Tuesday, May 28, 2013

They Deserve a Choice

I'm noticing a lot more acceptance of a certain facet of dog relationships lately.  It has been circulating blog posts, Facebook pages, websites, training discussion groups...you name it....it is started to invade at an awesomely alarming rate. I'm seeing this fabulous ripple start to gain some momentum worthy of a nautical warning.  

And I couldn't be happier.

It centers around the dog, as an individual.  It challenges us to put our control freak human nature aside and sit down and shut up.  It allows our dogs to have a choice...and, for some pups, to teach them that it is OK to have one.

Far too many dogs are forced into doing things they don't enjoy.  I'm talking about "force" that goes beyond the silver prong collar donning dogs that I routinely see being walking around my neighborhood.  I'm talking about emotional force...for example, a dog who does obedience heeling but doesn't have and ounce of sparkle in his eyes as he does when his owner is playing fetch with him in the yard. I'm talking about those dogs who oh-so-badly want to go sniff a tree on their walk, but the owner is so disconnected that she drags the dog down the street on the front-clip harness.   I'm talking about the perfectly stable dog who has a natural desire to do something, such as playing tug, get deprived of the activity because his owner thinks it will create "dominance" in their dog.

I've done a lot of growing - and made even more mistakes - since welcoming Oscar into the family and I know am never going to stop learning from him.  I know that each dog I get to teach and each future dog that graces me with their partnership will have something to teach me.

I also know that I've made some pretty damn good decisions during his lifetime because I've shut up, put myself aside and listened to others (thank you Aaron).

Perhaps the most powerful lessons I've learned in the past few months is the importance of giving every dog a choice. Each and every dog is as much an individual as I am and they deserve every right to choose what they want.  Lord knows us humans "force" our dogs to live in our lives, in a home with limited access to things dogs love and want (outdoors, squirrels, food, running......).

Funny thing is that when I've sat down and actually allowed my own dog to have a choice, some of his behaviors have actually gotten better...and our mutual understanding of each other has blossomed.

Here's what has worked for us:

  • Giving them a choice to interact with people (including myself). 
  • Giving them a choice when to "train."
  • Giving them a choice in how long we play outside.
  • Giving him a choice to go for a walk (no, he really doesn't want to go walk in the rain...and that's OK).
  • Giving him a choice as to what type of activity we do (chase, fetch, connected walking...) 

Suzanne Clothier has a fabulous way of summarizing this concept when she challenges us to ask our dogs, "How is this for you?" Give it a try sometime and you might just be surprised at what happens when you listen to the honest answer from your pooch.

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