What Happens When We Micromanage Dogs?
Sometimes we have to micromanage dogs and there just isn’t an alternative in that moment. We’ve all been there. Whether we’re in a rush, forgot to grab the treat pouch or other tools, or just plain don’t know how to handle the situation, times like these pop up.
In times like this, micromanagement is often the best we can do! It’s not wrong, and can help us navigate the situations we can accidentally end up in with our dog.
Sometimes though micromanaging dogs starts to become a habit. You find yourself constantly having to watch the dog like a hawk and step in when something isn’t going right. Stopping the dog from chewing, stealing objects, getting into food, jumping on guests, it’s even in the leash walks that are a constant tug of war to get anywhere.
I hate to break it to you, but when we micromanage dogs in this way, there is no learning happening, and in fact, the habits that the dog is enacting will persist and even get worse.
Removing Autonomy and Choice
Micromanaging dogs is something that should be avoided as a pattern. It shouldn’t be a part of the daily routine, and if you’ve found yourself in that position, always having to micromanage, that is a red flag and should be a big sign to seek help!
The first problem when we micromanage dogs is that it doesn’t teach the dog what we’d like them to do. So the dog isn’t going to learn not to make whatever trouble they’re making, they will never improve at all due to the micromanagement. In fact they often get worse because they pretty quickly realize that when their owner is around they can’t do the thing that they wanted to do, and that is a point of conflict and frustration. Which in many cases also adds another emotional layer onto the issue for the dog and makes it even harder.
Because of this frustration the dog will try harder to do the forbidden activity, and in fact be sensitized to watching for any opportunity to do the thing. They will go after these opportunities more and more quickly, and truly the routine becomes one where they have to be watched like a hawk as they spiral into becoming more unreliable. It’s a mess.
The second problem when we micromanage dogs is that it very quickly becomes a crutch. When no one is there to stop the dog or intervene, the dog has a field day. Often they are extremely intense by this point in whatever the activity is, and will be very persistent. They lose the ability to stop themselves, to even choose not to do the activity, because due to that frustration mentioned above, the activity is also super gratifying and valuable to the dog.
Micromanaging Bear the Lab
One of the worst cases I saw with this was a big Labrador named Bear. Bear had a jumping problem, and he was a BIG dog, so naturally his owners had tried every way to prevent him from jumping that they possibly could. Left to his own devices he would be non stop jumping whining, barking, and zipping back and forth from guest to guest, leaving his owners appalled and no guest unscathed.
Scolding, yelling No, pulling him off guests, rolled up newspapers, squirt bottles, training collars, you name it, they had tried it. Door greetings were a huge issue, and I experienced the chaos first hand when we started working together. Bear was completely tuning his owners out, but also unable to stop himself at all with the jumping and hyperexcitement.
Bear wasn’t a mean dog, he wasn’t a dog who was bad, in fact he was great! He just didn’t know that he had any other options besides the jumping. He didn’t know that there were better alternatives where he could stay calmer. When we micromanage dogs we take that away from them, and totally remove the ability for the dog to do the right thing. It’s no wonder Bear’s jumping problem grew out of control like this!
My work here with Bear was pretty simple, all we had to do was show him that there was a better alternative to jumping, that he didn’t have to fight/dodge his owners to greet guests politely, and that his choices were what guided the process. He was a great student and picked up on all of this within a few sessions, putting an end to several years of strong jumping habits.
Micromanagement becomes a vicious cycle that will repeat endlessly into a smaller and smaller circle. Nobody wins, and the problem doesn’t get resolved until the pattern is broken and new methods are used. It isn’t too late to change things and teach a dog better ways to coexist in your life. But it will take a brave first step!