Choices for Dogs

Do you give your dog choices in its daily life? I am of the opinion that having the chance to make decisions is crucial to the wellbeing of any animal, but this post will focus on pet dogs.

We control so many aspects of our dog’s lives from when they relieve themselves to when they eat. I suggest we make it a priority to give our dogs more choices in their daily lives when it is safe to do so. The results of giving a dog virtually no choices can range from frustration, loss of trust, boredom, shutdown, aggression or other behaviors that are not healthy or desirable.

When I refer to letting a dog make choices, I am referring to simply letting a dog make some decisions for itself. This may be the dog getting to decide where the walk takes you (so long as you are not being pulled down the street!), what toy to play with, which room to hang out in, what bed to sleep on or even getting to pick a toy out at the store.

Another important example would be to let a dog decide at times when it wants to work with you – this is especially important for shy, fearful dogs or dogs with a history of abuse. Interactions should be safe and consensual, not forced. No human wants to be “on at all times”, and the same goes for our dogs.

Doing the same thing day in and day out gets boring for us humans, and I am certain that it gets boring for our dogs as well. During my years as a pet sitter, dog walker and now as a trainer, I was always shocked when owners would tell me their dog did not play. I never had one instance where the said dog did not choose to play when given the choice/invited to do so – I often showed the amazed client or sent them a video.

By giving your dog choices, you may discover some new things about your dog – like the example of where the dog did indeed like to play. Your dog may prefer chicken to steak or may prefer to play tug over fetch. When given the choice a dog may show you that it would much rather walk the route that avoids the dog that charges at the fence as you walk by. You may discover that your dog is obsessed with balls - anytime my dog Saxon has a choice of what to play with, he always chooses a ball.

By not giving dogs choices, I think we miss out on opportunities to learn more about our beloved pets as well as about ourselves. Giving an animal the chance to make choices requires us to sit back and observe – which takes patience. Patience is something our society appears to be running low on, perhaps due to the immediacy of so many aspects of our daily lives.

One of my favorite choices to give a dog is to let the “dog be a dog” by experiencing the world through its nose. Rather than making the goal of every walk exercise or training, let your dog sniff to his heart's content on some of your walks. This may mean that you stand in the same spot for five minutes while Fido hoovers, but that is what nature intended dogs to do!

I think it can also be a stress reliever for the human to be patient while the dog gets its sniff on.

Not letting your dog sniff is like taking a three-year-old to a hands-on museum and telling them they aren’t allowed to touch anything. That would be very difficult, not to mention stressful for both parties.

Another way to give a dog the ability to make a choice is to use specific equipment for the type of walk you take. Once you’ve taught the dog that a particular harness is for an exercise walk and the other is for a sniff walk, you could have the opportunity to let the dog decide which.

Do what you can to give your dog some choices. This could be from which toy to play with to which way your walk takes you. I am certain you will have a grateful canine companion!