Let me tell you a little story.
I was invited to the home of a fabulous family who had just adopted a young dog from their local rescue centre. The dog was around a year old and had been picked up as a stray so we didn’t know his background. The dog had decided that his favourite place to pee was on the leg of the desk owned by the teenage son, who according to his Mum; didn’t need another excuse not to sit at his desk and do his homework. Every time the dog pee’d, the son would get up and take the dog outside. That would turn into playtime because as we had already established, it didn’t take much for the son to avoid doing his homework. The dog didn’t pee anywhere else in the house, had been checked by a vet and the family had started to wonder what was ‘wrong.’
A stairgate solved the problem. Not just because the dog couldn’t venture upstairs without being invited, but because the family could attach a laminated sign to the stairgate, reminding the son to take the dog out for a wee and a play BEFORE he ventured upstairs to procrastinate and avoid his homework.
There wasn’t a problem at all. Sometimes the simplest solution is by far the best!
You’ll hear the words control and management used in the world of dog training and I think it sounds harsher than it is, especially from those of us who are all about the force-free approach. All it means is that we need to make sure we’re setting our dog up to succeed and creating the best possible environment for them to do that.
If your dog is continually doing something that you’d rather they didn’t do, it’s probably because they continually have the opportunity to practice that behaviour.
It’s really the easiest form of training your dog!
If you control the environment so that your dog can no longer do the thing you wish they wouldn’t do, while making it easy for them to do the thing you WOULD like them to do, then you can restore harmony.
If we look at a three-step approach to preventing unwanted behaviours then you have step one in the bag, you know what you would like your dog to do instead.
Step two is managing the environment and making sure that your dog can’t practice the behaviour so that it isn’t being rewarded. A reward doesn’t have to come from you, whatever your dog is doing is rewarding in itself. Whether that’s chewing your shoes, raiding the bin, jumping up at humans or pee’ing up the leg of your desk, the behaviour is rewarding in one way or another.
With step three, you need to make sure that the desired behaviour that you identified in step one is now being rewarded instead. So, if the aim is to save a small fortune on buying new shoes, you remember to put them in a cupboard and instead, give your dog an amazing chew toy, get involved with playing with your dog and make sure they’re rewarded for chewing the thing you would like them to chew. Put a lid on the bin and give your dog an amazing, super-smelly Kong to devour; if you can hide the Kong among some old boxes and bags for your dog to find, even better. Create an area where your dog can safely rummage around for something delicious/disgusting and encourage them as they do it. Then, when the game is over, put everything away until the following day when you can play again.
The aim is not only to keep it simple but to respect that your dog needs to be a dog while balancing that with the fact they’re living as part of the family. By channelling your energy into rewarding the thing you would like your dog to do, you’ll both have a much happier life together!