Let Your Dog Choose!
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
My terrier Chips, is socially awkward and somewhat fearful of other dogs. He actually really likes other dogs and with proper introduction he will be friendly and enjoy a brief hello. He’s much more comfortable with the smaller dogs and those that don’t have obscured faces, such as long haired or black dogs which are more difficult for others to read.
When he sees a dog that he’s not comfortable with, Chips will put on an aggressive display – as braveheart terriers often do when they feel awkward or worried. His display can easily become full on lunging and barking, whilst on the lead. The consequence from his 40cm viewpoint, when the dog leaves without approaching him, he has maintained his safety with that behaviour. He’s a winner in his mind and next time he feels awkward and anxious he will use that same technique again.
Interestingly though, I have been in a position where He’s been on the lead and another dog has too, I have let Chips off and he’s ran the other way. Chips doesn’t want to practice defensive acts, he’s done it when he feels there was no other choice. When there’s choice, he makes a good one and goes the other way. He has made lots of new friends by learning a good approach, and that he doesn’t need to practice defensiveness. Yet had I dragged him past dog after dog, whilst he ranted and raved, his behaviour would be stronger than ever.
A Series of Choices
Just like Chips in this scenario, your own dog’s behaviour is determined by his choices. Dogs have few choices in the world we have brought them into. We choose most things for them and we try to do our best to make the right ones, because we love them. I’m not sure there’s anyone that has ever loved a dog who hasn’t thought at least once, “I wish you could tell me what you want”.
We can enable and empower our dogs though, by ensuring they choose as many things as they want to, in their lives. For example, I empower Chips by practicing off lead walking around but not too close to other dogs, he gets the chance to look at them and then the choice to follow me. That natural choice for him was set up so he can make the right one – following me – whilst lack of choice would be keeping him on a tight lead whilst he ranted, because he had no other choice in his mind. It took some time to do this with him though, and a series of set-ups for him to make the right choices, so don’t just let your dog off the lead if he rants.
It will be easier for you to understand how simple canine coaching is, by viewing it as a series of choices for your dog. Then we attach a favourable consequence to the good and useful choices, whilst tweaking the environment to make the less useful choices less accessible.