The Power of Management
A trainer’s most important job is to help people live harmoniously with their dogs and sometimes the only thing that is needed to create harmony is effective management. When I work with dogs that have behavioral issues, I focus on teaching alternatives - new skills that dogs can utilize instead of the unwanted behaviors I have been called into change. While I am teaching these new skills I look at how I can manage the dog’s environment to help ensure success.
Here’s an example of effective management. While I’m teaching a dog to eliminate outdoors, I prevent indoor elimination by setting up a pen, crate or safe zone where the dog can safely stay unsupervised. By combining teaching (taking the dog outside at regular intervals and rewarding her for proper elimination) with management, my learner will have less accidents inside the home and will consistently eliminate outdoors instead.
Management differs from training since it doesn’t actually teach a productive alternative but prevents a dog from practicing an undesirable behavior and earning its related reinforcement which serves to strengthen it. Consequences drive behavior, so even if a dog is doing something we don’t like, if the behavior has a favorable outcome for the dog, she will persist unless we take steps to replace the undesired behavior through management and teaching.
The three key factors for management are: to keep dogs, humans and other animals safe; to make sure the dog’s needs are met by using enrichment; and to prevent the reinforcement of “undesirable” behaviors. Examples of safety include using baby gates, leads, harness and/or muzzles. Enrichment could include exploratory walks, food puzzles and training time, and prevention mirrors safety with the use of baby gates, fences and leads to prevent reinforcement of unwanted behaviors.
While thinking about enrichment you should consider your dog’s needs & wants and provide interactive toys, games and chews she can play with. You might also provide exercise equipment – platforms which are fun for most dogs including smaller pups who might feel more confident climbing up onto a raised surface. You can teach your dog new skills while playing stimulating or calming music, or you can use dog appeasing pheromone to help your dog acclimatize to new environments or situations. And while you are providing enrichment, you can use prevention tools such as visual barriers – sheets, curtains, blinds and auditory barriers such as white noise, calming music or sound proofing - as well as the physical barriers of baby gates, doors, crates and leads, to limit or redirect movement.
If your goal is to stop your dog chewing on your furniture, you can use management to encourage her to chew on appropriate toys instead by keeping her behind a baby gate and providing her with chew toys or games while she is behind the gate. If your dog pulls on the lead, you might use a no pull harness to manage her pulling while teaching her lead walking skills.
These are just a few examples you can use to manage your dog, but don’t forget that you can also manage the stimulus. If your dog gets excited when she hears the doorbell ring and jumps up on guests as they walk through the front door, you can use management by disabling the doorbell to avoid triggering the excitable behavior, and asking your guests to come through another door and avoid touching your dog when they come inside. You can put this management plan in place while you desensitize your dog to the sound of the doorbell and teach her appropriate greeting behavior.
You can also create a predictable environment by managing your dog’s everyday life. If your puppy is afraid of thunder, for example, you can close the curtains, put on some calming music and create a bolt hole she can go to that makes her feel safe. Sometimes your dog will choose her own hiding place by taking herself off into the closet or going under a bed. If this is a location that is safe and a place where she feels protected, create a den-like space for her there and let her be until the thunderstorm passes.
If your puppy gets stressed in your car, it might be because she is getting overstimulated by what is flying past outside the window. In this case you can manage the situation by putting her in a crate, drape a blanket over part of the crate to block her vision, and let her relax until you get to your destination.
If your puppy or adult dog is stressed being in the crate at home, place the crate in a safe area of your home in an ex-pen or safe room so that the crate door always stays open. This will give her the freedom to decide whether she wants to go into the crate or not. Not all dogs can tolerate being confined.
Emergency situations will happen so plan ahead and create an emergency management plan. The primary goal of this is safety, followed by prevention. Say you’re walking along the street with a dog reactive dog and you are doing a great job avoiding other dogs by crossing the road to give your dog the safety she needs when another dog is in view. Now you turn a corner and another dog is walking straight towards you. You might go behind a tree or parked car – using management by putting a barrier between yourself and the other dog. You can teach your dog an emergency u turn for just this type of situation. The aim is to create distance in as short amount of time as possible without causing stress for you and your dog.
Management does not have to be used forever. Some people may use management as a permanent solution rather than something that is short-term and used during the teaching of desirable behaviors. For example, walking on a front-clip harness may be fine for a client who does not wish to spend a great deal of time teaching their dog loose-leash walking. When the new behavior is fluent, management can usually be relaxed or phased out. While house training you might confine a dog to a small room in the house so the dog is less likely to eliminate indoors, but when the teaching is complete and your dog is consistently voiding outdoors, you can relax management and allow your dog the freedom to be in other rooms of the house.
Management is most effective if you plan in advance and set up a management plan before the problem occurs. In order to manage problem behavior, you can employ an effective strategy by managing your dog, the stimulus, or both. When managing your dog, consider all factors of management: enrichment, safety, and prevention and when managing the stimulus, focus on safety and prevention. Management can also be used proactively (before the problem arises) and in an emergency (when the problem occurs unexpectedly). Choosing an appropriate management tool is key to a successful management plan.
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