Let's be real. People are less than thrilled when we (the trainers) start talking about management. A client asks about counter surfing, and our first recommendation is to clear off the counters. Dog is barking at everything out the window? Close the blinds.
It's annoying, right? Having nothing on your kitchen counter forever is not realistic. Don't worry! We hear you, but let's have an honest talk about why trainers value management.
At Havana Dog Training, whenever there is a behavior issue, we categorize the solution into two pieces: management and behavior modification (training). Management is important because training is not instant, and it bridges the gap of time it takes for the behavior modification training to kick in. But there is another reason management is essential. Without management, dogs often are participating in self-reinforcing behaviors (like barking and counter surfing) that will only increase if left alone.
Management techniques are the things we do to prevent negative behaviors from happening in the first place. Let's stick with the counter surfing example.
Sparky loves to grab things off the counter. Sometimes it's the burger his owners just cooked and other times it's just the mail, but that mail is so fun to shred! Sparky's owners want to be able to trust him not to get things off the counter even while they are out of the house, so they continue to practice. When they leave, food is left accessible on the counter and Sparky continues to snatch it and self-reward. Every time he gets the food, he is rewarded for counter surfing. It was good! That burger was WORTH IT even if he "knew better." Sparky's training is going backwards.
Not managing the space will only cause the dog to regress and try harder to get things off the counter in the future. Some simple spatial management will ensure the dog doesn't get worse. Management in itself might not be a cure-all, but at least the dog isn't regressing!
One management solutions in this given situation would be to clear off the counter anytime Sparky cannot be watched. Another solution would be to crate him when cooking or to have a solid "place" command where he cannot leave a platform unless told. These would all be considered management tools. Sparky hasn't necessarily been trained not to counter surf, but at least he isn't getting worse or having the opportunity to counter surf and self-reward.
Behavior modification is the process of training a dog to modify or change a behavior. If we use the counter surfing example above, modifying the behavior would involve intentional training to change the dog's behavior. We could teach a leave-it command initially to build impulse control. Next we could work on "it's your choice" games where the dog is rewarded for looking at the owner instead of staring at the food on the counter. Then we could set up intentional scenarios where food is left on the edge of the counter and the dog is on leash. Every time the dog leaves the food alone, he is rewards with a treat. Over time, he is allowed more space between himself and the owner during these activities to make him feel he has more freedom and choice. The rewarding continues and the dog starts to modify his behavior. A few weeks ago, he would have immediately put his paws on the counter to snatch your chicken sandwich. Now he is methodically thinking about how leaving the food alone is more rewarding that trying to get it.
The more behavior modification and training takes place, the less management the dog will need.
The key word above is less. To what extent the management pieces can go away will depend on many factors: genetics, the individual dog's personality, how much time is put into training, family dynamics, and more (we will save this for another blog post). But without management, dogs are set up to fail over and over again. Management is not a bandaid; it's proactively being a leader by pointing our dogs in the right direction and setting them up for success. After all, good dogs need great leaders.
Not sure where to start? Does your dog have some behaviors you'd like help with managing and modifying? Be sure to join our HDT Online Membership for FREE.
About The Author: Megan is the owner and lead trainer of Havana Dog Training. She has been training canines for over 8 years and specializes in behavior modification, foundational work, and working with families and young children.