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.


Being Chewtastic: Why It Ain’t So Bad

Over the last five weeks, Johnnie has made it very clear to me that dogs will be dogs. Dogs have natural behaviors that, for their well-being, they need to express, including digging, chewing, chasing, seeking, etc. These behaviors can be found in different dogs at varying levels – even within individual breeds and closed gene pools – but most dogs have a need for a combination of these and other behaviors to be met in their daily life.

Like I wrote about on Tuesday, a fabulous Your Dog’s Friend “Creative Behavior Outlets” seminar reminded me that I need to help Johnnie Cash find productive ways to express her natural behaviors. Lots of dogs need “jobs,” and when they lack a job, they get themselves into trouble. This is where mental puzzles come into play to help fatigue her brain. I also want to go a step further than that and give her outlets for a few other behaviors, including chewing in particular.

When people tell me that their dog chewed up their favorite pair of sunglasses or a couple pairs of shoes, I wonder two things: 1. why did your dog have access to those in the first place and 2. did you give him alternative appealing things to chew? Unfortunately you can’t just wish away your dog’s want and need for chewing because of all the reasons I mentioned above.  Johnnie’s environment at our home is structured in such a way that, when she’s not directly supervised, she doesn’t have much ability to get into things. She has still managed to find a plastic cap here or there, which shows me that I need to give her more options for chewing that are appropriate and appealing to her.

Thanks to the advice on some friends, I found a few great options to satisfy Johnnie’s need for chewing. We have the trusty antler that lasts her many months and will occupy her for 15 – 30 minutes at a time, but only when the mood strikes her. We have the plain sterilized bone that is slightly less appealing to Johnnie than the antler, though does strike her fancy every once in a while. These are the two things we leave out for her at all times.

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For those times when we want her extremely occupied for a solid 45 – 60 minutes, we pull out the extra-thick bully sticks or marrow bones. My favorite place to get these (when I think ahead, at least) is www.bestbullysticks.com. Your local pet store should have these or similar items as well, but make sure you’re getting brands that aren’t made in China and that you’re steering clear of rawhide, which is more difficult for your dog to digest. I would consult with your vet about how often your dog can handle bully sticks or bones, because they do carry lots of protein and calories that you don’t want to necessarily overfeed.

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Like the food puzzles, the extra chewing devices have really done some good for Johnnie. Not only do they give her a great outlet for a behavior she clearly needs to express daily, they wear her out in the mean time. Working on a bone for 45 minutes nearly knocked her right off her feet the other day – it was great! If you do find that your dog is exhibiting particularly destructive behaviors, one issue you might be having is lack of exercise. It all goes back to the same concept: dogs have an allotted amount of energy to expend per day – and if you don’t expend it for them, they’ll find ways to do it themselves. You should find a combination of physical and mental exercise to keep your dog from deciding the legs on your table are his new favorite chew toy!

To adopt Johnnie Cash and give her plenty of productive chewing options, email peacelovefoster@gmail.com.