Building on my last post, which nuisance behaviors do I treat with management, or training, or the inevitability of stopping the behavior?
It’s actually impossible to fully tease these apart, because there’s no way to determine exactly where management ends and training begins. For example, house training. Is house training really training, or is it management that eventually trains the dog by developing a habit? I consider it management that leads to a trained dog – but I call it training.
I still use the words (management, training and inevitability) because I find them helpful in reflecting my mindset. In general, if I say training, I have a plan in place that I’m hoping will eventually lead to the dog doing (or feeling!) a very specific thing under a specific circumstance or when I give a specific cue. In general, when I say management, I mean that I am going to do something to stop a behavior from being a problem for me with an expectation that the behavior might immediately revert if I don’t keep it up. And if I say it’s inevitable? The only thing I care about is stopping a given behavior; the dog has a full range of options in terms of what they do instead – it is training, because I expect it to become a permanent change.
I am also aware of the dog’s needs and accommodate those, to the best of my ability. I mean, if a dog is barking in the crate because he’s not getting out enough, it makes a lot more sense to let the dog out of the crate and meet his needs than it does to cover the crate.
And the law of inevitability? Because I was questioned on this, I took some time to think about which behaviors fall in this category. I would put them down as encompassing the following: going places you are not allowed (like up on the couch, possibly certain rooms in the house and onto my countertops, or jumping out of the car/crate without permission), or barking at me as a form of communication – go ahead and communicate but not that way. I can also think of other behaviors that fall in this realm that I might care about at certain points in my life but not in others. For example, jumping on people (if it’s a safely issue or I have a reason to care), pulling on a leash (a combination of training, management and the inevitable result of pulling will all come into play), etc. Those depend on my situation at the time.
Normally, I train things when I have a very specific expectation for what I want the end result to look like. For example, if I want my dog to go to a mat every time I open the front door and let a guest in, then that would be training -the process of teaching “Go to a mat” is specific and has an end goal with defined criteria. Now I can use that trained behavior for management – it prevents my dog from bothering the guest. And while I am at it, I am probably going to structure my human guest as well…if they ignore the puppy for a few minutes when they come in, most problems magically disappear. They can play with the puppy soon enough.
And did I mention the emotional component? If a dog’s behavior results specifically from the fact that they are excited or not getting their needs met then I’m going to deal with that instead of the behavior. For example, puppies that mouth me? I don’t consider that a nuisance behavior. I consider that a function of arousal and youth. I address the underlying issue and ignore the mouthing altogether. Then it magically goes away but I’m aware enough not to say it went away because I trained it. I recognize and credit the tincture of time, where credit is due :-).
The point of my last blog was to suggest that standing around doing nothing, looking confused, endlessly crating a dog or designing a long training plan for every problem is neither necessary nor practical for the majority of households dealing with incredibly common daily behaviors. Spend a little time thinking about the 10 or so random behaviors that you are likely to see in your puppy or young dogs as you raise them and make a few decisions. Feel free to revisit those decisions over time, and tweak away! For example, maybe you initially decided to train your dog not to jump on guests, but eventually you decided it was easier just to manage the situation, and now your dog is in a crate when guests come to the house.
That’s fine. You’re the one who has to live with your dog, so you get to decide.
But do something, even if that thing would not be your dog’s first choice. Stop problematic behaviors when you see them and seriously consider if the dog would be better off told not to do a few specific things (like taking food off your counters) or crated (every time you prepare food and until you clean up). Because sitting around watching your dog take things off your counters or chewing your couch is a really bad idea if you want a decent pet, and having an adult dog that requires frequent crating to get through life will have ramifications for both of you that go well beyond the actual behavior.