Okay, it’s not actually magic. But management is an important tool when living with dogs. Management involves setting up the environment to prevent undesirable behaviors or to reduce emotional reactions. Careful management eliminates the need to constantly scold your dog when they make a mistake. It’s one of the first things we focus on when working with students and their pooch problems.
Dogs do things that are reinforcing (rewarding) for them. Behaviors that are reinforced happen more often. So, to reduce problem behaviors it’s important that the dog doesn’t get to practice behaviors we don’t appreciate.
For example, to keep your dog from jumping on guests, keep them on a leash or behind a baby gate while guests get in and settled. While you’re preventing the unwanted behavior, you can teach a polite greeting, so your dog learns an appropriate way to get attention from people.
Part of preventing problem behaviors is ensuring your dog’s needs are met (we call it enrichment). You can prevent your pup from chewing shoes by keeping the shoes put away. End of problem. But if your dog’s chewing needs aren’t met, he’s likely to find something else to sink his teeth into. Providing them with ‘legal’ items like food puzzles or chew bones will help meet your dog’s chewing needs and teach them what’s acceptable to nosh on.
If your dog is a beggar at the table, you can prevent the behavior by keeping him behind a barrier or in his crate during mealtimes. Another way to manage, whether or not your dog is confined, is by feeding meals out of food puzzles or giving a nice chew bone while the family dines. It keeps your pup happy and occupied.
To keep your watchdog barker from going off at the window when people pass by, cover the window with opaque film (and maybe move the sofa away from the window so your pooch can’t sit on the back and see out). The film prevents the dog from seeing outside while still letting light in. Management in this case may be all you need, but it’s worth trying to understand the ‘why’ behind the barking. Is it boredom? Increasing mental and physical enrichment may help.
When a dog is distressed about a situation or experience, management is used to temporarily prevent exposure to stressful events, while we work to modify the emotional reaction and behavior. Dogs who bark and lunge at other dogs or people while on leash can be walked at times of day, or in locations where they’re less likely to encounter those triggers. Then carefully orchestrated training sessions can be set up to help change the dog’s emotional reactions.
Good management is key to helping a fearful dog feel safe. At home, set up a safe zone away from visitors, where your dog can relax, and won’t be confronted by guests. Once your dog feels safe, you can work with a qualified trainer to gradually help your dog feel better about scary strangers. Manage outdoor excursions by walking your dog in areas where they feel comfortable, and never force them to interact with things that scare them.