Structure Now, Freedom Later – Making an Anywhere Dog
A dog you can take anywhere, or anywhere dog, is a high priority for a lot of owners but the problem is that most have no real idea how to actually get there! There are all sorts of obstacles in the way to raising and training your anywhere dog, and some of them come from very common misconceptions.
We’ll look at one of the most common misconceptions and pick apart the idea of freedom vs structure, as well as discuss how you know your anywhere dog in training is ready for freedom!
Too Much Too Fast - Untraining the Anywhere Dog
I get calls all the time from owners who are hitting obstacles with their dog. Their anywhere dog to be is not quite where they thought they should be in training, if not downright causing stress and issues.
Nuisance barking, selective hearing, chewing, chasing humans/dogs/other animals, inability to control their excitement, pulling, reactivity, and even aggression in some cases can be traced back to too much freedom at the wrong time or not enough structure. The misconception is that one should allow a puppy or dog unfettered access to the world from the start, but the truth is that doing so will actually hinder you in having an anywhere dog.
Case study 1:
For example, just recently I spoke to an owner about their dog who had developed a strong attraction as a puppy to other dogs and children. This was due to too much access to both children and dogs at critical periods, as well as not enough input, support, or teaching coming from the human. At 7 months old this dog would be off like a shot at any hint of other dogs and children, which ultimately culminated in the dog running down the street along side a vehicle with children in it and the owner having zero control or input in the matter.
So now that dog’s life is going to have to be restricted AND training to both reverse the high attraction to dogs and children and build strong value in the owner will have to be done. Let me say this, whether you’re training an anywhere dog, or just a great pet, it’s always easiest to prevent problem behaviors and only focus on training one thing at a time.
Case study 2:
This dog is another youngster at just under a year, and a stark reminder of why structure and training go hand in hand. While accidents can and do happen, there are many that we can decrease the likelihood of occurring.
The dog and their owners were enjoying a family get together and had decided to take their dog along as well. This dog, like the previous case study, had no real training, most importantly, no impulse control training, and the structure at home was lacking. This was starting to come out more and more and the dog was becoming larger and thus more difficult to handle.
A game of tag was being played with an adult and a child. The dog was not tethered properly, couldn’t handle the excitement, broke free, and bit the child.
Although the details weren’t crystal clear, this bite happened either from aggression or from a place of over excitement, both of which could be helped and prevented with proper structure and impulse control training. This dog didn’t need to have a bite record, and their future now will be shaped by limitations and removal of freedom. The trust has been broken and it’s unlikely that this dog will be an anywhere dog, at least not without strenuous training intervention.
And even with that help there aren’t any guarantees of safety.
Wild Animals in the Home
Although dogs are domesticated, this doesn’t mean they know how to act in modern polite society or what is expected of them automatically. Essentially that puppy you’re trying to raise is a wild animal in that regard and it’s up to us to educate and train them. If you’d like an anywhere dog this is even more mandatory.
The biggest mistake is to give too much freedom too soon. There are millions of wrong answers that your dog can come up with, whether that’s peeing in the wrong place, chewing your favorite shoes, stealing objects, chasing, jumping up, etc., this list could go on forever! Comparatively there are only a few handfuls of skills that a dog needs to not only be well trained, but also a great member of society.
I see this day in and day out. New dog comes home, and immediately they have access to the whole house, the whole family, the other pets, total freedom to do what they want, until of course they start making mistakes. In many households this means that corrections will follow the mistakes, and the last ditch effort when corrections inevitably fail, is restriction (which is sometimes intended as punishment). I won’t get into too much detail here, corrections are another fast track to shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to having an anywhere dog.
Which seems easier? Preventing millions of mistakes or teaching a few handfuls of skills? I know which one I’ll choose every time.
Restriction and Structure - Building the Anywhere Dog
In contrast, new dogs that come into a trainer’s home have very limited freedom if any. This is not a punishment, in fact most trainers put strong effort into ensuring that our dogs perceive their crates, pens, and alone time as being restful and relaxing, or at least a neutral experience. By using these tools we’ve just eliminated a million mistakes that our dog could make around the house. Can’t build a shoe chewing habit if there are no shoes in the area the dog is in! No more having to micromanage and attempt to watch the dog 100%.
I can’t speak for all trainers but for myself the day with new dogs is structured from beginning to end. If the dog is not working with me or I am not able to supervise with my full attention, they are in a pen/crate, practicing calm and safe behaviors or sleeping. Instead of finding and practicing unwanted behaviors and giving me more things to untrain later, we’re building the foundation we want to see.
Take chewing for example. This is built mostly on habit and the dog will naturally prefer certain textures which we can influence when the dog is a puppy. So I can use restriction plus giving the pup appropriate chews to teach what they are allowed to chew. Then when they have freedom later on the habit is “I like to chew on X item and not other things” so the shoes, furniture, and electronics are safe. The dog simply never got the opportunity nor built the habit of chewing on those items.
The beauty of this is how much training we can sidestep with having just a bit of restriction and structure. The problem behaviors can be nixed! All without conflict, correction, or other damage to the relationship with your dog. We then have the freedom to focus on building more skills into our anywhere dog and ultimately there is much less work on this front for us. No having to untrain 10 things while trying to teach your anywhere dog the right thing.
So what does structure and restriction look like? We’ll take an in depth look in the next article!