The different types of management in dog training and their applications
Our last blog (found here) was all about the what and why of management. We learned that in order to effectively change behavior that we also had to make sure our dog wasn’t practicing the problem behavior in the mean time! Today’s post will go into the HOW of management.
Remember, management is anything used to prevent the problem behavior from happening. The following list will include many different options for management and their uses, but the list is certainly not comprehensive! If you are working with a trainer they should be able to help you establish a management plan for all problem behaviors and that should be one of the very first steps you take when training your dog!
Baby gates and pens:
Baby gates and pens are the MVPs of the management world. They’re incredibly useful for preventing many, many different behavior problems. Have dogs that fight at meal times? Use a baby gate to separate them when their bowls are down. Have a toddler that’s just started crawling? Use a pen to keep your dog on one side of the room at times that you can’t be actively supervising. Inviting your great aunt over who has incredibly thin skin and can’t be jumped on? Gate! Some houses with open floor plans may make using gates and pens tricky; if that’s the case, there are extra wide gates like this one: https://amzn.to/3iC8cch that can be useful, or you might choose to use an exercise pen and keep your dog inside of the pen during these times.
Leashes are somewhat obvious, but they are an important management strategy for a variety of issues! If your dog jumps on guests, having them leashed until they calm down can allow you to practice polite greetings and prevent jumping. If your dog dashes out your front door when it’s opened, you can simply put their leash on to keep them safe and prevent the door dashing behavior.
Tethers are similar to using a leash, but you are able to move about more freely since you’re not holding the leash and instead your dog is tethered to something else. Tethers can be especially useful for homes where gates and pens aren’t an option like mentioned above. If you have a very heavy, safe piece of furniture to attach your dog to (think like a post/column in your home, your dining room table leg, or the leg of your couch), you can place a tether and use that to prevent your dog from counter surfing, door dashing, jumping on people, trying to steal another dog’s chew item, and more.
Some dogs will get stressed when tethered, so it’s important to teach your dog how to relax when tethered. You might also want to use a harness for tether times to prevent pressure on your dog’s neck if they do pull forward.
Long lines are the ultimate management tool when teaching your dog how to have more freedom outside of the yard. A long line can come in cotton, nylon, or biothane materials, and is basically a very long leash (not a retractable leash like a Flexi lead though!). The goal is to attach your dog to the long line in a safe environment, then to let them drag the line and practice recalls and checking in with you. The longer line allows your dog to range further away from you, but if you recall your dog and they aren’t responding, or if you see a distraction on the horizon that you know your dog won’t be able to resist, you can grab the line and restrict your dog from getting away from you.
This is basically a very specific way to use a gate or pen. An airlock is an empty space between two doors/gates that is used for safety. If your dog is a big door dasher, an airlock allows you to “catch” your dog before opening the actual door to the outside world, preventing him asking out the door. Or, if you’re trying to introduce your dog to another dog or cat in the household, if you place one gate at one end of a hallway, and another gate at the other end, you can create an airlock separating the two animals so that they can see/smell/hear each other without being so close that they start to feel big feelings. Lastly, if you have any intra-household aggression like two dogs fighting, having an airlock at all doors will insure that your dogs do not get access to one another prematurely.
Visual barriers are especially helpful for any forms of reactivity or watch dog barking. Visual barriers can include closing your blinds and curtains, using cars and hedges when out walking to keep your dog from seeing something, putting up solid barriers on your fence line to break your dog’s line of sight, and even specialized equipment like the thunder cap: https://amzn.to/3XbT8B0. Basically, if your dog reacts negatively to seeing something, the goal is to stop them from seeing the trigger in the first place!
Sound masking is also often called “white noise”, although it’s sightly different because sound masking is a little more strategic. Sound masking is the act of creating a sound “barrier” between your dog and sounds that cause stress/fear/aggression/etc. So while white noise is having sound on in the background, sound masking means placing the white/brown noise BETWEEN your dog and the location the sound comes from. For example, if you live in an apartment and your dog struggles when they hear people walking out in the hallway, placing a radio or white noise machine right next to your front door, where the sound comes from, will help to create a sound barrier and prevent any reactions to the hallway sounds. If your dog barks or reacts negatively to any auditory stimuli, sound masking is an immensely helpful way to manage your dog’s big feelings!
“Blinding” with food/Food magnet:
This management strategy is specifically for when you’re out and about with a dog on a walk. If you have a dog who struggles then they see dogs, other people, bikes, etc. your first goal should be to keep as much distance as possible from their triggers while working (and this is really something you should be working on with an experienced professional!) But, especially if you live in a busy suburb or urban area, keeping enough distance can sometimes be impossible. As such, learning how to manage and prevent reactions by distracting your dog with food and keeping them from noticing the trigger in the first place can be an important tool!
Front clip harnesses or head halters:
Some folks call these training tools, but to be honest I don’t think either of these pieces of equipment do any training since I rarely see them change behavior on their own, instead I see them as management tools that allow you to have extra leverage in certain situations. If you have a very strong dog that you worry about losing control of clipping the leash to the front of the dog or under their chin to a head halter can keep your dog from being able to pull with all of their might.
Please note, in order to USE a head halter you should hire a positive reinforcement trainer to help you fully acclimate your dog to the halter. Many dogs find head halter unpleasant to wear without any training, so it’s important that you condition your dog to feel comfortable in this tool before using it. Additionally, head halters should NEVER be used for long line or Flexi lead use, or for corrections of any kind. It’s important that when head halters are used that we do not put undue pressure on the head, and that we don’t jerk the leash to keep the head halter as a safe option.
Have a young puppy who isn’t potty trained yet? A teen dog who still thinks baseboards are for chewing? Or maybe your dog has behaved aggressively around their food bowl in the past, and you need to make sure he’s left alone while eating? The crate can be an important management tool for situations like these. Please note, if you are going to use a crate with your dog, take the time to train them to feel comfortable in the crate.
Kongs, chewies, and long lasting food toys/Using food as a distraction:
Food can be used for training, yes, but it can also be a useful management tool! Giving your dog a long lasting food item like a stuffed kong, a bully stick, or a lickimat can give your dog something to do other than bark at you when you’re on your zoom calls. They can also be used to keep your dog’s mind off of the plumber who’s in your house fixing your toilet, or if your dog is worried about your friends coming over, giving them a high value food item to work on while folks arrive and depart can help everyone stress less!
As you can see here, management strategies come in a wide variety of categories! Again, if you are dealing with a difficult behavior problem you should absolutely hire a trained professional to help you out, but in the mean time if you need the behavior to stop or want your dog to practice a behavior less, the above options can buy you some time and keep your dog from getting better and better at the problem behavior you are looking to change!