Management refers to preventing your dog from making bad choices in the process of training. It’s one of the top tools in a positive trainer’s toolbox, and without it positive training can be difficult or even impossible.
Skilled trainers know this, and automatically manage their dog’s environment to set him up for success. One of the most common mistakes new trainers make is to allow their dog too much freedom too quickly. That old adage, “practice makes perfect,” applies to dog training too. If your dog gets to “practice” unwanted behavior over and over again, he’s going to get better at it.
Traditional, compulsion-based dog training did not require a lot of management. The trainer would set up situations where she knew the dog would fail, then punish the dog. Positive reinforcement training takes the opposite track. We set up situations where the dog can be successful, then reward him for making a good choice. Over time, we increase the difficulty. In positive training, we set the dog up to succeed.
This means that we need to prevent bad decisions. How can this be done? There are several management options that positive trainers frequently take advantage of:
- Crates: crate-training your dog is one of the best ways to set him up for success. Consider this: a crated dog can’t bark out the window, tear up your couch, or pee in the living room. Crate training allows you to safely confine a dog or puppy when you can’t directly supervise. Teach your dog to love spending time in his crate by providing him with fun puzzle toys and chew options when he needs to be in there and feeding him in it.
- Gates:baby gates can prevent a dog from getting into the kitty litter box, drinking out of the toilet, or barking out the window. Gate off portions of the house where you don’t want your dog to go without supervision.
- Exercise Pens: ex-pens can function as moveable gates or work as a confinement option for crate-phobic dogs. They’re like portable fences, and have so many uses.
- Leashes: leashes are for more than walking around the block! Put your dog’s leash on (and stand on it) before inviting guests in to prevent him from jumping on visitors. Take your dog to the park on a long leash so he doesn’t run off (hint: clothesline and a $1.00 clip from the hardware store works great to make a homemade 50-100′ leash).
- Tethers: these are chew-proof leashes that can be attached to solid objects to keep your dog in one spot. Dogs can also be tethered to their owner by clipping the handle of the leash to your belt loop.
- Visual Barriers: put up a solid fence in place of chain link to prevent dogs from fence-fighting. (Can’t afford a privacy fence? Tarps attached to the chain link with zip ties won’t look as sharp, but will do the job.) Cover your excitable dog’s crate to prevent barking in the car. Close the blinds during the day to keep your dog from barking at passersby.
- Harnesses or Halters: Freedom Harnesses or Gentle Leader head collars prevent a dog from pulling on leash by turning him back towards you every time he pulls. Introduced and fit correctly, these options can be lifesavers for a small owner with a strong dog, or anyone with an adolescent dog. I use Gentle Leaders on every foster dog to install good leash and attention habits right from the start.
- Muzzles: condition your dog to enjoy wearing a muzzle, then use it to prevent stool eating in the yard. Muzzles are also useful during behavior modification to prevent your dog from biting if he needs to be put in a situation that may stress him (such as vet visits).
These are just a few of the many management options available. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Prevent your dog from getting in trouble while he’s still being trained. Management options can become permanent solutions, but for most families they’re just temporary measures while the dog is in the training process.
We’d love to hear from you! Which management options do you use for your dog? Have you ever had to deal with a behavior problem that could have been prevented through management?