Problem Solving Step One: Manage or Train?

We’ll begin addressing Ranger’s “10 Things” list in this post. Finally!

As I mentioned in an earlier comment, sometimes dog training is like a choose your own adventure book. There’s not one “right” answer to solving most problems. It is dependent on the family and the dog, and a three different answers could each be the correct one for three different families.

That is why the profession of behavior consulting is more than just being able to recite pat answers from a book, and why sometimes owners really do need to upgrade to a professional who can observe and analyze from a position of having trained 1,000 dogs, not just one.

It is also why what works for us and Ranger may not be what will work for you and your dog.

It is why coming to a solution sometimes takes trial and error, sometimes just a flash of insight; sometimes settling, sometimes a truly perfect answer where everyone wins.

Let’s consider one of Ranger’s top-priority (read: potentially unsafe) behaviors, his Grasshoppering. Remember, in this behavior Ranger jumps up and down excitedly, which can cause large and small people to be scratched with toenails, run into, or even pushed over.

The largest categories we can utilize to find a solution are Management and Training.

Simply put, Management is changing the environment, and Training is changing the behavior itself.

Just brainstorming, let’s look at one of Ranger’s Grasshoppering situations – Dinner Time.

Dinner Time Woes

Possible management solutions:

  • prepare Ranger’s food bowl inside, hand it to him outside
  • put Ranger’s food in a treat ball ahead of time, hand it to him at dinner time
  • put Ranger in his kennel until his food is ready, then release him
  • feed Ranger in his kennel
  • use all Ranger’s food as treats and train him with it
  • have someone hold Ranger on leash while his food is being scooped

Possible training solutions:

  • teach Ranger sit- or down- stay nearby while his food is being prepared
  • have Ranger go to his mat while his food is being prepared
  • teach Ranger to stand politely while waiting for his food
  • teach Ranger to get his own durn food

And these are just the first boring ones that came to mind at almost 10pm and past my bedtime.  I’m sure there are more out there. Really, any behavior that is incompatible with Grasshoppering – meaning one that Ranger physically cannot do at the same time – is a potential candidate. The possibilities are endless.

So, the first big question is – does the behavior need to change? Or does it just present itself in such a selective manner that a no-effort management solution can take care of all the problems surrounding it?

One example of a behavior that I have solely managed is my Collie’s food guarding against other dogs. It is a very specific, limited behavior – she guards food.  Not people, not her bed, not toys. What do we do? We feed them separately (one indoors, one outdoors, or in different rooms on an awful weather sort of night). Way, way easier than trying to train her to accept another dog all up in her kibble.

In this case, Ranger also exhibits his excited behavior in many other situations. It may be a good idea to use dinner time – the most frequent and the most easily controlled situation – to help train this behavior in a way that will help the other situations.

There may also certainly be nights when we just want to feed the dog and don’t feel like training him, so let’s keep a management solution in our back pocket for those nights.  The key here is preparation – have a plan so that you don’t default to what DOESN’T work if you don’t feel like doing the training one day. (And if the behavior is ongoing, certainly don’t let the dog practice misbehavior 23.75 hours a day just because you’re going to train him .25 hours!)

So the choice? We are going to go with “both, Bob.”

As it is late, we’ll talk about how I will select our specific answers in another post. Hint: there is no dart board involved.  But we will dig a little more deeply into the management/training nexus and hopefully hit a bullseye on the most efficient answer in our situation that works for all the people and dogs involved. Stay tuned!

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