What does it mean to manage your dog? Managing your dog is all about helping them fit into your life in a way that causes the least amount of effort and stress for you and for your dog. Management is not training, technically, since through management your dog is not learning anything new. On the other hand, management is a very important part of training, since if you are effectively managing undesirable behaviors your dog is not practicing and rehearsing these behaviors. Dogs, creatures of habit like us, will always do what they’ve always done, so if you can effectively break the cycle of behavior with a management strategy, you are setting your dog up for success down the road, as well as avoiding pain, stress, embarrassment, and possible danger in the meantime.
Management is about choosing your battles. You only have a certain amount of time, energy, and resources to put toward your dog (or anything, really). Your dog has to fit into your life. You want to maximize your happiness together. One way to help your dog adapt to your style of existence is through training. Now, I am a dog trainer, so of course I think training is awesome. In fact, it is one of my favorite aspects of sharing a life with dogs. Training new and appropriate behaviors can be really fun. However, it also takes time, energy, and resources. This is why it’s so important to choose your battles. Pick the behaviors you really need to modify in order to be the happiest with your dog and manage the rest in the meantime (or possibly forever, there is really nothing wrong with management!). Sometimes I feel like I spend way more time training and helping others train their dogs than in training my own! Which causes my own set of management/training woes.
Training or Management: How to Choose?
I love to travel with my dogs, so it’s pretty important to me that they are both happy in the car. When we first adopted Roscoe, he did not like jumping into the car. After Rio and I experienced a minor car accident, he also went through a period where he did not want to get in the car. It was pretty important for me to work on modifying this behavior and improving the emotional state related to riding in the car. So this is a place where I invested some training time. Nail trims is another one – Rio’s nails tend to split if they get too long. I have to trim them pretty frequently – so for his and my own sake, investing some training time into happy nail trims is well worth the effort.
On the other hand, Rio and Roscoe both like to bark at cats. If the cats run when they bark, they would totally give chase if given the opportunity. Our yard is set up such that there is an unfenced section right outside the back door, a small path leads to our fenced yard. Each time I want to take them out in the yard, I need to leash them both and walk them out to the yard. I do not trust them not to take off after cats, other dogs, people, etc. This is management. Could I invest enough training time so that I could trust them to walk with me off leash from the back door to the fence? Sure. Maybe it would be worth it, but I haven’t been able to convince myself of this, and I’m perfectly okay with that. I have much more fun working on other things. I always go out with them to the yard anyway, so it’s no big deal to clip on their leashes and lead them out. Could we put up another fence? Sure. This would be another management-type strategy to deal with this situation, but this one again would require more time, effort, and resources.
What about rescue dogs? Some dogs come with behaviors that aren’t ideal, but if we can be more adaptable, they could be adoptable! Here are some examples from the Rescue Dogs at Wags Inn Canine Charities:
Stranger Danger – Management Strategies
Some dogs have a hard time meeting new people. Wags Inn rescue Tucker is one such dog. It takes a lot of effort to help him safely meet new people, but once he trusts you, he will remember you forever and love you dearly. Tucker is not a dog I would ever trust greeting guests in the house, not without a ton of work, and possibly not ever. Out of fear, he has bitten several people. He is a last chance doggy. A management strategy for him would be to always put him away in his safe place – possibly a crate in a quiet room that can be closed – when people are visiting. I would probably employ a double defense by also putting a gate across the entryway that always remains closed, just in case someone were to accidentally walk in before he is safely away. Vigilance and consistency would be very important in keeping everyone safe. He would also not be a dog suitable for someone who likes to entertain, but would do best with a quiet family and a large, safe yard. He is great with other dogs though, and he is a major sweetheart. <3
Putting your dog away when company comes could be a successful management strategy not only for a dog who is scared of strangers, but also for a dog who is overly excited, jumpy, or one who barks, or begs too much when you have company. Make sure his safe place is a happy one by having him practice settling there before you need it as a management strategy. Feed him stuffed, frozen Kongs and treats in his safe place frequently. He could go here to eat dinner several times a week, relaxing with a dinner-stuffed Kong.
It is very important to know before you think about adopting a particular rescue: what are the most important reasons you want a dog? What are types of behaviors that would interfere with having a successful life with them? What kinds of behaviors would you be comfortable managing? How much training could you afford to do with them? Think about the costs in terms of time, effort, and resources. Do you need an easy dog? Or would you be comfortable and capable of providing a home for a more challenging rescue who might need more in terms of training and management?
If your family is busy and often rushing, you’re not going to want an easily spooked dog who needs extra time to make decisions and feel comfortable. If you love having dinner parties and you want your dog to be a part, you are probably not going to match well with a shy, reserved dog who does not like to meet new people. But you might like dog who is everyone’s friend like Opie!
Do you love to walk, run, or hike with your dog? You’d love Pepper.
Do you live in an apartment and have to manage barking carefully for the sake of the neighbors? A quiet dog will be best. These are all things to think about when considering your new best friend.
Penelope is a dog who does not really like meeting new dogs. She does play well with her suite-mate Petey, but he is currently her only dog-friend. She loves people – bouncing and playing outside and cuddling on the couch. Penelope is not going to be your dog-park pal, but she is working on being comfortable passing by other dogs on leash at a comfortable distance. She will make someone a super sweet companion in a one dog household (or you could adopt Petey too!).
Nail Trims – Management and Training
Lots of dogs dislike having their nails trimmed! Management might look like taking lots of long walks over rough terrain or on pavement to wear down your pup’s nails. It might look like scheduling nail trims under sedation at the vet. Training could involve getting him to scratch his nails on a nail board to wear them down. Training could also involve counter conditioning to the process of foot handling and eventually nail trims. With my two boys Rio and Roscoe, whenever I pull out the nail clipper they are getting in line to be first to offer their feet! They both know a cooperative nail trim is a well-paid behavior, making it easy on everyone involved.
Crates and Potty Training
Crate training is a great way to manage overly rambunctious dogs – giving them time to chill out and settle. Crates are also great for potty training. Management is a huge part of potty training. When you are working on potty training, it is very important to prevent as many accidents as possible. You basically do this strictly through management – it might be keeping a puppy in a crate when you can’t watch her, tethering her to you with her leash so she is always under your supervision when out of her crate, and slowly opening up her freedom by using gates and puppy pens. The other side of potty training, of course, is giving lots of opportunities to get it right and lots of positive reinforcement for appropriate elimination. I love crates as management tools! But make sure management doesn’t go too far. Puppies can’t spend eight hours in a crate. If you have a long day at work, a management strategy you might employ could be daycare for a dog who likes to play with other dogs, or a dog walker or enrichment visits for dogs who are happier one-on-one.
Management should help you meet your dog’s needs as well as your own! A dog’s needs include – exercise, appropriate potty breaks, mental stimulation, play, social stimulation (with you, other dogs, or humans), training to help understand and fit into human society, rest, healthy food, fresh water, basic vet care, as well as others you may think to add. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go play with my pups. 🙂