say finding out that it was really helpful to people, so yeah, that's it.
Melissa Breau: Okay. And then what is the best piece of training advice that you've ever heard?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Oh, there's no way I can pick a single one. There are …can I choose two?
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. Go for it.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Bob Bailey once said…and I'm sure he said it to many people, but he did say to me also, you know, “Timing, criteria, rate of reinforcement. Those are your three things. If anything is going wrong it's in one of those three,” and I have never found that not to be true. So anytime I'm looking at a problem it's going to be in my timing, it's going I’ve set the wrong criteria, or my rate of reinforcement is wrong.
Melissa Breau: Want to repeat those one more time for people just so that they can really get them down if they're listening?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Sure. Sure. Because trust me, this is tattooed on the inside of my skull for easy reference. Timing, criteria, rate of reinforcement.
Any problem you have it's going to be one of those, or maybe two, but it's something in there; don't go looking for weird esoteric stuff. It's going to be timing, criteria, rate of reinforcement.
And then the other one…and I have to credit Steve White for this one because I'm one of those people who can get…let's say “focused.” Focused sounds like a nice way to put this, or you can get really intense on solving a particular problem or working a particular session, and Steve said, “The one to quit is the one before you say just one more,” and I was like oh, that's me.
Melissa Breau: I don't think you're alone there. I think that's a common problem.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah. We should have membership cards, yeah.
Melissa Breau: So my last question for you is who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: There's a lot and I'm really hesitant to pick one because that's like picking favorite dogs, but probably Hannah Branigan. I would like to be Hannah when I grow up. That sounds like a good plan.
Melissa Breau: Wouldn't we all?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah, yeah. She's got a lot of good stuff going on and she's got a lot of fantastic techniques, so I'm going to say Hannah, yeah.
Melissa Breau: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Laura. It was great to talk to you.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. I really enjoyed it.
Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in.
We'll be back next week with Denise Fenzi to talk about the TEAM program and her new book, which will be out later this month.
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Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.