Have you ever heard the expression, “like a kid in a candy store?” Basically, when you give someone too much freedom or opportunity, they are more likely to act impulsively or make bad decisions. It’s like they can’t help themselves!
As humans, we tend to make better choices when there is a structure in place to guide us. The amount and type of structure we need varies throughout the different life stages. We use play pens and cribs to keep infants safe while they are learning more about the world around them. It helps prevent them from putting things in their mouths that they shouldn’t eat, or from bumping into the corner of the coffee table, while they figure out how to navigate their surroundings.
We establish house rules and curfews to keep teenagers on track to making good decisions and becoming more self-sufficient. We tend to give them slightly more freedom than they may have had as adolescents, but our rules and expectations still need to be clear in order for them to feel secure and know we are in charge.
Even throughout our adult lives, we continue to live in a structured society. We must abide by laws, follow regulations in the workplace, etc, in order to be successful, upstanding citizens in the community and avoid negative consequences. When we limit the opportunity to make bad choices, it can help clarify the path that leads people to success, good health, and happiness.
Now envision you just got a new puppy or adopted a dog…
Would you expect them to know the rules of your household when you bring them home?
How about where to go to the bathroom?
Or what they are and are not allowed to chew on?
Giving a new puppy or rescue dog total freedom in your home is just like putting a kid in a candy store!
They don’t know what’s “right” and what’s “wrong”. They are opportunistic creatures and are going to seek out experiences that are pleasant and fun. We cannot expect them to be perfectly well-behaved and make all the right choices unless we help show them the way.
Using management is critical in order to keep your dog safe, limit bad decisions, and build a stronger bond with your dog. Management refers to how we control the space, resources, and activities in our dog’s world.
Unfortunately, we find this piece of the puzzle is missing most of the time we begin working with our clients! We get calls daily from people who are stressed out, frustrated, and angered by their dogs, all because they have given their dog too much freedom, which has led them to form bad habits. By using simple and effective management systems, you can ensure your dog stays on track to developing good habits and following the rules.By establishing management, structure, and boundaries, you will set your dog up for success. Click To Tweet
Here are few ways you can use management to help your dog be more successful:
A crate is one of the most powerful tools you can use to change your dog’s behavior. If you start your dog off with crate training (lots of positive association and treats help!), it becomes a happy, safe, “den-like” space where your dog can go to relax. The huge benefit is that they can’t do a lot wrong when they are in the crate! Crating is a vital component of house training. If the crate is sized properly, dogs are inclined to “hold it” when they are in the crate because they don’t particularly like to soil their “dens” where they have to lay and sleep. Therefore, it’s a great tool to help teach a puppy bladder control! The crate is also pertinent to safety. If you cannot supervise your new puppy or dog, they can easily sneak off and eat anything imaginable. There’s nothing worse than a trip to the E.R. because your puppy ate a sock when you weren’t watching them!
A leash can be used for so much more than just a daily walk around the block. Did you know you can keep your new dog on a leash in the house to keep them from running away? Again, even a few seconds of your dog being unsupervised can lead to a catastrophe. When you bring a new dog home, keep them on a leash in the house at least for the first few weeks or month. You can start by either connecting the leash to your belt or “tether” it to a nearby doorknob or immovable object to keep your dog close by you so they cannot leave your sight. Just be sure that you can see your dog and keep an eye on them so they don’t get tangled in the leash! Later you can graduate to letting the leash drag around behind them. It’s helpful to have it ready to grab in case your dog goes to do something bad, like jump on the counter or your guest.
Collars, Harnesses, (and other tools for walking)
There are lots of different tools on the market that help to curb pulling or lunging on a walk, and ensure they stay safely connected to you. Tools need to be fitted properly so your dog cannot slip out of it and run off! You also want to make sure the tool is evenly matched for the job. The wrong tool can be ineffective and unsafe, and lead to the dog pulling the leash from your hand or dragging you face first onto the ground! Some tools on the market include harnesses, flat collars, martingales, no-pull harnesses, head halters, choke chains, and prong collars. There are also different types of leashes, like standard 4’ or 6’ leads and retractable leashes. The best way to determine which tool is right for your dog is to seek professional help from an experienced trainer who has expertise in using ALL tools. That way, they can make the best selection for you and your dog.
Burning off some energy by playing fetch or jogging around the block helps to keep your dog in good health and tire them out — which means they have less energy to put towards bad behaviors! There are countless ways to exercise your dog, and depending on their breed, age, and physical ability, each dog will require a different amount of exercise in order to fulfill their needs. Not all exercise is the same! Letting your dog run around the backyard is typically NOT as effective in tiring out your dog as you may think it is. The optimal type of exercise to help level off some excess energy and promote calmer behavior around the house would be an activity that stimulates not only the body but the mind. Nose work or scent training (having your dog search for something using their sense of smell) can be mentally challenging and therefore more exhausting for your dog. A very structured walk, like strict heeling, can also be much more effective exercise than a chaotic and aimless run around the neighborhood or backyard. The more mentally challenging the activity, the more tiring it’s going to be for your dog. Think of the SATs in high school! Some form of regular exercise helps a dog stay healthy and happy.
Food and water
Similar to exercise and walking tools, not all food is created equal! The quality of the food you purchase for your pet will directly impact their behavior. We see the same happen in humans. Have you ever felt physically ill or sluggish, or just in a really bad mood after eating fast or unhealthy foods? If you buy your dog the lowest grade food on the market, it could effect their behavior just like it would a person. Imagine eating McDonald’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Every dog has different dietary needs, so consult with your veterinarian before deciding on the best food for your dog. Also, when house training a puppy, you can limit their access to food and water to only certain times of the day. Keeping them on a schedule will help you better predict when they need to go to the bathroom.
Toys are critical for enrichment and mental stimulation, especially in puppies. Providing your dog with toys that are suited to their chewing/play style can also help prevent them from chewing things that they should NOT have — like your shoes! Be sure to “test” different types of toys out with your puppy or dog while you supervise to make sure they cannot chew off and swallow pieces of the toy. It’s also helpful to “rotate” the toys that you leave around for your dog so that they stay novel and interesting.
As dog owners, it’s our job to do what is right by our dog and what is in their best interest. That means remembering that they are dogs!
They are not pre-programmed to know what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. They will not always make safe choices if given other opportunities that look enticing or fun.
By establishing management, structure, and boundaries, you will set your dog up for success. It will also prevent you from having a lot of headaches during the training process! Your dog will thank you for making the path clear to them and it will strengthen the bond you have with your pet.