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Set Your Dog up for Success with Management

For the past two months I've been writing about how dogs learn, especially with positive reinforcement. This month I'm focusing on how to set your dog up for success with management tools and strategies.

With any training plan, we put management in place to stop your dog from rehearsing the behaviors you'd like to change or eliminate. Tools like muzzles and baby gates can prevent unwanted behaviors and keep your dog and others safe. You can also arrange your dog's environment to avoid his triggers or to lower the intensity of them. Next week I'll talk more about management tools and the following week I'll explore some strategies.

When you design your management plan, you start by listing the behaviors you'd like to prevent and identifying their triggers--anything in the environment that provokes a reaction like a stranger approaching, a motorcycle revving, or a dog barking in the distance. You'll also note the level of intensity that provokes the reaction: how close can the stranger approach before your dog barks, for example? Once you know your dog's triggers, you can find ways to limit or eliminate your dog's exposure to them.

A key part of any management plan includes understanding and regulating your dog's threshold or the moment she shifts from one emotional state to another. When your dog is under threshold, she easily participates in a training game or task, remains calm or may be alert but focused, takes treats, and responds to you. There are many signs that your dog is over threshold: refusing to take treats, staring at the trigger, barking, lunging, or shutting down. Your dog's body language can tell you when she's nearing her threshold, giving you time to remove her from a sticky situation and help her settle down.

While management may not resolve behavior issues, it can go a long way toward helping you and your dog as you learn together.

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