The Most Important Part of Positive Training Doesn't Involve Treats!
Tena Parker, M.S., CDBC, CPDT-KA, CTDI
Success Just Clicks Dog Training
Okay, so it might be an exaggeration, but when you approach the world from a LIMA perspective, where you are emphasizing positive reinforcement and minimizing punishment in your training plans and dog raising philosophy, you need something to help you be successful. Without this one thing, I could not possibly stay within the ethics of a LIMA trainer living with 4 high energy, crazy smart, very determined, super confident, and sometimes pushy performance/working dogs (and raising the next generation every few years).
Are you annoyed that i haven't given you the biggest secret to success? The thing that is make or break for many well-intentioned pet owners struggling with training their dog or dealing with unwanted behaviors or a naughty or mischievous streak. The thing that is nearly always the reason prospective clients (who are trying hard and working hard) aren't as successful as they could be prior to working with me? Well, here it is...
Yes. That's it. The secret to success. The End.
(fine, I'll go on)
Management is a foundation part of my lifestyle with my pets and a big part of the initial plan for my students--I don't think about "you are a bad dog, how can I punish you so you don't do that again," I think about, "wow that wasn't great, how can I change the environment so they can't do that again, while I teach them what they should be doing." I don't have to punish my dog for things if they simply can't do the wrong thing. And sometimes I simply pick and choose my battles and decide that it's not worth the effort to "train the right thing" and instead I'll just utilize management to prevent the unwanted behavior from happening. Crates, gates, leashes, putting things away, closing doors, thoughtful exercise and napping routines, confinement areas (playpens/ex-pens), and tethers are all tools that can be used to prevent your dog from making bad choices (and in turn help them learn to make good choices) so you don't rely on punishment as much and can more quickly build good habits through training.
It gets even better though, simply implementing solid management strategies can sometimes actually completely change bad habits and unwanted behavior over time. The more a dog practices a behavior, the better they get at that behavior. If a dog does not practice the behavior for a long enough period of time, that behavior becomes weaker and weaker and is less likely to happen because it's less of a habit. I took 6 years of latin between high school and college, 15 years without any latin practice and let's just say, "nescio" is about all I remember (hint: do a google translate with that). I didn't go out of my way to unlearn latin--I simply didn't practice the behaviors for a long time and it's no longer in my behavioral repertoire.
Years ago I brought in a foster dog that had a huge problem with reacting out of the windows at people, dogs, and cars. He single handedly caused all 3 of my dogs to start losing their marbles at things outside. The window barking problem continued after this dog left my home. Eventually I got tired of the barking, but knowing I would bring more fosters into my home, who would likely bark out the window, I decided the hours of training it would take to get all 3 dogs to be non-reactive out the windows wasn't worth my limited amount of time. So I installed fabulous vinyl window clings that obscured my dogs' view outside. Within just a few days, the barking completely stopped, even if they could hear the things outside. I've done absolutely no training on not barking out the window at things but I can have my windows open and the dogs can see out and they just don't bark out the windows anymore (though I've kept the films up because I like the privacy). The habit is gone so they don't do the behavior anymore. The "hear a thing" --> "do the barking" connection has been disconnected because they have heard lots of things without barking because of the management.
Here are some simple management techniques for each problem situation that can help elevate your training plan (or simply make your life easier and make your pet seem less naughty). Remember, these are not training techniques, just ways to change the environment so the training is more effective or so they can't practice the unwanted behavior as easily without you doing any training.
HELP! My dog keeps jumping on grandma when she enters the house!
Instruct your guests to text you when they arrive so they aren't knocking/ringing the bell and getting your dog all worked up before they even enter.
Put your dog behind a gate or in a crate away from the front door with a stuffed kong or special treat while you let your guest inside.
Take your dog for a walk before guests arrive (generally a good plan so they are a little more tired, even if you don't do this next part) and meet your guests outside on your way home and walk in together.
HELP! My dog keeps chewing my underwear and remote controls when I'm at home working!
Use a baby gate or exercise pen! Gate your dog in the room with you so you can keep an eye on them or gate them into a puppy proofed area (or use an exercise pen) with appropriate chews/toys so they can't make a the "wrong" choice and it's easy for them to chew the right things.
Provide appropriate activities like stuffed kongs, snuffle mats, or other enrichment activities to meet their scavenging and chewing needs throughout your work day.
Close the door to your bedroom, put your clothes in a hamper with a lid, put your remote controls out of reach,
HELP! My dog is an embarrassment to walk in my neighborhood because he's barking and lunging at people and/or dogs!
Try to walk your dog at 'off hours'. Generally speaking, if you have a dog who has big feelings about people or dogs, I recommend avoid walking between the hours of 6:30am - 8:30am and 4:30pm - 7pm (each neighborhood has their own busy times so just plan around those).
Take your dog to a different environment to walk! Walk in a quiet cemetery, a mostly empty shopping center parking lot, a park and ride lot on a weekend, an office park, or office building parking lot after 5pm. There are a lot of places you can walk your dog to avoid dogs, or avoid people, or avoid people and dogs. A 5 minute drive to the place, a 20 minute peaceful walk with no meltdowns, and a 5 minute drive home with your 30 minutes of time is better than a 30 minute walk in your neighborhood where your dog has 3 meltdowns.
Help! My cat is walking all over my keyboard or sitting on my papers on my desk while I'm trying to work!
Try putting a cat shelf or kitty tower right next to your desk and sprinkle catnip/treats there so they have a place to sit near you but not on you (also, it might be about sun-spots so put the tower or shelf where the sun hits). They also might like the warmth of the keyboard so a self-warming mat might help.
Try putting a self-warming mat on a corner of your desk where they'd be out of the way. Or, it sounds silly but hit up your local goodwill and get a non-working keyboard and put it on your desk and see if they sit on that one so you can type on your normal one (really, it's silly but can work well!)