The Radical Approach

                                                                                                  Active Training Time

                                                                                                  Active Training Time

Our foster puppy Eclair is now 5 months old. When we picked her up the middle of August, she already had the beginnings of a counter-surfing habit. We did some training, and she improved a lot--so much so that she could be loose in the kitchen while we were fixing meals.

Fast forward eight weeks. I stepped out of the dog area (as I'd done multiple times since her house manners became more reliable) and heard something like plastic hitting the floor. She'd snagged a clean lid off the counter. 
For years, I've exhorted my clients to remain vigilant about counter-surfing because it only takes one win for the dog to have an instantly established habit.

I can now personally testify to the truth of that principle.

The counter-surfing setback was less than a week ago and she's already jumped up on the counter more times in those few short days than she has in the past several weeks. Despite the fact she hasn't snagged anything further off the counter, she continues to jump up and check for a prize. 

Enter the Radical Approach.

I started using this term--which I want to be careful to define--with a few clients just last week, and now I get the opportunity to practice it myself!

The Radical Approach has to do with management. What is management? Proactively setting up the environment so that it's easy for the dog to make a right choice, and nearly impossible for him to make the wrong choice.
Management is vital in training because any behaviors that are repeatedly practiced become a permanent part of the behavior repertoire. Practice makes permanent. If you're working your tail off to teach the dog to stop chasing cats, but he chases them right and left when you're not actively training, your hard work is meaningless. 
The Radical Approach says, "we're serious about getting this problem behavior/habit fixed, so we're going to take drastic measures to prevent him from practicing it." 

For Eclair, the Radical Approach means her free-roam privileges are great restricted. Unless she's actively training, enthralled with a food toy/chew, or playing with me, she has to be tethered. Oddly enough, our meal prep isn't really a temptation for her so far--it's only when I'm busy with something else that she gets board and surfs.
In the case of the cat chaser, the Radical Approach might include management plans such as:

  • The dog and cats are kept in different rooms of the house
  • If the cats and dogs are sharing the same room or common area, the dog is kept tethered to a human and the human is in training mode to reward good choices.

The Radical Approach sounds excessive, and it does take extra effort. However, committing to radical management will yield faster and better results than committing training alone. Obviously, Eclair can't remain tethered for the rest of her life, so when I'm prepared to give her lots of specific feedback about her good choices, I spend time training her to stay off the counters. When I need to give my attention to other things, the Radical Approach allows me to relax knowing that the training isn't going to come undone.
Good management tools usually include baby gates, ex-pens, tethers, body harnesses, leashes, size-appropriate bones, and Kongs.

Lastly, I want to very clear what the Radical Approach is NOT.  Drastic management is not using pain, fear or force to prevent the problem behavior. Tools that rely on pain or fear to suppress behavior include: shock, vibrating, electronic or stimulation collars; prong collars; training collars; scat mats; citronella collars; invisible fences; penny cans; spray bottles; or throw chains.