Managing a dog’s environment is something that can lead to great success and great fails (not in the cute happy ending way that Balton likes to talk about either). We’ve seen our share of both, and sometimes even good management can fail (so it’s often wise to have multi-management systems in place). Fostering has taught me there’s a human learning curve when dealing with many dogs, with many individual personalities and their own doggie learning curves for training progress.
Sometimes, you forget that with a new dog, you have to hit reset. This is true for adoptive homes and the perpetual revolving door for foster parents. Bear in mind that even though your last dog or foster dog may not have never chewed anything or required minimal exercise, for example, the new standard of living is going to be different with a new dog. Perhaps if more people went into adoptions with this one thing in mind, we would have fewer dogs being returned to rescues or being dumped at shelters (article credit Dogs Out Loud).
One lesson in environmental management that I often reflect on comes courtesy of one of my favorite fosters, Loopy the one-eyed Rottie mix.
Loopy liked to play, run, and cuddle.
We learned pretty soon after her arrival that she also liked to chew. Her most favorite snacks were rolls of paper towels or toilet paper, and electronic cords. In the 3 weeks we had her, I said sayonara to one cell phone charger, one laptop cable, and almost one vacuum (fortunately we have a handy friend who was able helped us fix the vacuum). All of these items could have been saved if I had been a little more diligent on management.
I knew it didn’t take long for Loopy to find something “delicious” to snack on – we came in from a walk on day one when she dashed into the kitchen and went to town on a paper towel roll that had been left on the floor. 2 seconds was all she needed to destroy stuff. And yet, I somehow was surprised when I took a short break from vacuuming later that day to do some laptop work at my dining room table while Loopy rested near me in the living room. Within minutes, the vacuum plug I had left unraveled on the living room floor was being chewed just outside my periphery.
She was IN THE ROOM WITH ME and I didn’t see it happening. But why did I think that it would be reasonable to just leave the vacuum plug lying on the floor with a known chewer? Well, maybe because I didn’t think she would have an appetite for plugs. So I’ll let myself slide on that one.
Later that day I had to take a shower. While I am a huge fan of crate training (and Lucky Dog requires it when foster parents are out of the home or sleeping), I somehow thought that this lovely dog who had already shown a predisposition for chewing non-food and non-toy items would be okay for the 10 minutes I was indisposed and unable to watch her. Thus, the demise of my laptop cable. What the heck was I thinking by not crating her?
Thankfully, a little collateral damage was all that came from this great day of learning, and Loopy was unharmed. I take full ownership of being a poor environmental manager, and became a lot more diligent about managing Loopy’s environment. I later had the good fortune of completing her home visit with her forever family, and spied a laptop plugged in on the floor. I cautioned they would want to pick that up, offering what I had learned the hard way as a preventative tip for the new adopters.
It’s important to note that when something gets destroyed or impacted by the result of poor management, it’s not really the dog’s fault. Let me repeat that. When you fail as a manager, it is not your dog’s fault. It is your fault, human. I’ve seen more than a few situations of adopters getting mad at their recently adopted dog when he shows destructive behavior. Then I come to find out that dog was left unsupervised and uncrated (when the dog had been crate trained and was perfectly comfortable in a crate). I’m sorry, but there is no excuse for blaming a dog for the fact that you set up his environment to fail. Mistakes happen. Accidents happen. But we humans are the ones who control the environment and teach our dogs what behavior is appropriate under our supervision. Eventually, those dogs learn and can be entrusted to less supervision. But until they do, we cannot expect them to know what they have not learned, and have no right to get mad at them when we are the ones who screwed up.
Environmental management is obviously not a substitute for real, honest to goodness training, but it definitely can save shoes, cables, and other casualties of dog boredom (or in some cases, anxiety) as you work on teaching a dog appropriate behaviors and building trust in one another.
For a few more good pieces on management, check here (credit Paws Abilities), here (Fearfuldogs.com), here and here (Eileen and Dogs). In dogs with more serious behavior issues (like our Balton), you can see a few more flashbacks of management in action here, here, and here.
How about you? Any management tidbits that have been helpful with your past or present resident dogs? Or hard knock lessons that resulted in improved management?