This week’s enrichment Tuesday isn’t about Kongs or clicker training. It’s not about exercise of any kind.  It’s about something that I think is rarely talked about in dog training or dog owning circles, and that’s a shame.  All living creatures–your dog included–want certain things.  They want to have all of their needs met of course, but beyond that I personally believe that they want choices.  They want more control over their own lives.  Do I think your dog sits in his crate wallowing over his lack of options in that situation? No, I think the desire to have more choices and more control is more of a deep, primal feeling.

A long time ago when I was first learning about dog training, and competitive obedience in particular, I was taught–and I believed–that dog’s don’t get choices.  They are the dog and you are the human and you feed them and provide for them and therefore they must do what you ask them to do.  Simple as that.  I’m sorry to say that a lot of folks in the world of competitive obedience feel that way, but I’m happy to say that I survived this way of thinking and emerged to understand that dogs always have choices, and that I can treat training as a partnership and not a dictatorship.  No tomatoes, please, from the Obedience crowd.  I still enjoy this sport very much, I just approach it differently than I used to and I acknowledge that I am not the only progressive person in this sport.  It is my humble opinion that if the name were changed to “Partnership” instead of “Obedience” the sport might thrive instead of slowly die, as is happening now.  Just a thought. 

Unlike a lot of people in the competition world, most of us control our dogs’ lives primarily for their own safety.  They can’t be allowed to run free without supervision, if we let them choose what and when and how much to eat they won’t make great choices, and if left free to their own devices, many dogs become destructive (great fun in their minds–not so much in ours).  So how can we give dogs more choices to enrich their lives?  Here are a few ways:

  • Take your dog for a walk, and let him pick the route.  Walk him on a harness, not a restrictive or painful device, and when you come to a turn, let him pick which direction you go.
  • Let your dog run off leash whenever you can.  Find a safe place to let your dog have an off-leash romp and walk him there as often as you can.  I can think of no greater bliss than a dog running around free of restriction in a big open space.
  • Offer your dog two different Kongs and see which one he picks.  Pop the other one back in the freezer for the next day.  Do the same with any kind of chew bone.
  • Train with shaping, not luring or force.  Shaping offers your dog the ability to use his own brain, and as we know, a brain is a terrible thing to waste.
  • If you participate in dog activites (discussed next week), pay sincere attention to which activities your dog prefers.  Idgie would rather do Agility than anything else, with hiking being a close second.  So we do a lot of those things.  Kelso likes hiking best, and playing fetch second.  So that’s what we usually do.  If you are one of those wild dog people (like me) who does All The Things with her dog, be sure that you are not doing activities that your dog dislikes just to suit your own needs.

Ok, your turn.  How else do you give your dog a choice?