Giving our dogs choice and the ability to give or deny consent
Animals thrive through being able to make choices, just as we, as humans do. Having choices makes life better for all of us and this includes our companion animals.
Sadly, many animals are not given any or very few choices, think of laboratory animals, farmed animals or wild animals in captivity. Choices can also be limited to choice A sucks and choice B stinks. There is very little emphasis on ‘Free choice’ for animals.
This blog focuses on dogs, our dogs to be specific and how we, as owners and trainers can increase and improve our dog’s choices.
Not all choices are equal and that’s okay, as long as all choices are fair, free from fear, intimidation and aren’t enforced.
Think about the choices your dog already has, they may be more, or less than you think !
Can your dog choose where he sleeps at any time ? Is he allowed to sleep in multiple places of his own choosing ? Or is he limited to one room or one or two beds ?
Does your dog have an array of toys to choose from ? Can he choose when to play, whether he engages with you and if he does, can he choose to stop and play on his own ?
Does your dog have the choice on when he goes out to relieve himself ? Or does he have to go out at times chosen by you ? Can he refuse to go out if its raining or does he have to go out whatever the weather
Does your dog choose if, where and when he goes for his walk ? Does he have to walk to heel or is he free to sniff if he chooses to ? Can he choose if he interacts with other dogs/people ?
Obviously the age of the dog, whether he is house-trained, non reactive or prone to resource guarding all come into play, but dog’s that have issues often need to be given more choices to encourage positivity and confidence.
START YOUNG !
It’s a great idea to allow your pup some choices. Obviously this comes with a caveat that keeping him safe and teaching him to live in a home means he cannot choose to toilet around the house , chew wires or empty the kitchen bin ! Positive reinforcement training, patience and guidance are all needed to guide your pup through his first few months of life skills.
This said he can still have good choices ! Where he sleeps, when he’s happy to interact and be handled, how he is handled and when he wants to be left alone to play by himself, sleep or just ‘be’ should be respected. these are simple, everyday choices that all dogs should have.
Choices in Training
For your dog I firmly believe training should be a choice. He should enjoy it, be actively excited about it and want to participate. Gone are the days when we were told our dogs should do as they're told and that if they don’t comply they are being disobedient and should be punished. We have moved on and evolved with how we train our dogs. Compassion, understanding and patience are now key to how we teach our dogs. This said we still are way behind on giving our dogs choice when it comes to training.
With our training it is vitally important that we don’t fall into the trap on thinking we have given equal choices to our dogs. Instead of just allowing our dogs to choose when to stop the training session we should also allow our dogs to choose when to start the training session . Remember, only teaching the dog to stop the session is not as positive as it may seem. If you are training right until the dog seeks to stop the session means you have taken it right up to the point where he has really had enough...asking a few times if he wants to end the session and allowing him the choice to continue is true free choice.
Our dogs deserve the freedom of choice , to be able to say ‘no’ , to just be dogs . Learning the basics of canine body language and striving to understand how our dog’s feel and think should really be paramount for every dog owner, our dog’s deserve it and we owe it to them to listen, understand and give our dog’s as much freedom of choice as we can