Dog trainers often instruct clients to “manage” their dogs as the first step in any training routine. I love learning and as a student of kayaking, yoga, cooking or whatever catches my interest; I sometimes scratch my head at another instructor’s lingo. It reminds me how important it is to define shop talk and terms like “management” so it makes better sense when you are out and about with your dog.
Training is a process. Simply because a dog has physically sat three or four times in the living room does not mean he is capable of the same behavior outside around trillions of distractions. We reduce the odds even further by asking for an unpracticed behavior when aroused by an approaching person or dog. If we start babbling “sit, sit, sit” over and over again, we teach our dogs to ignore us and we become very frustrated. When outside, before we have practiced “sit” in various places and circumstances; we need to manage the environment a little bit so our dogs do not get more practice exhibiting unwanted behaviors, like jumping.
If we wanted to prevent jumping, “managing” would mean telling the people who approach your dog that you do not want your dog to jump on them. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? We often miss the opportunity until the person is too close, our dogs are too excited or the approacher completely misses the request because he or she is so enamoured by an adorable dog. Be prepared! When you see your dog’s tail wagging like a wind up toy as someone walks towards you, explain (or talk very loudly, very quickly) your wishes before the human is two feet away. Do not wait until after your dog has flailed in the air towards the passerby. Be prepared to step in between your dog and the human who might be ok with a jumping dog TODAY but just might yell at you for the same behavior tomorrow because your dog’s paws are muddy. NEVER step in between a dog who is aggressive or has shown any aggressive tendencies, you risk a redirected bite.
Management might also look like moving to the side to give your dog space to lower his or her arousal level. ANY good choice your dog makes, praise him (which then becomes training because you are reinforcing him for good behavior)! If passing people cause excitement, whining or jumping; he should be told he’s a good boy for NOT doing any of those things.
Other examples of management are:
- If your dog is reactive on leash towards other dogs and people, any distance helps keep emotional responses at bay. If your dog “looks” too long, it is very easy to have an outburst so moving along the best you can will help. Teaching an alternative behavior varies greatly based on the dog and why he or she is aggressing; some dogs do not do well with a “sit” in the parkway because that is the only time they practice it outside and it quickly predicts a passing dog or human.
- Potty training. Freedom means lots of opportunities to sniff and pee in a corner. “Management” for the dog who still does not understand outside or potty pads are the only place to go means crate or leash around your waist if he or she has not eliminated in the past couple of hours. Limiting space means limiting accidents, period.
- For the dog who growls over bones and food. Management means not giving him the bones that cause growling and feeding in a space that people are not walking by to prevent tension near a valued item. When not in a scary situation, train a good “leave it” and “drop” with items your dog can actually “leave” and “drop”. The death grip bone comes later with practice, if at all. Food, for YOUNG puppies sticking a hand in the dish is fine but for older dogs, you are actually doing what they fear most…trying to take their food away.
- Door jumpers. Put your dog on a leash to prevent jumping. Practice the behavior you want your dog to exhibit instead of jumping another time. Leashes prevent jumping and prevention makes sure the behavior does not get stronger and stronger with days, weeks, months and years. The longer your dog jumps, the harder it is to show him or her a different way to happily greet guests.
Management is a very important aspect of training as it gives your dog the space or limits the ability to continue naughty behaviors while you teach new ones. Take a second before a walk or a friend comes over the think about how you can prevent bad behavior, your dog gets less practice at it and you are much less frustrated. Everyone is happy!
Photo courtesy of Chris Dawson.