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  • Lisa Mullinax, CDBC

MANAGEMENT: Better Training. Fewer Headaches!

"When a dog ________, you have to _________ so he learns not to do that." So goes most of the training advice of the last century. Human beings are amazingly creative when it comes to punishment (just look at medieval torture devices), and dog training is no exception. From devices that intentionally cause pain and discomfort, to innocent-seeming products like "The Pet Corrector," which is a can of compressed air, and ultrasonic "bark control" boxes. Here are two problems with this line of thinking and the consumer industry that supports it: 1) It only occurs after the dog has ALREADY barked, jumped, run off, snapped, etc., and

2) Dogs don't misbehave just because they haven't been told not to. Unwanted behavior is caused by a variety of factors that vary with each individual dog.

DOGS DO WHAT WORKS. Dogs bark for a variety of reasons. It scares off the mailman (or at least that's how it appears to your dog). When a dog jumps on visitors, it gets people to pay attention to her. By allowing dogs to practice unwanted behavior, there's a better than even chance that the behavior will work for them BEFORE you can administer the punishment. Also, if your timing is off, the punishment won't be associated with the unwanted behavior, but with YOUR behavior. This is how dogs end up learning to avoid owners who reach for their collars, or worse, start to use aggression as self-defense, or quickly eat something after hearing "leave it." So, what are you supposed to do? Outsmart your dog, that's what. Parents don't leave sharp objects laying next to exposed outlets and then scold babies for electrocuting themselves. They baby proof the house. Putting away dangerous items and using a variety of tools to lock cabinets, cover outlets, and discourage busy toddlers from getting into places where trouble could happen. This is management. By carefully managing your dog's environment, you can prevent a lot of problems. Once that's done, you can work on teaching better behavior. When the "bad" behavior is no longer working -- meaning you've prevented opportunities for it to happen, thereby preventing opportunities for it to be rewarded -- you can now focus on making "good" behavior work better for your dog. How? Well, that's where you use the formula in the image below. You know that ________ is a problem. Now, think about when it happens. All behavior has a trigger (antecedent). It could be the sight of something, the sound of something, even the smell of something. When you identify the trigger, you can predict the behavior. When you can predict the behavior, you can manage it. Common management tools work in most cases, but you might need to get creative.

Dog owners are always surprised that such a simple solution exists. They never even considered that they could place their dog behind a baby gate in the hallway before opening the front door because they were so focused on what to do AFTER the dog escaped...or jumped...or snapped. Now, here's the catch: Everyone has to be consistent. Management won't work if Mom is the only one doing it, but Dad thinks that's silly and a magical snap of the fingers (which worked on his last dog) is all it will take, or teenager forgets to put the gate up. But, that's true of training, in general. Everyone needs to be consistent...or the one person who can be consistent must take on full responsibility. Once a solid management plan is in place, training sessions can begin. Training is not what you do or say once something goes wrong, it is practicing for those situations - this is why sports have "training practice," not "after-school football tournaments." Training is practice. Management helps you control WHAT your dog is practicing!

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