Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Boundaries & Freedom

I get a lot of emails about dogs that are destroying things in the home or aren't "listening" or grabbing things while the family eats ... many things that could be solved with some solid boundary-setting and training.

As humans we feel really guilty confining our dogs to a crate or an area away from us, especially when we are home with them.  Actually, most commonly when we are home with them. I often hear: "Why would I have a dog that I can't have out with me at all times, what's the point?!"  My answer: "This isn't forever. But you need to get some major boundaries and training in place before that can happen."

Many households do have dogs that are totally fine being left un-confined and do not get into any trouble.  However, I do feel all dogs should be able to be confined at times, as there may be situations where this is absolutely necessary.  See my blog post "The most important thing to teach Fido" about this specific topic.

Back to boundaries and freedom ... Think of dogs like children. When raising children you cannot allow them to run amuck with no rules or boundaries and then expect them to listen and follow rules, right? I mean why would they? No one ever set any boundaries and suddenly you want compliance?  Likely going to have some backlash from that.  Dogs do the same thing but in different ways, eh-hem, since they are obviously a different species. A dog's lack of putting in boundaries, training and rules might look like destroying your things, grabbing things off counters, running out the front door, not doing what you ask when you ask, barking ... several things show as a result of lack of training and boundary-setting.

When I hear of dogs that "don't listen" or "get into trouble a lot" (get into trash, stealing things, grabbing things off counters, pestering while humans have mealtime, potty troubles, etc.) then I immediately see a common trend. The trend is these dogs have a lack of clear boundaries and little to no training in place (and sadly sometimes the wrong type of training  leash jerks, not teaching alternate behaviors, lots of punishments for poor behavior, etc.). Often this is a dog that isn't crated or confined, management isn't in place and/or the dog is allowed too much freedom with little to no rules along with that ... and to top all that off often they have only be told what not to do, as opposed to trained what to do instead.
Read: "No! Get off! Stop jumping!" Trainer brain: "So what has the dog been trained to do instead of jump? What do you want him to do instead so he can make that choice?"

Confinement isn't punishment, and isn't intended to be.  This isn't boundary training if it's used as I'm-mad-at-you-and-I-failed-at-management-so-now-you-have-to-be-tossed-into-your-crate!  Boundary training, when done properly, yields great results while also helping your dog learn to be confined and remain calm and relaxed while doing so.

We often do follow boundary training with puppies because we know if we let a puppy run around on it's own it will usually potty somewhere or chew something inappropriate.  However, with adult dogs we don't think in this manner as we often assume adult dogs shouldn't be doing these types of behaviors.  Afterall, they are adult dogs! So, we end up getting frustrated and labeling instead of manageing and training. "Fido is so bad! He just steals my socks all the time!"  "Fluffy is about to find a new place to live! I'm so done with her taking my kids toys!"  "Fido is getting on my last nerve with his destructive behavior when I'm gone!" 

The truth is that a lot of problem behaviors can be solved with a simple plan of boundary setting, impulse control exercises and training.

So what does that look like?!
Boundaries  Dog is crated or put in x-pen/safe confinement area when she cannot be supervised or you are busy.
Examples:
  • Need to do a thousand things around the house but worried Fido will get into things? Put him in his crate. 
  • Need to shower but don't trust Fluffy while you're out of sight for that long? Put her in her confinement area.
  • Fido annoyingly bothers you while you eat, or worse, grabs food from your plate! Put him in is crate while you eat.
  • Fluffy is destructive when you leave the house, even if just one magazine (or an entire window covering!).  Crate instead!
  • Fido is running crazy around the living room and won't settle down, driving you crazy.  Crate him. Give him a "chill out time".  
Boundaries are really a type of management. (Read my blog post on management in dog training here.)  While boundaries don't train your dog to stop doing unwanted behaviors, they prevent them from happening which is actually a huge part of successful training. Every time a dog gets to do an unwanted behavior that behavior is being reinforced. Those behaviors are fun for the dog, therefore, they will do it again (this is the definition of reinforcement and it happens whether we reinforce it or they do it themselves!).

Training  This must go hand-in-hand with boundary setting. If you aren't training and you're only confining your dog to get him out of our hair then you're not really doing much boundary setting.  You're likely frustrated when that's happening and that becomes a slippery slope.
Examples:
  • Train Fluffy what to do while you are cooking dinner instead of being a crazy pup jumping or counter-surfing or whatever is going on.  This can alleviate the need to crate her and allow her to hang out, while she makes good choices.   This is where I find mat training to be the best thing ever. Train your dog to lie on a mat while you are busy around the kitchen, eating at the table or making food.
  • Train Fido to wait to go out the door by sitting then going out when given permission. This is a great impulse control exercise that helps alleviate door-darting and also has the dog wait to do as asked instead of making choices on his own [that could be dangerous]. 
  • Train Fido to make good choices.  This could mean a lot of things. The best course of action is to hire a trainer that comes into your home so that you can address your dog's specific needs.
Training is really a critical part of owning a dog. Sure, I say that because I'm a trainer and would never own an un-trained dog, but .... it's absolutely true. Trained dogs are easier to live with. This doesn't even have to mean advanced level training. Training can involve things as simple as just sitting at the door before going out to coming when called or as advanced as you want to go  like agility, advanced obedience, Canine Good Citizen, therapy dog training, etc.  Training possibilities are endless.  But home manners and basics are a must, in my professional and personal opinion, if you want to live peacefully with your dog.



Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC

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