What if I told you that - with just a few small changes to your home or your daily routine - you could almost eliminate some of the most annoying behaviors you experience with your dog...?
I realize that such an opening sounds like something you'd hear at a magician's show - which probably lends to the feeling that what I'm proposing is not quite in the realm of possibility. I promise, though, that it is definitely possible - and that I'm not a magician! With just a bit of effort on your part, unwanted and undesirable behaviors like jumping, chewing, play biting/nipping, barking, counter-surfing etc. can be stopped before they even start with management.
In most cases, when faced with an unwanted or undesirable behavior, we find ourselves focused on that behavior and trying to stop it as the behavior is happening or after it has already occurred. Sometimes, it feels like playing a game of catch-up and, in general, we're stuck reacting to the behavior (and its aftermath) after the fact. In the short-term, this approach may seem effective, but, in the long run, reactions don't promote prevention of the unwanted behaviors and they'll continue to happen.**
It's important to note that these unwanted behaviors are caused by a variety of different factors, which are, of course, different for every dog. When it comes down to it, though, your SideKick's behavior can be explained by one, major motivation:
Dogs do what works.
Barking makes the mailman go away.
Jumping on guests gets Rover all the pets and praise and kisses.
Running out of the yard means Fido has the chance to catch the squirrel that's been haunting the backyard for WEEKS.
Counter surfing produces a variety of AWESOME treats from sticks of butter to the partially marinated, expensive steaks you were preparing for your anniversary dinner.
This is where a solid management plan comes into play.
Though it may seem like magic, management is a means of making it so that those unwanted behaviors aren't what works for your SideKick; it's about being PROactive (instead of REactive) and setting up or arranging your SideKick's environment to prevent the unwanted behaviors from happening.
Think of it like baby-proofing a house: You hide sharp objects and harsh chemicals behind locked cabinet doors and drawers; you cover corners of coffee tables and counter tops; you pick up and keep the house/floor clean of small choke hazards. Just as you manage a child's environment to prevent disastrous, scary things from happening, you can manage your SideKick's environment to prevent a lot of bad stuff from happening.
So, how can we go about baby/puppy/dog-proofing the house to prevent a variety of behaviors from happening? Management tools! The following are just a few examples of some common management tools and their benefits:
Baby gates limit your SideKick's access to rooms or furniture you may not want them to go in or be on.
Tethers or leashes can keep your SideKick close to you, the house, your picnic,or wherever you set them up.
Exercise pens, kennels, and crates restrict your SideKick's wandering to a much smaller area and/or gives them a safe place to relax while you're busy, at work, running errands, or unable to give them your full attention.
Body harnesses limit your SideKick's ability to pull on leash.
Stuffed Kongs and interactive toys keep your SideKick occupied and busy with a safe, fun, and mentally enriching exercise.
Pick and choose the management tools that will help you by first identifying the behavior that you're not a fan of, then examining what the trigger for that behavior may be. For example, my lovely pupper, Ruby, has a habit of hopping up on the bed; it's not something we encouraged and not something we'd like to continue (I kind of prefer not to sleep in sheets that smell like her corn chip feet), but she discovered the joys of sleeping on a big-girl bed when we had a pet-sitter watching her last April. After learning of this new behavior/habit, we decided to restrict her access to the bedroom (and, therefore, the bed) with a baby gate. She can't get on or sleep on the bed if she can't get in the room, right?
Now, by itself, a management plan is great for prevention and can definitely provide relief from some of the behaviors that aren't wanted. However, no management plan is infallible. Consistency is key for success with any management tool (as it is with all dog training). We're human and we sometimes forget to put that baby gate back in place when we leave the bedroom; so, with access to the bed again, you can pretty much bet Ruby's going to hop up and snuggle in for a nap. As with any plan, everyone in the house needs to be on the same page and the tools you decide to use need to be used every time.
After you've got your management tools and plan in place, that's when the real work (teaching your SideKick alternative, more rewarding behaviors) begins!
**Interested in an lengthier discussion of reactive vs. proactive dog training? Check out this post from the SKDT Blog!
Below is an infographic from Lisa Mullinax of 4Paws University that visually lays out much of what is discussed in this post! Enjoy!