Managing the Environment when training your dog
By: Jenna Geldreich, AVHS Behavior and Enrichment Coordinator
When training any animal, setting them up for success is vital. This can take many forms, but one of the most important is the ability to manage the environment in which your training session takes place. By being in a controlled environment you limit the amount of distractions which can prevent your pet from making mistakes and allow you, as the handler, to focus on shaping and rewarding the behaviors you like and want to see more often.
When starting out on training you want to make sure you are honest with yourself about what your pet’s strengths and weaknesses truly are. Use tools in order to set you and your pet up for success: gates, leashes, visual barriers, long leads, and harnesses.
Let’s say you have a dog that barks from the window at people passing by your home. Do you yell at the dog “Be quiet” or “STOP BARKING”? If so you are not alone. However, you are doing exactly what the dog is doing by yelling, and therefore reinforcing your dogs desire to bark at strangers.
The first step to stopping this behavior is controlling the environment. Cover up the window, close the blinds, and control the environment so the dog is unable to see out the window. You have now taken the first step to stopping the unwanted behavior. Next you will need to take baby steps to get that window blind open again.
With your dog on a leash sit outside, waiting for people to pass by your home. Reward your dog for calm behavior, ignore your dog if they begin to bark at the people passing by. Make sure those rewards are your dog’s absolute favorite thing! Your dog will soon start to realize that it is far more rewarding to be calm when strangers walk by than barking at them.
Once your dog has improved outside try it inside. Make sure you are only opening the blinds slightly, we are not opening them completely as that would be too much too fast. Reward your pup for being calm or even avoiding the window. Once your dog is successfully not barking at people passing by 9 out of 10 times you can open the blinds a little more. If at any time your dog starts to bark consistently go back to the blinds and close them slightly to where the dog was last successful 9-10 times. Do not move forward with opening the blinds unless the dog is successful. And that is an example of how we set our pets up for success by managing our training environment. Happy training!
Jenna Geldreich is the Behavior and Enrichment Coordinator at AVHS and a certified dog trainer providing lessons to Chaffee and Lake County residents.