Don’t just manage, make changes

When we want to change a dogs behaviour there’s often a lot of different tools and options we can use to try and do this.

One of the most common dilemmas we can find ourselves in is the choice between managing the situation to avoid the undesired behaviour, or actually changing the behaviour itself.

For example, if your dog lunges and barks at traffic you could try to avoid all traffic by driving your dog to the countryside or the park and only walking them away from roads. The dogs issue with traffic hasn’t gone away, you’re just avoiding the trigger to their problem behaviour.

The alternative would be to set out on a training plan which will help reduce your dogs problem with traffic and teach them a more appropriate behaviour around traffic.

While you’re working on this behaviour you may have to implement some form of management to prevent the behaviour from being practised, but the key is that you are also working to change the behaviour itself.

I feel that for the dogs welfare as well as your practicality it would be better to try and address the reason your dog has a problem with traffic and help them to overcome that. Plus its likely to be completely unrealistic to avoid all traffic!

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I’ll give you another example so you can see how easy, every day things can be affected by our choices;

I have a babygate in between my kitchen and my office so that I can keep Zebby in the kitchen at times rather than him running round my office where there are often papers and items on the floor and the shelves which he may be tempted to chew. When I first got Zebby each time I would go to leave the kitchen via the babygate he would be right there trying to get through the gate with me. Sometimes I would be carrying things and it would be such a pain to try and fight him back and stop him running through that I started stepping over the babygate instead of opening it. This then led to Zebby jumping up at me and trying to grab my legs each time I stepped over.

After a few days of this I stopped, mentally slapped myself around the head, and decided to train him to sit and wait at the babygate while I go through it instead. It was really easy to do and in a matter of weeks I can now walk up to the babygate and he will automatically sit and wait for his command to walk through, or happily stay on the other side if it isn’t his turn to follow me. It was really easy to do, but I was being lazy and in that moment of chaos I just found the easier option by stepping over, which was pretty impractical and didn’t teach any life skills or useful habits for either of us.

In actual fact my management of stepping over would soon not be a management at all as no doubt if I had carried on Zebby would have been jumping over the babygate after me as soon as he was big enough.

Now a helpful management technique to use alongside this would be to clear my office of all items within his reach to then prevent any unwanted stealing/chewing… but that’s another issue altogether!!

Dogs and their behaviours are so complex that we really have to look at each individual dog and the individual situation and find what is going to work best for them and the owner. I would say it’s impossible to never use management as it’s a natural, useful part of aiding change, however I think it’s also good to try and address the issue and make changes in your dogs behaviours, rather than solely avoiding or managing the situation.

Of course if you are unsure about how to make a change yourself, or even if you think you know, I’d always recommend you seek the advice of a qualified trainer or behaviourist who uses reward based training and looks at the emotional state of the dog.

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