Let’s take a minute to talk about training vs. management. We all hear about dog training but rarely do we hear much about management. When we say a dog is trained, what do we really mean? Does it mean that our dog will walk well when we put a pinch collar on or that she’ll sit when we have a treat? Or does it mean they will do whatever behaviors we have taught them regardless of what we have in our hand or around the dog’s neck? I believe a dog that is considered trained, whatever the behavior may be, should be able to perform the tasks it has been taught without a tug on a leash or the presentation of a piece of food.
Many of the same tools that are used in training are also used in managing a dog’s behavior. The difference is in how these tools are used. If we find that our dogs only walk well when they have a head halter on or are wearing a pinch collar they are being managed. That doesn’t mean they aren’t also being trained, but they are being trained to behave only when this equipment is on. They quickly realize that when the equipment is off they can go back to pulling and jumping up just like they did before. When we see this happening many of us are just happy we have found something that will work and stop the dog from pulling and resign ourselves to needing the equipment to get a pleasant walk with our dogs. In a perfect world this would be fine; we could just use the equipment when needed. I think your world is much like mine in that it isn’t perfect though. There are going to be times when equipment breaks, gets lost or just left in another car and that is when we will see just how much we have managed our dogs behavior rather than trained them to comply to commands.
When I see a dog that has been managed but not trained the reason often comes down to time. Most of us are willing to follow the steps needed to get the right behaviors out of our dogs but we don’t put in the amount of time necessary to make those behaviors permanent. We go for walks with our dogs, we may even have them sit at the corner but we are primarily going out to give our dog exercise and enjoy ourselves. When we do just enough to make the walk we are on right now livable but don’t take into account tomorrows walks, we rob ourselves of the joy we can have from a trustworthy dog. And we rob the dog of more freedom he could get if he were more trustworthy. If we take the time now, a good solid month or so, to really teach our dogs and proof their mistakes we can have a whole lot more fun with them in the long run.
When taking our dogs for a walk we can focus a little more on how they are doing rather than how much physical exercise they are getting, for a little while anyway. You will see that they are plenty tired after having a good training session even if the physical part was less than usual. I often think of training habits like a new driver learning to parallel park. If we go to work and have to parallel park, we get in one repetition, this will take a long time for us to improve. If on the other hand we take an hour or so on a day off and drive around looking for chances to parallel park we will get better at a much faster rate, and the same goes for our dogs.
Exactly what techniques you use to train isn’t the point of this article so we won’t be going into all of that. The thought I want to express is that most of us want our dogs to be able to respond to commands when we are in different places around other distractions or when our equipment is missing or has failed in some way. This is an attainable goal if we practice in earnest to improve our dogs rather than doing just enough to get by for right now.