Welcoming dogs into our lives is an incredibly fulfilling and privileged job to em-bark upon! As responsible pet owners, it is crucial to create a healthy balance between setting boundaries and allowing our canine friends to make their own choices. Establishing structure and boundaries is important in order for a dog to feel secure. This especially applies to anxious or sensitive dogs, who benefit from clear boundary setting in order to instil a sense of predictability. Additionally, these measures serve to safeguard dogs from potential dangers; for instance, it’s essential to train dogs to recognise that rushing out of the car or front door upon opening is inappropriate and may pose a risk of accidents.
While dogs thrive on clear guidance, excessive control can lead to depression and learned helplessness. There is no getting around the fact that we control most aspects of their daily routine, including choosing when and what they eat, where they sleep, when they toilet and even how long we walk them for. Striving to understand and respect our dogs’ need for autonomy not only deepens the bond between owner and dog, but also results in a more self-reliant, relaxed, and better-behaved dog. This blog explores simple yet effective ways to empower our dogs by giving them more opportunities to make choices.
Dogs, like us appreciate having their own space. Offering them multiple sleeping areas with varying styles of beds allows them to choose their desired position and bed type, promoting a sense of security.
Freedom to explore at their leisure and move naturally without a short lead attached is vital for a dog’s well-being. Allowing off-lead time in secure and safe environments offers our dogs the liberty to make their own decisions about how they interact with their environment. For those dogs who have a less reliable recall, or still in training, a long line offers freedom to explore under safe conditions.
Satisfy your dog’s natural instincts by providing a designated digging area in your garden or yard. This gives your dog the opportunity to decide exactly what they want to engage with in the garden, not to mention, preventing excavation of the flower bed!
Offer your dog control over their walks by letting them decide the direction from time to time. Allowing them to set the pace and choose when and how long they sniff for enhances the walking experience and strengthens the bond between owner and dog.
Tension on a short lead prompts a natural response from your dog, which is to pull against pressure and resistance. This is known as the opposition reflex. A longer lead aids loose lead training as your dog has the freedom to choose to engage with you/walk next to you rather than being forced in the position by lead pressure. When your dog does make the decision to walk next to you, you can reward with high value food.
Training your dog using positive reinforcement techniques means that, rather than being forced, your dog has the opportunity to make the right choice themselves. They then receive a reward for doing so, making for a more empowered, calmer and confident dog.
Allow your dog to decide whether they want to bring the ball back to you, lie down and chew it, or even parade around with it! Letting them dictate when to start and stop playing also enhances their sense of control.
Choice is an important part of potentially stressful tasks such as grooming, nail care and even the introduction to a new harness. Using techniques such as the Bucket Game, pioneered by world renowned behaviourist Chirag Patel, allows your dog to have a voice during the procedure, making such tasks easier for human and stress free for dogs.
Stimulate your dog’s mind with problem solving puzzles. These games not only entertain but also empower them by requiring the use of their cognitive skills.
In our quest to be responsible dog owners, it’s vital to recognise and respect our dog’s need for autonomy. By incorporating some of these simple changes into your dog’s routine, you can provide them with the freedom to make choices and equip them with the skills to do so. In empowering our dogs, we create a harmonious and fulfilling life for our amazing four-legged friends.