This may sound like a crazy suggestion, but hear me out.
Give your SideKick choices.
By no means am I suggesting we let our dogs run wild, do anything and everything they want, and eat cake for dinner every night. As it is, though, we control SO much in our dogs’ lives: when they eat, how much they eat, when they go for walks or outside to play, what they get to sniff and for how long, etc. They don't have a lot of choices in their daily lives and, when they do make their own choices, it can feel like they're choosing to do all the "wrong" stuff - digging holes in the yard, using the living room rug as a bathroom, snatching anything not nailed down as a chew toy, etc.
I totally understand that talking about giving our dogs choices conjures an image of a dog taking over the furniture and the bed, counter surfing whenever they feel like it, and using the bathroom wherever they want. That's not quite what I mean about giving our SideKicks choices, though...
I had been mulling this blog post idea over in my head for a bit when I saw a post a colleague of mine (Practical Obedience, LLC) put on social media - a quote from Kathy Sdao that sums up the concept of choice in your SideKick's life pretty well:
As Kathy Sdao implies, I like to think of choice as access - access to resources, access to areas and places, access to options, etc. Any time I work with a client on a behavior they're not a fan of, we talk about two things to start stacking the deck in their favor:
Management can be super simple - as simple as putting up a baby gate, etc. - and it's all about prevention. Management limits your dog's access to the thing or item, room, space, person, etc. that is helping the behavior you don't like (the undesirable behavior) happen.
If your dog cannot access your strappy heels, he cannot chew on them.
If your dog cannot see out the window on the front screen door, she cannot bark at passing dogs.
And if your dog cannot get to the living room rug, he cannot pee or poop on it.
Training, as is pretty obvious, means teaching your dog behaviors, but it's important to think of and teach specific behaviors that your dog can do instead of the undesirable behavior.
If your dog is sitting, he cannot dash out the door the second it opens for guests.
If your dog is laying on a kitchen rug, she isn't surfing on the counter for food as you're preparing dinner.
And, if your dog is giving you eye contact, he can't also be searching the ground for contraband goodies to chew and/or gobble up while on a walk.
Keep in mind, too, that this training portion may not even mean you need to teach a brand new behavior; you may be able to get away with providing more attractive opportunities to your SideKick, using the skills they already know and the things they already do:
Your dog already knows how to chew - as evidenced by the dining room table legs, so give your dog flavored chew toys from the store.
Your dog has a fully-functioning nose, so drop treats on the kitchen floor to make the floor the biggest and best bearer of stinky, tasty foods instead of the countertops.
Your dog (ideally) thinks you're great, so lay the praise, affection, petting, playing, and treats on extra thick to make coming to you or responding to you the best option when they see another dog.
Management and training, when working together, are designed to set your SideKick up for success by making the "bad" or undesirable behaviors difficult (or impossible, in some cases!) to do and making the "good" or much more desirable behaviors easy and rewarding!
The next time you notice a "bad" behavior, ask yourself what options your SideKick has access to:
How can you limit your dog's access to make that behavior less likely? (Management)
What alternative behaviors can you teach your dog that they can do instead of the "bad" behavior? (Training)
While you may not actually give your dog cake, we want your dog to, at least, think they're getting cake with any choice they make!