Misbehaving dogs are quite a challenge and their antics can be super frustrating. That’s why my first rule of dog training at home is simple to both understand and implement. That rule is: Mange Your Dog’s Environment. That means you create a home environment that enables your dog to be behaviorally successful by limiting, even eliminating, opportunities for undesired behavior.
Managing your dog’s environment has two key benefits.
First, it puts an end to the continued reinforcement of the negative behavior so that training a new, more desirable behavior, becomes easier.
Second, it gives you your sanity back. Now your dog is no longer able to do whatever was stressing you out, you have the energy to put toward teaching your dog to do a behavior you prefer. Sometimes, managing your dog’s environment solves a problem so effectively that no training is even necessary.
Here is how to manage your dog’s environment:
In every room your dog will spend any time in, add or remove items that may lead to problem behaviors. The problem behaviors themselves include anything that would be harmful to your dog like eating a poisonous plant and anything that would annoy you, like eating your expensive shoes. The dog herself can even be the “thing” that is removed.
Here are some examples to show you what I mean:
- If your new puppy is teething and is partial to your expensive Italian shoes, move the shoes and provide something in her environment that she is allowed to chew on like a puppy teething toy. Yes, eventually your puppy may learn not to chew inappropriate things but it will help you feel patient and compassionate while she learns if you aren’t having to replace your favorite heels ever week. Until your puppy is trained to not chew your precious belongings, make those belongings inaccessible.
- If your uber friendly adolescent doodle jumps up on every guest that comes to your door, put a baby gate up to the room of your choice with the dog inside the room. Put a bed or some toys in there so she isn’t bored and enjoy your guest. You can train your dog not to jump up on guests but while you are in that process, protect your friends from getting knocked down by removing your dog from the equation. Your guests can say hello to her when she calms down so nobody feels like they are missing out. You can also use a dog crate if your dog is crate trained or work up to a crate if you haven’t done that training yet.
- If your dog likes to sit on the armchair in front of the window and bark at everyone who walks by, move the armchair and/or put up a thick curtain so the dog isn’t triggered to bark since he won’t see or hear people passing. Block the opportunity to bark while training your dog not to bark.
- If your dog is a “counter surfer, or you just don’t want her in the kitchen while you are cooking or eating, use the baby gate method described above. You can train your dog over time not to counter surf or that some rooms are off limits and you can enjoy a dog-free kitchen in the meantime.
Environmental management techniques like the ones above are my all time favorite training tools because they not only provide an immediate solution to the problem, they also eliminates the inherent reinforcement of the negative behavior which makes breaking your dog of her bad habits much easier to train away. To give an example, in the puppy chewing scenario above, each time the puppy gets to chew shoes, her shoe chewing behavior is reinforced (because it feels good on her teeth, the wet leather smells good, etc.) which makes it more likely to occur again. Removing her opportunity to chew and giving her something she is allowed to chew on makes it that much easier to train her not to chew your things. Removing the important shoes is always the first rule: no temptation, no unwanted behavior. It really is that simple.
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