A short time ago we wrote about recognizing the difference between interruption and damage control and how it applies to dog training. To briefly sum up that article, interruption refers to catching (and interrupting) unwanted behaviors from happening. If we miss our training moment and the unwanted behavior occurs, then we are in a state of damage control where we try to limit the “damage” that results. In a perfect world we would always be right on top of our dogs and constantly be preventing and interrupting unwanted behaviors. Unfortunately that isn’t possible so at some point, you will find yourself in a state of damage control.
Believe it or not, damage control is still a valuable training moment as your dog’s recovery time can improve and get better. Below are two training scenarios that will illustrate the point that I’m trying to make.
Dog Reactivity on a Leash – As you’re walking down the street with your dog in a nice heel, your dog suddenly alerts to something up ahead. Although you may not know the exact cause of the reaction, the position of your dog’s head should tell you the location of the source of the reaction. At that point a nicely timed “heel” can often be enough to interrupt and re-focus your dog onto the direction that you’re traveling and away from the distraction. If we miss the training moment or your dog doesn’t respond to the redirection, there is a chance that your dog is now at the end of his leash, barking, crying, lunging, and carrying on. Now that we’re in a state of damage control, all of your efforts (changing directions, applying leash pressure, etc) are attempts to get your dog back into a calm state of mind and walking correctly on a leash. This may take two minutes at some point but eventually we should be able to recover in a few seconds.
Breaking Off of a Placeboard – Dogs break their placeboards for a variety of reasons and we can increase the success of our training efforts if we can interrupt the first sign of a dog about to get off without permission. So as you’re cooking dinner while your dog is on her place, you see her head dip down and butt start to rise which may tell you she is about to get off of the placeboard and check out what you’ve got going on in the kitchen. A nicely timed “place” or “down” may be able to override your dog’s decision to break but sometimes it’s too late or they blow us off. Instead of having your dog make it all the way into the kitchen with her paws up on the counter and actively consuming the birthday cake on the counter, a quick step into the dog from across the room and “place” may be able to get your dog to turn around and head back to their bed even before they make it into the kitchen.
Damage control is a part of dog training, there will be training failures even in the best of efforts and intentions. Limiting the damage is important and, in some cases, can be considered a success!