How management makes life easier for humans and animals
Almost every day I am confronted with the question of how to deal with this or that animal’s need without setting limits on punishment. It is about behavior that humans consider to be a “problem” or that in a way crosses human boundaries. There is, for example, the cat who jumps cheekily on the kitchen shelf, the dog who prefers to lie on the couch or in the bed of his person rather than on the floor or the horse that uses the food bowl that man has already provided Has. It always amazes me that people are more willing to punish and intimidate their animals than to compromise and do management (avoidance).
Management is one way of designing the situation so that undesirable behavior cannot even occur. This avoids situations that ultimately lead to the use of punishment. Unfortunately, this option is often not considered. Instead, the use of management is interpreted as a sign of training deficits, inability or weakness, because management does not mean actively training on “problem behavior”. In fact, it is a smart way to avoid conflict between animals and humans that can damage relationships.
The behavior of the animal primarily serves the animal itself. An animal is not a wish-fulfiller, as people often imagine. It doesn’t owe a favor to man. If there is a way to be more comfortable or to improve your own situation, it is in your nature to take it. It is by no means disrespectful for a horse to eat high-quality feed from the adjacent bowl, but as a permanent eater, it is completely natural and instinctive. You can certainly be taught to wait for approval. But especially in training with positive reinforcement, this would mean a significant training effort and also a permanent review and refreshment, since we train against a particularly high-quality amplifier. Here you have to actually ask yourself whether this time cannot be used otherwise and for both sides in a more “satisfactory” way. After all, it is easy to simply put the bowl somewhere else or to get it later. Do I actually have to tie the horse up next to the unpopular paddock neighbor if there are always conflicts due to biting attacks and “attacking”, but I can’t just go somewhere else or clean later?
For the cat, exploring and browsing is a basic need, as is looking for food. Climbing is also part of her cradle. Of course, the particularly interesting and higher-lying worktops in the kitchen will also be explored. The cat cannot understand that “this is not the right thing” because it is completely natural for you to behave in this way. Certainly you can train that at least in the presence of people you don’t dance around on the plate, but at the latest when the person is no longer there or you have left something to eat there, this is difficult. It easily happens that the training breaks down because previously punished behavior is suddenly highly worthwhile, or jumping around on the plate simply feels much better for the cat than waiting endlessly for the reward on the floor. Instead, the cat doesn’t mind if the food is given to another place in the apartment and the kitchen door remains closed as long as you can live out your exploration behavior and climbing needs elsewhere in the apartment.
Whether and in what form management is suitable to “solve” its problems depends on how reliably it can be used. Because management often means that the original problem is not actively dealt with and therefore continues to occur if the animal is exposed to this situation. Understanding this and, above all, accepting it is important! If I avoid meeting other dogs on the walks and do not train them in parallel, I cannot expect the problem to evaporate. Under certain circumstances, an unexpected encounter can end ugly for the dog and the owner if you do not have a plan B (e.g. move away and put the dog away or “feed it over”). You should be aware of this and realistically assess whether management can be a permanent measure. If so: great, because that is how we gained valuable time. This is not a shame, on the contrary. It is necessary to weigh and assess and also a question of your own discretion whether you B. can live with the fact that the dog can be exposed from time to time in such situations and whether and how much punishment is required here – and of course whether you can handle yourself wanting to use them.
In the case of a dog who likes to lie on the couch when the owners are not at home, it is certainly much easier to simply close the door or put a robust blanket on the couch, rather than to train alternative behavior. Here, the owner is more likely to compromise and the management measure can be used permanently. With the dog encounters mentioned above, it is already more difficult, since these can certainly not always be avoided. Here management can be a temporary measure and help to minimize unpleasant experiences and in the meantime to train in a controlled manner.
In some cases, the misconduct actually resolves because the animal’s other reinforcement history, which has been built up in the meantime, does not consider other options or makes them less attractive. That with the horse on the loose rope over grass can work “just so”, for example, if the walking on the loose rope has otherwise been rewarded for a long time and with high quality and in the meantime situations have been avoided in which there are conflicts or unwanted reinforcement by “in the grass bite “;) came. Then grass is just another distraction factor that can be easily integrated into normal training. If I have been training with the dog for a long time that it is worth sitting down next to me, I can gradually reduce the distance between our and the strange dog because enough reward mass has already been built up.
It is also worth taking a look at the animal’s needs and sensations. Perhaps the horse that goes to the grass despite good preparation is just hungry because it is about to eat or has too little to eat. Perhaps the dog growls or barks at dog encounters not out of aggressiveness towards its peers, but – much more likely – because its individual distance and its need for security have so far been ignored and instead even subconsciously punished by the dog pulling the dog rudely on the collar! Often it takes a clear view from the outside to reveal such pitfalls so that you can work on them in a targeted manner.
The question must also be asked – from a purely ethical point of view – whether and to what extent it is legitimate and justifiable to punish the animal for its own pleasure or because you are unwilling (yes, I actually mean “too lazy”;)) or is able to train desired alternative behavior. Of course it is nice to be able to gossip with your girlfriend while riding. But if the two horse riding partners don’t understand each other, the ride is at most amusing for the two-legged friends and rather stressful for the horses. Situations that are then answered with punishment (must, because it becomes dangerous) are pre-programmed. The same applies z. B. also for walks or meetings with other dog owners when dogs dislike or simply have not yet learned how to deal with each other. Some dogs also simply do not need a “foreign dog company”, but are completely satisfied with a few known contacts and are at peace with themselves. Here is often the person who wants to enjoy the sight of the four-legged friends romping around and thus wants to transfer his own needs to the dog. Incidentally, the reason why cats appear so rarely here is because cats are very often (wrongly) classified as “not trainable” and management is therefore a completely legitimate and proven method against undesirable behavior.
Nobody has to be ashamed of good and thoughtful management. On the contrary, it shows that the animal’s needs are respected and that the animal is recognized as an independent personality. It shows strength that the behavior of the animal is viewed neutrally as information and not as an attack on the own ego or “status”. It shows cunning and trust in your own abilities to use management alone or in connection with solid training to solve problems fairly and animal-friendly. Then management is not an avoidance, but a well-chosen opportunity to even strengthen the relationship through “problematic behavior” and to find common ways that are feasible for animals and humans. Too often, animals have to put back for our own pleasure because we put our needs above theirs. The animals give us so much of themselves – let’s ask what we can do for them