Thursday, July 16, 2009

Training vs. management: barking dogs and more

Dog training isn’t just about “sit,” “down,” and “stay.” Years ago I heard trainer Patti Ruzzo speak about managing your pet’s behavior. It was part of her first night presentation at beginning obedience classes. This was the first time I’d even thought about the subject. Recently reading Karen Pryor’s fascinating new book, Reaching the Animal Mind, I found she also writes about management vs. training.

From the very first day you bring your pet home, before you ever teach him a thing, you prevent problems by managing his behavior. Sometimes this is a quicker fix than training. For example, a dog that isn’t housetrained sleeps in a crate at night. This also keeps him from chewing the pillows when you’re not watching. Meanwhile, you can housetrain the dog and teach him what toys are appropriate to chew.

Because I board dogs in my home, long-term training isn’t always practical. Barking is a good example of a problem that responds to management. I have two horses in the back of my property, and when they decide to run and play, the dogs go nuts. I can yell at them to shut up and as far as the dogs are concerned, I’m just joining the party. If it is first thing in the morning, I feed my hungry ponies, which settles them down and then the dogs have nothing to bark at. That’s management.

How do I stop the barking at other times of the day? I bring the dogs in the house. Some dogs get so exited they throw themselves at the windows, wanting to go back outside. These dogs go in a crate or in the garage for a time-out until the horses settle down. That’s management.

When I call the dogs away from the horses, I reward them with a treat for coming to me. For some, barking is more rewarding than a hot dog, so I have to go get them. But most quickly learn to turn and come to me when I come out the back door and call them. That’s training.

How do you keep the cat from scratching the couch? Put him in another room. That’s management. Cover the couch with sticky tape. That’s management. Reward him when he claws a scratching post. That’s training.

The training solution

I was amazed when I read in Ms. Pryor’s book that she used a clicker to quiet a kennel full of untrained, barking dogs. I have done a bit of clicker training myself, so I understand the principle, but never dreamed you could use it on a bunch of untrained dogs at once. In less than ten minutes, she was able to quiet over 30 dogs in an animal shelter. Shelters around the United States are now using this method, and believe me, I can hardly wait to try it!

Assuming you understand the proper use of the clicker, I will give a short explanation. She clicks and treats each dog when they stop barking, even for a second. They quickly learn to come to front of the kennel and shut up as soon as they see her coming.

That’s what I would call a miracle!

Reaching the Animal Mind

I highly recommend Karen Pryor’s book. It is entertaining and presents scientific research without sounding like a textbook. She writes about her experiences training an octopus, a hermit crab, and a tropical fish. You’ll be inspired to grab a clicker and a pocketful of treats so you can try her methods on your own pets. She emphasizes that training can be fun for both you and the animal, which enhances learning.

My training goals aren’t so exotic, but she does make her point! Even the most difficult animal can be trained. Training accomplishes a long-term solution to the problem by establishing new, reliable behaviors in an animal. Management keeps you sane in the meantime.

© copyright 2009 by Terry Albert


barrie said...

WOW! OK, I just ordered the book :-)

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