Management, Training and Maintenance Part 1

I'll refer to these terms over time, so it might help if you have some idea what I'm talking about.

When I talk about management, I'm talking about preventing your puppy or dog from rehearsing bad behaviors, either while you decide to start training or until she outgrows whatever misbehavior is currently expressing itself or….forever, if that is your choice.

Management may involve applying external controls to the dog, or it may mean structuring the environment.

Examples of Management in Dog Training

Here are some examples:

Managing a walk: Before a puppy has learned to walk nicely on a leash and collar, you might choose to use a front clip harness or a head halter when you need to get your puppy walked. This equipment may or may not train your dog not to pull on a collar. On the other hand, management tools do solve a problem because they allow you to get your dog out of your house safely and under control until you're ready to train the specific skill of LLW. Equally important, they prevent your dog from practicing bad habits; in this case, pulling against the collar.

Managing a Recall: Before your puppy has learned to come when called, you may wish to leave a long line dragging from her collar so that you can fetch your puppy back as needed. You are managing her options so that she doesn't learn the game of keep away. Again this is an excellent management strategy; you are preventing bad habits from forming while you create your training plan.

Managing appropriate public behavior: Before your puppy has learned to walk through a crowd without visiting random people and dogs, you might choose to hold a cookie in your hand to lure her through the space. Your puppy is not being trained to stay with you in crowded spaces because the cookie is keeping the dog with you, and when the cookie is gone so might be your puppy. On the other hand, she isn't making any mischief either, so it might be exactly the right option under specific circumstances.

Management might also involve controlling the environment rather than the dog. For example, if you put an ex-pen around your favorite houseplant so that your puppy can't dig in the dirt, then you are keeping your plant safe by preventing access. You have managed the environment rather than the puppy.

Examples of Training

Now let's consider training:

If you throw a cookie onto a mat each time your puppy steps on that mat, you are teaching the start of a "go to mat" behavior. Over time, good training requires that you raise your expectations for your dog to earn that cookie. For example, not only do you want your dog to get on the mat, but you want your puppy to stay there. And eventually, you want your puppy to stay there even when you ring the doorbell. But these things will not happen with management alone; you must train your dog to understand your expectations. 

Unlike training, management has no real criteria and often no expectations of the learner.

Where Training Your Dog and Management Intersect 

And then there is the intersection of training and management:

While your puppy learns to walk nicely on a leash, you may choose to walk in very quiet areas with few or no distractions. Choosing to walk through a boring parking lot is likely to be much easier for your puppy than walking on a wooded trail with lots of interesting smells. In this manner, you are structuring her for successful LLW and preventing the development of bad habits. Excellent! You are using both training (for LLW) and management (choice of environment to make training success more likely).

When guests come to the house and you want your puppy to practice good manners at the door, you will manage your guests by asking them to wait after ringing the doorbell while you work to teach your puppy what she should do at that time. When your guests enter the house, you may further manage them by asking that they not make eye contact with your excitable puppy until the puppy has all four feet on the floor and is showing calmer behavior. In addition, you may reward four on the floor behavior with some treats scattered on the floor when the puppy is cooperative.

But what if you are in a situation where you don't want to train your puppy? The weather is terrible outside and your guests want to come in immediately? What if your guests don't like dogs under the best of circumstances, and have no desire to help you with your training goals?

That's fine; just revert back to straight management. Leave your puppy in a crate or outside in the yard when you are expecting guests, and you either cannot or will not train at that time. No training will be accomplished, but no harm will be done either.

Understanding and using management strategies are critical to any successful dog training, because a significant part of excellent training is structuring your canine student for success, and that cannot happen if your puppy is repeatedly put into situations that are too difficult for her to succeed.

I'm often amazed at how many behaviors I never really have to train if I demonstrate excellent management while my dogs are young. For example, if I prevent my puppy from chewing up objects on the floor the first year of her life then many puppies self train to only chew on their own objects, even when you do have things on the floor that belong to you or your kids.

Another example is dogs that are never allowed to wildly greet guests at the door. If the dog is of a calmer temperament, they will often outgrow their efforts to jump up, simply as a matter of maturity. And house training is probably the best known example, because house training is largely a function of management from start to finish, since the habit of elimination is the most important piece of that puzzle. Dogs that develop the habit of eliminating outside tend to end up house trained with no further effort. Preventing accidents IS the training – that's management. Our favorite kind!

In the management phase, you may or may not use food to assist you. In the training phase, you will almost certainly use food because it works, and fast at that! Since most dogs are motivated by food, and since it's easy for most dogs to make the connections between what you want (say, lie down) and what they want (say, a piece of chicken), then life just got really easy if you use copious quantities of food in the early stages of training.

In my next blog post I'll discuss maintenance – how to move beyond management and training, while maintaining your dog's trained behaviors. Maintenance matters because the average person has no desire to either manage or train their dogs all the time.

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