When dealing with behavioural issues, there are three key options when encountering an issue or problem. This is applicable to any training issue be it behavioural or a specific sport related issue.
Ignore, train and manage.
You can choose to ‘totally ignore a behaviour’. This is applicable to behaviours that your dog does that may niggle you, but not to the point of being an ‘issue’. You make a conscious decision to ignore the behaviour because although it may be ideally what you want, you don’t feel it needs addressing…. you may even find it endearing, humorous, or entertaining or its just simply not that big deal. All those are perfectly reasonable options. An example of this may be your dog chasing the hoover for example. This is a common behaviour amongst herding breeds that many choose to ignore. Its one of those quirky breed idiosyncrasies that although you would rather your dog didn’t do, you make a choice to ignore…. or just don’t hoover 😉
Choosing to ignore a behaviour needs to be based on the behaviour a) not affecting anyone else b) isn’t dangerous c) isn’t linked to other behaviours that are concerning you.
The second option is to ‘train against the behaviour or train an incompatible behaviour’. This is where you train an behaviour that prevents the dog from rehearsing or doing the behaviour you don’t want. So for example, if you wanted to train against the dog herding the hoover, you would teach them to remain in their bed whilst the hoover was on. By remaining in their bed, they earn reinforcement… and ultimately ‘stop’ chasing the hoover.
The incompatible behaviour has to be prevent the dog from doing the inappropriate behaviour….. teaching a dog that has bitten someones face, to ‘give a kiss’ as an incompatible behaviour isn’t a ‘wise’ option….and yes, I have heard this as a ‘solution’ to exactly this problem! The incompatible behaviour needs to be appropriate, and not create an alternative issue.
The third option is to ‘manage’ behaviour. This is an option where the guardian chooses to manage the dogs inappropriate behaviours throughout the dogs life. The behaviour may be so established, or the guardian may not be able to resolve it, or the ‘ends wouldn’t justify the means’, that the option is to ‘manage’ the dogs behaviour in the circumstances where they are likely to rehearse or display the unwanted response.
So, with the dog that chases the hoover… managing the behaviour would be to put the dog in another room when you were hoovering, and when you wanted to change locations, simply switch the hoover off, move the dog then continue. the dog still has the ‘issue’ but, I have found a way to avoid it affecting my life. In this circumstances, the behavioural issue could be seen as minimal.
However, the decision to manage behaviour needs to be a conscious one, and not the dog shaping you to avoid dealing with an issue that may affect you in other circumstances.
Management of behaviour has become a more common option for many. However often the behaviour can be resolved and trained against, with the appropriate approach. Management of behaviour can be extremely daunting and often requires a constant vigilance to your dog ownership. A lifetime of scanning, checking, constantly being on guard and aware can be exhausting. And for some of us, management of behaviour isn’t an option. We HAVE to train against the inappropriate response.
Management of behaviour is often a recommended option for dogs with aggression issues, reactivity or fear based issues. And sometimes this is absolutely the appropriate decision. When you own a dog with behavioural issues, that could result in displays of aggression, we have a responsibility to ensure that our dogs inappropriate behaviour doesn’t affect the life that others choose to lead with their dog. The earnest of responsibility is on my shoulder to ensure my dogs doesn’t harm or injure another. Whether this issue is based on fear, previous experience, genetics etc is irrelevant to the person on the receiving end of my dogs unwanted behaviour.
However the constant need to be vigilant 24/7/365 can be exhausting. It can evolve into a full time occupation in itself. Going for a simple walk, can be a expedition, with pre-planning, equipment, time co-ordination, a partner or team to go with, as though preparing to hike to the Antarctic! The anxiety and stress of what ‘MAY’ happen, needs almost a process of mental preparation before stepping out of the door. A walk consisting of 200% attention and focus on the dogs every breath, and the route taken must be strictly adhered to…any deviation resulting in a mild to extreme panic…..This may sound extreme, but speak to anyone that lives a life of management and they will tell you, this is exactly what it feels like.
A lot of the stress and the constant ‘risk assessing’ can be mitigated with ‘training’. A dog that has some core skills can negate the need to live a life of management.
Having owned a dog that was just didn’t like other dogs, I managed his behaviour constantly. I knew that he was likely to be aggressive and bite another dog.
At this point, I could explain or give an explanation of what type of dog he was most likely to want to bite, what the circumstances would have to be etc, what they would have to do to trigger his reaction, and justify his behaviour by saying what a lovely dog he was with people.… in attempt to minimise the issue, or save the shame associated with owning a dog that was ‘aggressive’. Surely as a professional dog trainer, my dog should be perfect? However, none of this would serve to assist the person whose dog was on the receiving end of his actions, nor would they be likely to care at the point when he was attacking their dog. So management was a huge part of his life. I was always aware of his behaviour and I scanned, observed and monitored him constantly.
However, because of my choice to compete in a dog sport with him, I was also forced to have to ‘train’ against his issues. My intention was to compete in a sport where he would have to be in close proximity to other dogs, he would have to be off the lead, and there was always a risk that he could have a dog approach him, or intrude in his space that fitted the criteria of a dog he was likely to dislike, and often he would be either away from me or out of my sight.
I didn’t have the option to manage him constantly any more.
This was a dog that didn’t like dogs in his space at all, yet through training, I was able to have him in a down or sit, out of my sight, with varying distances away from me, off the lead… and another dog positioned between 3-6ft away and on one occasion, interfering with him… and he held his position… confidently, happily and wanting to remain there.
His training allowed him to lead a fuller life, and allowed me to enjoy the dog without the constant pressure and stress that management can cause. I walked him in public places off lead, he could be around other dogs he didn’t know. I merge management with training. Don’t get me wrong, I would still manage, but I didn’t live in a head space of anxiety of stress.
Management of behaviour is always an option. It isn’t a failure of the trainer/guardian. It is acknowledging what and who your dog is, and accepting them for what they are. Warts and all.
Its smart dog ownership, and being a compassionate person as your are putting your dog and others above your ego. However, training can open so many more doors for you and your dog, and allow your to lead a fuller life with the dog that your love and adore. It can result in a dog that is happy, has clarity and joy in wanting to do the ‘right’ thing.
Embrace all options, and make the choice of which option is appropriate based on the life you want to lead with your dog.
‘The saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have. ~ Louis E. Boone’