When Not to Feel Guilty for Training Management
My bulldog, lovely bumble-foot that she is, loves chasing squirrels. Despite being an extremely polite walking partner, she cannot resist a good heart-stopping scramble for a small mammal that she has no idea what to do with. I say this because she has never once, in her fourteen years, caught a single squirrel. I have also never attempted to train her out of these last-minute murder sprints. Instead, I always walk her on an extendable leash and with an extra store of patience. This allows her space to indulge this impulse and return without pulling my shoulder out of its socket. Despite this oversight in her training, she is a well-behaved dog and pleasant walking companion. Just not to squirrels.
At some point when training your dog, you will be faced with the option of either training your dog out of an undesirable behavior or just avoiding giving them the opportunity to misbehave. Whether jumping on the table to eat a snack you walked away from or stealing your socks on laundry day, sometimes there are behaviors we just haven’t nipped in the bud yet. When using behavior management instead of active training, it is important to realize that this does not make a bad dog (or bad owner).
When you meet with a dog trainer, they will often ask you, “What is your chief concern?” when discussing which behaviors to address. Habits that affect your lifestyle or safety will be the first mentions, such as destroying couches or aggression towards other dogs. These are behaviors that need to be addressed for your safety or that of your dog. If the trainer asks if your dog loves pooping on your neighbors’ yard or if they will eat food out of the fridge, you might be a little confused. Of course, they would love to do these things, but you don’t give them an opportunity to. You keep them in a fenced area so the neighbor’s lawn is safe. They can’t plunder the fridge because the door is usually closed. These opportunistic misbehaviors are stopped with what is called training management.
Training management, or pet behavior management is the practice of passively avoiding opportunities for your pet to misbehave. Owners and experienced dog behaviorists do this all the time, but regard it as common sense instead of problem avoidance. Whether choosing a garbage can with a lid to deter a dumpster diving dog, or locking your dog in a separate room when eating to stop them from begging, most owners employ some variety of training management. By conserving their training time for behaviors that you are most concerned with, they are training smarter, not harder.
Whether this is a quick fix or a lifelong habit, it depends on whether behavior management is working for you. As evidenced by my dog’s healthy crusade against small rodents, training management can also be a long-term solution. As long as the avoidance of the behavior does not impact your life in a negative way, you can continue these habits for as long as they are effective. They can also be used to supplement a training routine for when you just don’t have time to address the behavior in question. When training your dog to positively associate the mailman with good feelings, it may not be possible to give your dog a treat every time the post is delivered. Instead, you may choose to lock your dog up when you leave the house in a room where the mailbox is not visible. That way, when you are home you can deliver a treat when your dog sees the mailman approach, but they cannot see the mailman when you are not available.
Training management can be an important tool in your belt when behaviors come up that you don’t have time, or inclination, to stop, but are not desirable. Instead of viewing this method of training as avoidance, consider it as useful as classical conditioning or desensitization. While your local squirrel population may not thank you, your dog will enjoy the little indulgences where they get to enjoy a lack of impulse control.
Do you make sure to never leave food out or purposefully lock your pup in the bedroom when visitors come over? Let us know your behavior management quirks that work for your pooch in the comments!
By Lauren Pescarus