When management is just one part of a comprehensive behavior change plan.
In Part 1, I wrote about situations in which management — setting the environment up to prevent the problem from occurring — might be the entire solution for a dog behavior problems. Much of the time, however, management is just one part of a more comprehensive behavior change plan. Even when management is only one component of the overall plan, it’s vital one. Without management, it’s like trying to pump air into a tire with a huge hole in it. No matter how fast we try to pump air into the tire, it leaks out just as quickly. The dog keeps practicing the unwanted behavior or keeps experiencing the scary situation. We can train, and train, and train, but we just keep struggling against that hole in the bucket. That’s why trainers often start with management. “Management First”.
In these cases, preventing exposure to the problem doesn’t solve the problem on its own. For many reasons — including safety and quality of life for dogs and humans — a comprehensive plan is a must. That said, it’s crucial to start with management and continue to prevent exposure outside of training situations. During training, we control the intensity so dogs aren’t exposed to the full-blown trigger but instead a version of the problem that they can comfortably handle.
- Provides relief quickly (for the humans and the dog).
- Prevents the dog from being reinforced for the behavior we’d like to reduce.
- Protects our training. If the dog continues to experience fear and discomfort, we risk the dog sensitizing to the whatever the dog is afraid of, making the problem even worse.
- Keeps everyone safe, particularly in cases involving fear and aggression. Click here for information on trigger stacking.
- Helps address quality of life issues by reducing fear, stress and anxiety. Click here for an article with information on the physiologic effects of stress.
Management also sets the stage for training to begin.
It’s critical to begin training in contexts that make it easy for the dog — and their guardian(s) — to get it right. Because we start with management, the necessary framework is already in place.
Here are a few examples of management as just one (crucial) part of an overall plan.
In these cases, management itself isn’t the whole solution. Other components could include training, making sure the dog’s needs are met (such as mental enrichment and physical exercise), veterinary checkups, and/or medication consults with a veterinarian and/or veterinary behaviorist.
- Prevent scary home-alone experiences by suspending absences in cases of separation anxiety.
- For object guarding, give potentially guarded objects (like chewies) only in controlled situations such as behind a baby gate where nobody will disturb the dog.
- Refrain from taking car trips when dealing with fear of the car.
- For discomfort or fear of strangers, create a safe space away from visitors to your house. Maintain distance from other people on walks, and/or consider alternative options for mental and physical exercise. Click here for a great blog on alternatives to walk from Dogkind.
- For dogs who reacts to other dogs on walks, maintain as much distance is needed and/or consider alternative options for mental and physical exercise.
Other components of a comprehensive plan might include:
- Veterinary care for potential medical concerns.
- Physical exercise and mental enrichment (and otherwise meeting the dog’s needs).
- Education about the behavior.
- Anti-anxiety medications.
Click here to read Are There Quick Fixes for Dog Behavior Problems? Part 1