Giving dogs the right to make choices is some of the latest thinking in dog training that owners are encouraged to practice.
Speaking at the Modern Pet Dog free community event held on Sydney’s Northern Beaches last night, Barbara Hodel from Goodog Positive Dog Training believes that choice is a fundamental condition for wellbeing.
“As humans we have the ability to control the outcomes of our actions,” she said. “Choice is empowering for humans and for our dogs too.”
But why does choice matter? Dogs are increasingly presenting with behavioural problems. This includes anxiety, depression and high levels of stress. As their human owners we get to choose where they sleep, who they play with, what they eat and when and what their daily routines are. They are limited in where they can go with us and when they do go out they have to constantly be on lead. Imagine how this lack of ability to control outcomes in our lives would affect our own mental health!
When we train them we reward them for compliance but even then it’s a construct that is devoid of choice – i.e. if they sit they get a treat, if they don’t want to sit then they get nothing. But what would happen if we give them a great range of choices?
Science is showing that dogs have a far greater range of cognitive abilities than we originally thought and new research is constantly changing this. As a dog trainer, Barbara is curious about what this means for the wellbeing of our dogs.
Barbara has taught her dog Shellbe to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when asked a question. She first taught Shellbe that a nose touch on her right hand means ‘yes’ and one on her left hand means ‘no’. She will say ‘yes’ when asked if she wants a treat and says ‘no’ when she doesn’t want her harness put on, when Barbara presents both her hands for an answer.
This technique takes time and patience to teach so here are some easy ideas that dog owners to use to give their dogs simple choices:
- Provide them more mats or beds around the house so they can choose where they rest.
- Let them choose the route when out for a walk.
- Let them choose their dinner – the chicken or the lamb?
- Let them stand at the coffee shop, as long as they are relaxed they don’t need to be forced to sit or lie down.
- Provide two toys and ask the dog which one it wants to play with.
- Learn to read their body language rather than just expect them to learn ours. A lip lick, yawn or looking away signals discomfort. They communicate to use all the time, we need to make note of what they are saying and allow them to make more decisions.
Check our Barbara and Shellbe’s story in the Manly Daily on 24 March 2017 (pictures and story below belong to the Manly Daily).