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Are you giving your dog enough choices? Providing choices in your dog’s life will not only improve their health, it will also decrease problem behaviours.
Why is having a choice important for our dogs
As humans we make many choices every day, but our dogs are often not given the same opportunities. We tend to control our dog’s lives, sometimes even micromanage them.
Imagine if someone told you what to do all the time – which direction to walk in, how long to stay in a place, what time you should go to the bathroom and what you should eat – not much of a fun life in that right? In fact, you would probably end up being either incredibly stressed, frustrated or just simply give up and go into a passive state.
The exact same thing happens to our dogs. In fact, the condition known as learned helplessness, is where a dog has been told what to do over and over again, given no choices at all and he/she has finally given up and gone to a complete passive, miserable place. This condition not only affects a dog’s mental state but also their physiological condition. It is a state of chronic stress affecting cardiovascular health, the immune system and digestion.
By not providing choices for our dogs in their everyday life we risk our dogs being more stressed and frustrated, leading to potential problem behaviours, more illness, and a decreased life span.
Choice for dogs is therefor just as important as it is for us. Dogs are conscious, intelligent beings with emotions. Despite having adapted very well to our human lives, they are non the less another species, with needs, feelings and wants and they need to make choices to feel content and to feel that they have some control over their lives.
Providing choice in your dog’s life is the humane thing to do. You decrease the stress and anxiety in your dog, you give them freedom to be who they are which will affect how they feel about themselves and grow their confidence. Less stress and frustration will also decrease problem behaviours (Read more about how to help your dog decrease their stress here).
Finally, by providing a choice you automatically create a stronger and more understanding bond between you and your dog.
Providing a choice
So how do you provide choices into your dog’s life?
Think about different situations where you can let your dog choose. Maybe it is which way to go when you are out walking? Or where your dog sleeps in the house? Or maybe even which food he/she feels like eating today? Or which treat he/she wants to train for? Which of these might your dog have an opinion on?
Instead of just choosing for our dogs we can instead help them make good choices by setting up the environment so that it is first and foremost safe for our dogs, but also for supporting them.
In the instance of the food this could be to make your dog choose between a piece of chicken or a carrot, which ever he/she wants will be served as his/her food. You can also prepare the food in two different enrichment toys. The toy your dog walks over to first is his/her choice and the other toy can be saved for later.
Life with a Dog has created a FREE E-book with suggestions on how to give your dog a choice. You can go download it here.