Management: Setting Your Dog Up for Success

Management of the environment is a key ingredient to solving almost any behavior problem. If we were to compare getting a new puppy to having a new baby we might get a better picture. Maybe we should spend nine months preparing ourselves for the new arrival. All our closest friends and relatives might throw us a puppy shower to ensure we have all the right stuff and we would do our due diligence to puppy-proof our home. Wouldn’t that be great! Baby gates, playpens, toys, a crib, etc. It’s really very similar only we usually don’t put that much thought into bringing home a new pup. There are a few differences of course, like the fact that puppies will be walking and jumping right away, they have sharp little teeth and they don’t wear diapers, but you get the idea.

We’ve all heard that saying, “Given enough rope he would hang himself,” right? With that in mind, we don’t want to give the dog too much rope, so to speak. We want to keep the training experience as positive as possible and we will do that with proper management. In other words we will be setting the dog up for success. The more success we have, the more opportunities we will have to reward the proper behaviors. This is what’s known as Positive Reinforcement Training. (Also see: Praise and Reward and Affection.) We want to have a dog that is “turned on to learning” not just afraid of making a mistake.

Here is a typical conversation between a new dog or puppy owner and a dog trainer...

Client: “Molly just loves to pee in the closet; and what’s worse is, while she’s in there, she also likes to chew on my shoes.”

Trainer: "So, what do you do about this?"

Client: “I usually just yell at her and point at the closet and say, Bad Dog!”

This is a prime example of a situation where some management would be helpful. Keeping the closet door closed would be a great start. Sounds simple, and it is, but it is very easy to forget when you’re not use to having a puppy around. Also, be sure that Molly has proper chew toys and redirect her to one of them rather than just scolding her for chewing your shoes. There is no need to yell at an animal with better hearing than us. Yelling can be counterproductive and may scare the dog rather than train the dog. Although it may seem like a fine line there is actually a cavernous difference between yelling and using a firm tone. We can use a firm tone, perhaps accompanied by a correction of some sort to teach a dog what “No” means but yelling is over the top and usually comes from the mouth of someone who is in an overly-emotional state. Of course, there is also the issue of Molly’s housebreaking, a topic beyond the scope of this article but which is all about management. I encourage you to read my article, To Crate Train or Not to Crate Train,  for more information on housebreaking as well as watch my video on housebreaking which will provide you with common tips for house training.

Playpens and baby gates can be very helpful. Once again, think of a child. Would you let a toddler wander about the house unattended with no diaper on? If you did, you'd likely have little surprises on the floor and Crayola on the walls? Sometimes it’s just about some environmental control. We are trying to avoid the chance for mistakes to happen and increase our opportunities for reward. Just like with small children we have to manage things and keep an eye on them. We also have to keep them occupied with approved things to play with and interact with them as much as possible. Proper mental and physical stimulation is ultimately the key to success but don’t forget to set the dog up for success and manage things when you can’t be there to watch them.

-Chad Culp, Certified Dog Trainer and Canine Behavior Consultant

© Thriving Canine 2013