Whenever I begin working with a new client on a training plan, I always focus first on management. Management is an often overlooked piece of the complete training puzzle, and simply means blocking opportunities for your dog to do an unwanted behavior. Management and training are different, but the implementation of some simple management changes is often what makes a training plan work.
When you block the opportunity for your dog to do an unwanted behavior, you are preventing them from practicing the very behavior you want to reduce. Remember the saying “practice makes perfect?” If your dog is practicing an unwanted behavior, they will inevitably get better at it. Most people already employ some form of management, such as having their dog leashed when walking down the street so their dog stays with them and doesn’t run away. Here’s another example. Say you have a new puppy in your home and you are working on housetraining. Your training plan will involve teaching them where to go potty and how to let you know they need to do so. But your management plan is equally as important. If they have free access to all parts of the house unsupervised, they are going to practice having accidents. A little management in the form of a crate or puppy play pen so that they are confined in one spot when you can’t supervise will help prevent accidents. It’s that simple.
Good management can be a lifesaver in a multi-dog home. Your training plan may involve teaching each dog polite manners around other dogs and how to wait their turn for things. But eventually a little management will need to come in to play, especially if you have upwards of three dogs. Not all dogs want to eat next to each other, for instance. Simply feeding dogs in separate rooms can reduce concern about any fighting. If you’re having guests over, one or two dogs can go to another room so your guests aren’t bombarded by canines when they enter your house. And if there are two young dogs that like to play with each other, the older more fragile dog in the home can go relax in the back bedroom so they don’t get bumped in the middle of all the fun.
In the case of aggression and reactivity, management is of the utmost importance. By preventing these behaviors, you are not only preventing your dog from practicing what you don’t want, but you are also reducing stress. If you have a dog who has reactivity towards people or dogs on leash, your management plan may involve simply going the other way if someone is approaching. You may also consider not walking your dog for a short period of time while you work on a training plan. This doesn’t teach your dog to not react – it simply prevents them from doing so while you work with a trainer to get a training plan started. And it gives them a stress break!
Sound simple? It often is! But it is true that there are situations where management solutions are actually tricky to come up with. That’s when it’s time to rely on a professional trainer to help you brainstorm management solutions while getting you started on a training plan.
Management is not training. It is not “look what my dog can do!” It is buying yourself some sanity in the form of a baby gate to block off a room with chewable items from your brand new puppy. It is crating your adult dog with a tasty bone when visitors come over so you don’t have to worry about him barking, jumping, growling, or insert unwanted behavior here. It is simply turning around on a walk and going the other way when you see another dog approaching. It’s saying “Today, let’s not even go there.” So think about where you can insert a little management in your life with your dog –simply block them from doing a behavior so they don’t get better at it. We’ll come up with the training plan from there!