Managing Mischief, or How to Set Fido Up to Succeed
Maggie Blutreich, CPDT reporting
When our children are toddlers we keep a close eye on them. We manage their behavior to keep them safe and prevent them from doing inappropriate things. Toddlers are neither reliable nor responsible and tend to get into anything that even remotely interests them. If you are a dog owner, that probably sounds pretty familiar! Perhaps it can be useful to keep in mind that dogs are never mentally much more than 18 month old children. In that case, we'd do well to manage canine behavior -- to set limits, to prevent our dogs and puppies from doing unsafe or harmful things, and to reward acceptable, "good" behavior. When we allow unwanted behavior to continue, it is being practiced. We all know that practice makes perfect. After all, learning is just like gravity. It's present all the time whether we notice or not. Management is a dog owner's best tool for taking unwanted behavior out of rehearsal.
We've all heard of dogs that soil inside the house, nip at the children and jump up on just about everyone.
Consider some of these suggestions for managing dog behavior. Crates are the most useful tool we have for managing Fido's toilet habits. Healthy dogs and older puppies will not urinate or defecate in their crates. We take our dogs out of doors at the appropriate times to their potty area in order to prevent messes in the house and to help them form desirable habits. (Detailed house training information is available via "Way to Go!" from www.dogsbestfriendtraining.com or send me an e-mail request.) No one advocates keeping dogs or puppies in crates for hours and hours. Most homes can accommodate a larger safe confinement area for Fido. In many homes the laundry room is perfect; it is near the kitchen and other high activity areas. We do not intend to isolate Fido. We just need to keep him out of trouble when we are too busy to supervise him. Get a suitable baby gate for the laundry room door. Many varieties are hinged to permit easy opening and are installed so as not to mar woodwork. Do your best to puppy proof the area. Put away anything Fido
might damage. Try not to think of this as a prison cell; it's more like a baby's play pen or one of those bouncy infant seats or activity tables.
If your floor plan is not suited to using a laundry or other small room, consider getting a metal, folding exercise pen of the proper height and size for your dog. Since we want Fido to enjoy being in his play room, we need to "furnish" it with terrific things like interactive, food-dispensing toys. Some examples are Buster Cube and tough black rubber Kong bee hive shaped toys. Your dog can eat at least one meal a day playing with these kinds of toys. Dry dog food kibble goes in the Buster Cube. Kibble soaked in water (sticky like cookie dough) makes great stuffing for Kong toys. These things are readily available at pet supply shops. Add a soft dog bed as well as most of Fido's toys plus his regular crate.His food and water bowls complete the play room decor.
Whenever possible, set your dog up to succeed. Supervise Fido's free time out of his play room.
Assign one adult member of the household to be his "manager. " In the meantime, practice with all family members,especially the children, so that Fido understands to sit and lie down when even younger kids ask him to do so. (For helpful tips see Behavior Blueprint, Dogs & Children at www.dogSTARdaily.com) Remember, the manager is keeping Fido on a six foot leash that is attached to a soft nylon collar or harness.
If Fido seems about to get into trouble, his manager can offer a stern sounding, "Ut-Oh!" and, if needed, gently stop him with the leash. Then cheerfully call Fido to come. Adults and older children may not need the "manager's" assistance; they can proactively interrupt unwanted behavior by asking for a sit. In either case, after the "Ut-Oh!" ask for several sits, and, after getting these acceptable behaviors, offer some reward like a food treat, chest rub or favorite toy. In other words: interrupt and redirect unacceptable behavior; then request and reward acceptable alternative behavior.
When the household is very active and there's no adult available to supervise Fido, he can be taken out of his crate for his potty break out of doors and then stay in his larger play area with fun and interesting things to do. He can entertain himself during those hectic family times when everyone is busy preparing meals, getting ready for school or work, hosting playmates or guests, returning from school or shopping trips.
Remember, a tired puppy is a well behaved puppy. Try to arrange for Fido to have several brisk 5 to 10 minute walks or short runs each day in addition to his regular potty trips. You can play with him coming when called or toss soft toys for him to chase or just walk around coaxing him to follow you. You can even feed him an entire meal while he exercises by tossing pieces of kibble for him to chase and find. Proper exercise is every dog's best friend.
These management suggestions may sound time consuming and demanding. However, the tree indeed grows as the twig is bent and this early stage of management only lasts until solid good habits are formed. When we don't have time to supervise them, our puppies can be out of trouble and content in their play room areas. Everyone stays safe and sane. Best of all, in what seems to be no time at all we'll have nicely behaved, easily managed dogs.