Our BFF Management

When I attended a seminar last year about working with your dog’s problematic behaviors, the first thing the CPDT-KA trainer told us was, “From now on, don’t let your dog perform the behavior you want to solve.” Of course everyone in the room looked at each other like “hey lady, if that worked then we wouldn’t be here!” – but she was right; when you are dealing with a problematic behavior, you should do everything in your power to keep your dog out of situations where they can practice the behavior.  This is because of one key point: practiced behaviors get rewarded, and rewarded behaviors get repeated.

This concept of management has helped immensely with Johnnie while teaching her to be a well-behaved house dog.  Whenever we are presented with an “issue,” we first see how we can manage it. Sometimes you can simply better manage behaviors and not necessarily change your whole life or spend buckets of money on training to solve the problems. Note: this is obviously for minor stuff, NOT aggression or safety issues, which should be dealt with by a professional trainer (although if you have a reactive dog, definitely keep them out of situations where they feel the need to react for the same reason of preventing practice!).

Some examples of easy-to-manage behaviors: putting lids on your trash cans to keep your dog from stealing nasty stuff, making sure you pick up and put away all your socks and shoes and valuables so your dogs can’t chew them when you’re not watching (seriously? he ate your Ray-Bans? why were they within doggy reach to begin with?), closing your blinds so your dog can’t be reactive out the window, keeping your dog away from the door when strangers come over so he cannot jump on them, etc. These small adjustments can make a world of difference in your dog’s behavior. Furthermore, if you do end up investing in training, a lack of management can totally throw off your progress. Because, like we said above, practiced behaviors get rewarded, and rewarded behaviors get repeated.

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Anyway, back to how this has helped with Johnnie. There have really been very few problematic behaviors with Johnnie that we haven’t been able to modify with management. When she kept getting into our living room – a space we wanted her to stay out of because it wasn’t dog-proof – we bought a higher baby gate that she couldn’t jump over. Problem solved. When she started doing her leash biting, I walked her on two leashes so I could simply drop one if she started tugging. This specific behavior also took some other training steps, but the basic concept was still management to avoid reinforcing the behaviors (turning it into a game of tug) – and she got over the bad habit.  When she wanted to chew things that weren’t appropriate, we gave her plenty of appealing, appropriate outlets and the “bad” chewing pretty much stopped. As we are working with her excitability around other dogs, we avoid situations where she has the opportunity to practice barking, which prevents the behavior from becoming too engrained. Do you see what I’m getting at? These management techniques vary between solving the problem entirely or just being a stepping stone in improving a behavior, but they are all extremely important.

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If your dog has a behavior that’s really bugging you (again, other than aggressive or unsafe behaviors) think of ways that you can prevent the behavior before it arises again. What simple steps can you take to set your dog up for success and avoid situations where they’d practice the unwanted behaviors? Depending on how serious the behavior is, you might want to then consult a professional trainer on what to do next – but you’ll already be off on the right foot.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to close all the bedroom doors before I leave the house to manage Johnnie’s ability to get into things she shouldn’t!

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To adopt Johnnie Cash and see how management will help you two adjust through the transition, check out her Adopt Me page.

7 thoughts on “Our BFF Management

  1. This is very good, basic advice. It drives me crazy when people complain about their dogs (especially puppies) chewing something that was left within reach. Too many dogs end up in trouble due to lack of common sense :(

  2. Kimberly

    My husband and I have said the same thing about setting up our dog for success. There’s no reason to get upset with your dog for getting into something that could have been prevented. We leave our dog in the kitchen when we’re gone for the day and our dog walker informed us that he had gotten into the fridge. What?! We looked at the day’s video and sure enough, it was due to human error. We didn’t close the fridge properly and he was able to nudge it the rest of the way open with his snout. We couldn’t be upset because it was our fault. If anything, we were kind of proud because all he ate was his marinated kibble!

  3. Rachel

    great post that I need to read everyday! As you know, my dog is being quite the handful lately, but I at least know that most issues aren’t his fault… ate the bread off the counter – we need to put bread away in a higher place. Barks like a crazy man when we leave the house – he needs a lot more excersise to let off his energy so we’ve signed him up for doggy daycare (what a lifesaver as long as he gets over humping all his new doggie friends). You are such a positive light for me when it comes to looking at my “mess of a dog” and I now take it day by day and am TRYING to see the small successes instead of crying over not reaching the end-all behaviors.

  4. Speaking of that, I wanted to thank you. When Ray gets tired or overly excited he plays tug with his leash, so when we went to an event recently I used two leashes per your advice and was able to manage that behavior much better. So….THANKS!

  5. One of my adoptable Beagles, Snoopy, does not like the playing, active dogs around her here. I finally put her on some Xanax (still working on the dosage) but also tag her (with eye and lifted finger, no speech) when she over-reacts to prevent the habit. She goes with me on car rides (a great errand dog). Both the med and tagging seem to be helping but what most will help is finding her new home!
    Very good, helpful post! Thank you.

  6. This is such an important concept for first time dog owners to learn. It’s been vital for us to learn the best ways to manage our pooches so we can set them up for success. We also found that once they perform good behaviors a certain amount of times, they start to set THEMSELVES up for success which is even better. Great post!

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