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Do you give your dog choices?

Think about that question for a few seconds....

For the most part our dogs don't get to make a lot of choices. We decide when they eat, when they get walked, where they sleep, what activities we do with them, how well we keep them groomed (or not), and if they get to stay sexually intact or not.

Have you heard of the training protocol "nothing in life is free"? also known as NILIF. It is a program that basically takes complete control over everything a dog does. A dog may have to sit before going out the door, or they may have to lie down on their bed before we pet them, or before they get a toy to play with.

Food, toys, water, affection and so on, are all important resources for our dogs (and for us as far as that goes), and in the NILIF program, every resource must be earned. So in other words the dog must do something "for us", in order to have access to one of his resources.

In most cases, all the dog's food is earned. They do not get any morsel of food unless they have performed a specific behaviour to our liking. And in some cases, dogs are actually tied to their human (called umbilical cord training), so even free range in their household is dis-allowed. This method is more commonly used to help housebreak a puppy, however, it also sometimes used to prohibit the resource of freedom, especially for a dog who is displaying some sort of behaviour issues.

As a dog trainer and an individual who regularly works with dogs who have (what humans determine), as unacceptable behaviour or behaviour problems, I have never understood why some trainers believed that this type of micro-management is going to help a dog behaviourally or psychologically. Micro-management is stress inducing for anyone and creating stress on any being that is already displaying indications of stress is not only not going to help, it is likely going increase the behaviour issues and anxiety.

Humans need to make choices in life in order to gain self confidence and grow emotionally. Even if some choices lead us to undesirable results, we need to think for ourselves and learn from the choices we make.

Dogs are no different. They need to explore and make decisions. They need to be able to pick a toy out of a toy box and discover the joy in playing with it. They need to be able to choose a place to lie down and relax. And they also need to choose things like stealing a loaf of bread off the counter or not. Not all the decision they make are good ones, but they should have the freedom to choose.

As with children some decisions must be controlled by their care-givers for safety reasons, however, this does not mean we must control every aspect of our dogs lives.Taking away all choices for dogs and making all their choices for them, often leads to problems. Dogs have the right to choose who they like canine and human and should never be forced to meet or interact if they are not comfortable doing so. As well dogs should be able to stop an activity when they want to - not when we want them to. If a dog gives us an indication that they are too fatigued (emotionally or physically), or too hot to continue with an activity or training session - we must listen and stop.

Our dogs live in a society where being on leash is a requirement of the law and also an act of safety, especially for city living dogs. However, it is important to give our dogs the opportunity to run off-leash whenever we can. I am not a fan of most off-leash dog parks because the incidence of canine crime (bullying, fights, injury) are too high, so I suggest finding a fenced and safe area where your dog can be free to make choices. Choices of when to run, when to walk, when to rest, when to play and when and where to sniff. Even a fenced yard where there is enough room where a dog can run and stretch their legs is allowing your dog freedom to choose.

If your dog has a good recall and is not going to make the choice of leaving you to go hunting (and get lost). Then walking on a wooded trail may be a good choice. If you are not sure what kind of choice your dog will make when they are off-leash (staying with you or running forever), then always start in a safely fenced in area.

Management and keeping a dog safe are paramount when giving dogs freedom and the ability to make choices, however, do allow your dog to be a dog and make doggy type decisions and choices.

Don't keep their toys in a locked cabinet until you feel it is playtime, let them choose when to interact with a toy and have fun. If it is safe to do so, leave chew toys and bones around so your dog can choose when they want to start chewing.

And don't make your dog always lie down on a specific dog bed only, or in a crate - give your dog freedom to choose a chair or couch to rest on. You can always cover it in a sheet or blanket if you are worried about hair. Perhaps try letting your dog chew up an old cereal or whatever box (providing they don't eat the cardboard), and sit back and watch them have fun ripping, tearing and tossing the pieces.

One of my favourite classes to teach is "scent detection or nose work classes". This is because the class is all about the dog making the decision and finding the target item, on their own. Dogs light up in these classes and have a blast. And it is their joy, that makes these classes my favourite. Choices... we all need to make them - even our dogs.


~ Let your dog just be, and enjoy what you will discover when you do so ~

© Copyright 2015 Jackie McGowan St. Croix

#Dogs #choices #caninebehaviour

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