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Should we manage or train?

A fallout of the training is better belief system, is that people end up feeling that they have failed.

One from the archive, an occasional series where I dig back into old course notes, hold the information up against our current understanding and share key learning points.

It is April 2019, and the course is Precision Learning for Sensitive Souls.

You probably know that my passion and speciality is around helping dogs who have been labelled aggressive, reactive or dominant. After working with 100s of dogs like this, these labels don’t hold up to accurately reflect what is happening. In my experience the dogs are highly sensitive to changes in their environment, they are our Sensitive Souls.

Sensitive Souls courses ran regularly until Covid hit, and Precision Learning was a follow-on program for those people who were still curious about their dog’s behaviour and what they could do without it.

The notes read as follows:

Pathological and Constructional

These are terms I have learned whilst attending dog training seminars, from Behaviour Analysts, T.V. Joe Layng and Jesus Rosales-Ruiz. Both Joe and Jesus reference experimental psychologist Israel Goldiamond in their work.

This is how I understand the two terms:


· What behaviour do we want to build?

· Build new behaviours is the focus rather than decreasing unwanted/unsafe behaviours

· Create new environments to change behaviour


· Eliminating, stopping, or removing behaviour is the primary focus

· Behaviour change is achieved through management protocols

Where are we now?

It is now July 2021 and I would no longer use these terms within my work. The definitions still fit, but the words Constructional and Pathological are not helpful to owners or new trainers.

Today, the word Management replaces Pathological, and Building replaces Constructional. Building encompasses both training and teaching.

Back in 2019 I used a case study to illustrate the definitions and today I can do the same. We’ll look at a recall issue because calls for help around this are on the rise.

Begin with a goal. Where do you want to be with your dog two years from now? It isn’t a trainer’s place to tell people how to live with their dogs, it is our job to help people get to where they want to be. To build an individual plan that works for each dog and each person.

Identify the learning gap. Between where a person and dog are now and where they want to end up, will be a gap. Within the gap are the missing skills and behaviours to reach the goal.

Put management in place. The main goal of management is safety, keeping the dog and person safe when they are working under conditions that are above their skill level. For example, keeping the young dog in a safe space with a chew whilst the children have their friends round to play.

For our recall example the management may include:

  • A long line

  • Hiring a secure run free field

  • A basket muzzle to protect the dog and relax the owner

Build the new behaviour. Now that the safety aspects are taken care of, we can focus on the building of the new behaviour which includes:

  • Adding new cues

  • Figuring out the rewards

  • Breaking the behaviour down

  • How to give feedback to the dog

  • Evaluation of our training

  • Evidence of what the dog is learning

Which is best?

One thing dog trainers like to debate is which is better. The #trainingisbetter group often appear to win, which makes sense because we wouldn’t be in work if we didn’t believe most things could be trained.

For me, the answer is ‘it depends’, because both have their place in my part of the dog training world.

A fallout of the training is better belief system, is that people end up feeling that they have failed. I have watched a day care manager demonstrate exquisite dog management skills. Keeping a large and diverse group of dogs safe and happy in her care under difficult circumstances. I’ve heard the same manager talk about her failure as a trainer because she hasn’t trained her dog to roll over unlike the trainer working with one pet dog along the road. The truth is both skill sets are important and will serve the dogs and people we work with at different times. There is no reason why we cannot pool our resources with other professionals to give our clients what they need.

If your goal is to feel better and more confident around recall and step 3 (management) hits the spot for you, then that is fine. In some cases, it is more than fine, it is the sensible place to stop. If a dog has a bite history, enjoys hunting and killing wildlife, or scavenges to the extent their health is threatened then employing management for the rest of the dogs life is not a sign of failure, it is being a caring and responsible dog owner.

What if we don’t reach the goal?

By setting goals we help ourselves focus our attention on one or two things. We start taking the steps that move us towards the life we want to lead with our dogs rather than feeling overwhelmed, stuck in ‘busy’ mode.

Goals allow us to plan and remove the ‘what should I work on’ element from training time. We save time and energy, building momentum and solving our problems.

Expect your goals to change. Even if we don’t meet our original objective, we will have learnt a lot of new skills and spent quality time with our dogs along the way.

For more help

Would you like to work on improving your dog's recall, to feel more confident when taking them out and about, a 1:1 session would give us time to talk about what is happening and put some tailored strategies into place. work-with-me

Not sure if a 1:1 is for you, get in touch to discuss further

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