Three ways that management can help you with your pet

A guide to the ways in which management can help with your pet’s behaviour issues—either on its own, or alongside training and behaviour modification.

A Schnauzer looks longingly at some muffins on a table

Management can stop your dog from taking food you don't want them to get. Photo: Jarib/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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Often when people seek help with their dog’s behaviour, they assume that training is the answer. But management can play an important role too. 

With cats, people are much less likely to assume training will help. Fortunately, this is starting to change, because cats are very trainable too. But management can also help cats. 

Here are three ways in which management can help with pet behaviour issues.

Management keeps people and pets safe

Management can be very important to keep your own pet safe, and sometimes to keep other people and pets safe too. Here are some examples.

Management for pulling on leash

If you have a dog who pulls very hard on leash, it can sometimes be unsafe for the person who is holding onto the end of the leash, especially if they are frail. Some people rarely walk their dog because they find it so difficult, which can lead to a bouncy, jumpy, excitable dog who is not getting enough exercise.

One easy management tool to help dogs walk nicely on leash is a no-pull harness (one with a front clip). Most dogs will accept wearing one without any training, although it always helps to make the first few times a positive experience by giving treats as well. (A head halter can also be a useful option, but you have to train a dog to wear it). 

Note that for dogs who pull on leash, choke, prong, and shock collars are not suitable management or training tools because they have risks for dog’s welfare, including risks of fear, anxiety, aggression, and a worse relationship with you.  

Management for a dog who doesn’t like strangers 

Another example of how management can help keep people and pets safe is when you have a dog who doesn’t like strangers.

If you have people coming to your home, you can simply put the dog in another room or their crate while the person is there. This means the dog does not get to feel threatened by the stranger’s presence or feel the need to growl at them to stay away. And if your dog has bitten someone before, management is essential to keep the visitor from being bitten.

This is an important part of keeping your dog safe and visitors to the home safe while you work on the behaviour with your dog trainer. It’s an example of how using management alongside training helps the training to work better.

A tuxedo cat sits on a chair and looks at a fried breakfast, thinking of eating some
Photo: Kozyk Ivan/Shutterstock

Management for food finders

Maybe you have a dog who likes to get into the trash can, or a cat who can open the door to the food cupboard (okay, I’m thinking of my own cats here). 

This is not good for keeping them at a suitable weight, they might eat too much too quickly and then regurgitate it, or there might be something that’s not safe for them to eat in there.

A simple management solution is to get something that will toddler-proof the trash can or the cupboard. Then there’s no way your pet can get in there. 

Of course, this requires you to do something. But that’s the thing about dealing with behaviour issues. Behaviour doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so what you do plays a role. And while it may feel like effort to set up and stick to management, it can make a big difference.

I put a bungee cord across the doors to the cupboard where the dog treats live. It stops the cats from getting in there. Problem solved!

Management can provide an outlet for normal behaviours

There are some things that our pets do just because they are things that that species does. And when that’s the case, it’s important for good animal welfare that they have opportunities to engage in normal behaviours.  

For example, scratching is a normal behaviour for cats. You can’t expect your cat not to scratch. They need to keep their claws in tip top condition. And did you know that they deposit pheromones from their paws when they scratch too?

But of course there are probably places where you would prefer them not to scratch. So it’s important to provide them with good scratching posts. 

That’s something a lot of people get wrong. For example a scratching pad hanging from a door seems nice and easy to provide, but it’s not so good for the cat because it’s not sturdy enough and it will move as the door moves. See what kind of scratching post cats prefer for tips.  

You might also want to strategically position the scratching posts in prime locations. For example, next to your sofa, so that if your cat is near the sofa and feels a need to scratch, they have a better option right there in the form of a wonderful scratching post.

This is also another example of how you can use management with training. When people reward their cat with a treat for using their scratching post, this is associated with lower levels of scratching in places the person considers inappropriate.

Management can help pets cope

Even if it’s not the full solution, management can help your pet to cope with situations they find difficult.

Suppose you have a dog who is reactive on leash. Management can help you to ensure that those situations in which your dog lunges, barks and growls just don’t happen.

This can mean walking your dog at times of day when there are few people out and about. Or it might mean walking somewhere you can keep your distance from other people and their dogs. It could mean using a parked car as a way to block your dog from seeing another dog they have to pass. Or it could mean cutting back on walks and finding other ways to provide your dog with exercise and enrichment, like games of tug and nose work exercises at home.

Of course, all of this management can (and often should) happen alongside training. But if you train without also doing management, you will still be putting your dog in situations where they feel uncomfortable and rehearse that reactive behaviour. Using management means you’re not undermining your training.

Another example might be if you have a dog and cat in the same home, and the cat likes to have alone time away from the dog. You can use a pet gate to make sure the cat has somewhere to go that the dog can’t get to.

The value of management for dog and cat behaviour issues

These are just a few examples of how management can help you with your pet. Sometimes management can be the easy option, like when using a no-pull harness to make it easier to walk with your dog. 

Sometimes management can feel hard, because it requires you and your family members to do something (like fasten the doors to the cupboard where you keep the pet food every single time) and keep on doing it. But it’s worth it, because it helps with the problem!

And often, management is used alongside training to help set you and your dog up for success and to prevent situations that would undermine your hard work at training.

Management can help you prevent “bad” behaviours from happening in the first place or find an acceptable way for those behaviours to happen. It also helps to get you out of the mindset of wanting to punish your dog or cat for things you don’t want them to do, and instead think about why those behaviours happen. Thinking about management makes you think about the environment in which your pet’s behaviour is occurring, instead of just focusing on the pet. And that means not just the physical environment, but also the social one of other people and pets.

All of which will ultimately help you to have a better relationship with your pet.

You can learn more about management for shy, fearful, and reactive dogs in my new book, Bark! The Science of Helping Your Anxious, Fearful, or Reactive Dog. Rory Cellan-Jones, author of Sophie From Romania, says Bark! is "an invaluable guide to the science behind taking a rescue dog on a journey away from fear.

How do you use management with your pet?

P.S. Get my free Seven Secrets guides to a happy dog and/or cat when you subscribe to Companion Animal Psychology

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