Updated: Apr 1
Management is quite a buzz word in modern dog training (or reward-based, force-free, scientific, whatever you want to call it). In the world where we avoid punishing our dogs, management becomes a key concept but there is still a misconception that it’s somehow an ‘easy option’ or way to ‘avoid the problem’.
In order to change a behaviour and teach a new more desirable behaviour, you need to stop the old behaviour being practiced. Not by punishing the old behaviour, because that’s more likely to create issues than fix anything, but by putting management in place to prevent the behaviour being rehearsed.
Many behaviours are self-rewarding to our dogs, or they have a strong history of reinforcement, making it harder to teach a new alternative behaviour and change existing habits.
Simply teaching and rewarding a new behaviour is unlikely to fully extinguish the old one, but putting management in place, alongside training, means the old behaviour is no longer rehearsed and the new behaviour can become a stronger habit sooner.
Admittedly, management isn’t always fun nor is it always appealing. For many people it can sound restrictive and limiting to their dog, it can seem like hard work and it can look like an easy-way-out. But in reality it is ESSENTIAL. You cannot change behaviour without putting management in place. It is always step one of any training or behaviour plan.
In some cases, training isn’t the answer, and management will be enough for you and your dog to co-exist in a much happier way.
There are some really common challenges which can be solved purely with good management, sure they can all be worked on with training plans, but for some people long-term management will be enough.
This is a notoriously difficult one to work on and even if you are working on it, management will be crucial at all times
It’s a complex issue with many different levels to it and without management it’s likely to get worse quickly
It can be managed differently depending on the specific dog and their guarding tendencies but as generic examples you can manage it by feeding your dog in a quiet room or crate, preventing access to guarded items, and avoiding situations which create conflict
For tips on a Resource Guarding training plan to go side by side with your management plan, read our blog here
You can work on this by teaching a reliable settle on a bed but it also needs to be managed until the habit has faded
Don’t allow access to areas where the behaviour is practiced (unless you’re ready to work on the behaviour!)
Keep all tempting items out of reach or tether your dog so he can’t access the countertops
Provide reinforcement for settling with their own items (chews, toys, puzzles)
For a training plan for your counter surfer, read our blog here
Loose Lead Walking
This is a problem which can be solved with good training, but for some dogs it’s easy to manage with a simple equipment change
Use equipment cues, such as a collar or front harness clip for when you want your dog to walk nicely, and the back of the harness to allow sniffing and exploration and pulling
You can then use the back clip of the harness when the environment is beyond your dogs current skill level, which helps to ensure that your dog isn't rehearsing unwanted pulling on the collar/front harness clip
Using a headcollar can be a good 'training aid' for dogs and owners who really struggle to establish good lead walking habits, or for dogs who benefit from the calming effect it can have
Management may also mean changing your expectations … use a longer lead, walk in different places … whatever it takes for your dog to not pull like crazy!
See our top tips on lead walking training here
This habit takes time to change, it needs a lot of consistency and very limited opportunities for the unwanted behaviour to be practiced
It can be managed by keeping the dog on a lead when greeting people, not allowing the dog to interact unless everyone is on-board with the training, not allowing the dog to approach people unless they’re briefed on how to interact properly
If you’re in a situation where you can’t work on it, or you have visitors who don’t love dogs, then keep your dog away and use more dog-savvy friends to work on the behaviour another time
See our top tips on training plans for jumping here
Barking in the Garden
You can work on this by rewarding calm behaviours and reinforcing your dog for not reacting to triggers in the garden but to see a change, you need to limit his opportunities to practice the behaviour
Management may mean he has no garden access unless you’re supervising and working on the behaviour
Work on pairing the garden with calming activities. For example, you can scatter-feed meals in the grass, or build an enrichment zone for your dog to explore (tunnels, snuffle mats, tyres, ramps etc)
Barking out the Window
Similar to barking in the garden, while you’re working on the behaviour, you need to prevent access to trigger areas unless you’re there to supervise and work through it
You could stop your dog accessing rooms where he barks or cover windows with curtains or a window film so he can’t see out
Separate your dogs with a playpen or babygate if they struggle to settle or switch off when together, so they can receive important rest time
Feed your dogs their meals or chews in separate areas to reduce conflict around resources
Train and walk dogs separately initially, so that each dog can learn the necessary skills individually before they're expected to respond together
In some of these cases, management will always be enough. It’s not lazy and it’s not a cop-out, it’s simply what works for you. You may be happy to always put your dog in a different room or behind a dog-gate while you have food out in the kitchen so he can’t counter surf and steal. You may find it works to cover your windows with a film so your dog can’t see out and bark at people passing. And that’s absolutely ok, because it works for you and your dog!
You shouldn’t feel guilty about using management strategies to avoid problems. You may also be working on multiple areas of training with your dog, meaning while you’re focused on one problem, you make use of management in other areas until you gradually move onto those too.
Written by Naomi White
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