Today’s blog comes to us from Dr. Amy Cook of Full Circle Dog Training in Oakland, CA. Amy specializes is working with dogs that exhibit reactivity, which makes her the perfect person to help us understand the very important distinction between training and management in relation to reactivity in our pet dogs.
Reactivity: Training vs. Management
By: Dr. Amy Cook
What is reactivity? Ask three trainers and you’ll get three answers. Is it aggression? Is it arousal? Is it out-of-control friendliness and frustration? Most of these answers center around the underlying motivation, which we are certainly free to guess at, but if we just look at it as a behavior it can be pretty reliably summed up as “my dog is barking at something and lunging at the end of his leash at it!” Regardless of why he’s doing it or what it is, that’s what he’s doing, right?
And it makes him pretty difficult to take anywhere! You don’t know whether the thing that triggers him to do this is going to show up unexpectedly, and you don’t know what to do if it does. Frankly, you just want him to not do this at all so…what should you do?
There are two things you can do. In fact, there are always two things you can do with any issue regarding dogs, whether it’s reactivity, house training, getting in the trash or not coming when called: you can train your dog and you can manage your dog.
Training your dog means you teach him new behaviors that replace the ones you don’t like. You reward him for doing them, and they eventually become habit, and the replacement takes hold. But training takes time, and new habits don’t form overnight. You need to be consistent, follow sound training principles, and be patient with the learning process. It can take even more time when the problems have an emotional component.
What do you do until then, though? If it takes time, what do you do in the meantime? You still have to go places and do things and live with your dog.
You need a management plan!
Management is what happens when we’re the ones creating good behaviors in our dogs, and not relying on them to do those behaviors on their own. For example, if you know your dog will bark when he sees a dog approaching him up ahead on the sidewalk, management will tell you that instead of continuing to walk that path until you encounter failure, you break out the cookies, make a 90 degree turn, cross the street and get out of the path, keeping your dog’s attention on you as you pass that dog from a wider position.
Training would eventually have him passing that dog without you holding his attention yourself, but until he has the skills and maturity to do that, you manage him by giving him the distance he needs and something to focus on instead of the dog that worries him.
Management is you keeping track of your environment when you’re out with your dog, and knowing where the blind corners are and altering your route to avoid them for now. Management is being firm with other people who ask to pet your dog, and maintaining the boundaries that he needs in order to feel safe in public (even if that makes you feel a little impolite, or if people don’t understand!).
Management is knowing what your dog can successfully handle and what he can’t, and avoiding the situations that are too much for him while you’re improving his training. Management has you putting him in a covered crate in the car, so he isn’t looking for all the dogs and people to bark at!
Everyone who has a dog, whether they are reactive or not, has a management plan. All of us put non-housetrained dogs in confinement areas, for example. But for those of you with reactive dogs, the management plan is crucial to reducing the number of times your dog barks and lunges at the things, and helps you navigate those scenarios proactively.
Training is necessary, but until your dog is proficient, you manage!
Dr. Amy Cook, Full Circle Dog Training
Thank you, Amy, for taking time out of your schedule to help us understand these terms.
Even better, Amy has generously donated a GOLD level spot in her class at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy “Management for Reactive Dogs,” starting February 1st, to help novice owners who are struggling with reactivity to manage their dogs while they create a training plan to solve the basic underlying issues. Wow! That’s a great freebie for a lucky winner!
If you are struggling with reactivity and need help learning to manage it, go ahead and enter the contest. The winner Winner will be announced on Monday January 30th by e-mail.
Please note that we will not use your name, e-mail or anything else except to run this contest. No strings at all unless you specifically choose to sign up for the newsletter. If you’re not interested, just skip that part! You’ll still be entered in the contest.
Please read the class description with care before you enter – no point in winning a class that you do not need. You’ll need a videocamera and six weeks to devote to your training. In exchange, you’ll get six weeks of detailed instruction to allow you to create a workable management plan for your dog.
Thanks again, Amy!