Every animal is as invested in their lives as you are in yours. Expecting anyone to relinquish their hopes, dreams or preferences just because you want them to seems a bit self-centered. That we have created animals who have to appease us in order to survive should at the very least encourage us to be generous with what we give in return for their acquiescence.-Fearfuldogs.com
Last night, I was thinking about choice and how many most of us have. We may not always like the choices available to us, but we have them. We can choose what to have for lunch, what to wear to work, what kind of car we drive, who we choose to share our lives with and so on. Some of those choices may be limited by certain things, like how much money we have at our disposal, where we live and what we do for a living. But, regardless of how much some of the choices available to us may suck, the bottom line is: we have them and we make lots of them every single day. Usually in our own best interests. Because that’s what humans do. I remember someone once saying to me when I was hurt by someone that most people don’t do things to you, they do them for themselves. And, though I think there are certainly people who do things deliberately to hurt others, the motive is usually that it makes them feel better in some way, so it makes sense. The motive may be to feel stronger, more powerful, more in control and so on. We may never know why (and they may not even know themselves), though in certain situations, I am sure we can guess. Thinking about choice led me to thinking about the quote above, and inevitably, dogs. We obviously make a great number of decisions for our dogs, many of them in the name of safety. This is wise and most of us make those decisions having carefully considered our choices. We leash them when outdoors in areas that are not designated for off-leash play, we fence in our yards, we remove potential hazards from our homes, we steer them away from hazards outdoors, like glass or trash and we try to make good choices with their health and safety always in mind. We also make pretty much every other choice you can think of for them: what they eat, what toys they play with, how long they get to be outside or inside, where they sleep, how much activity and stimulation they get and what kind of training they receive. I have little to no doubt that most of us make these choices based on love and caring about our dog’s well-being. We pick what we believe to be the best food, we replace broken down versions of toys that prove to be favorites, we bring them inside when it’s too cold or hot, or let them outside to enjoy a beautiful day. We provide comfy beds or let them on the furniture to snuggle with us, we play with them, typically finding great pleasure in engaging with them in something they really enjoy, whether it’s rough-housing, a good game of fetch, a flirt pole or tug. Then there’s training. Shortly after I crossed over to force-free training, I would get very upset and highly indignant about training methods that used force, coercion or pain. I still get upset, but as time goes on, I am not (usually) as indignant, though I have my moments. I now try to remind myself that there was a time when I did certain things before I knew that I could harness the power of my very able brain and truly understand how dogs learn. Seeing these methods are like a dagger to my heart when I come across them. And, this brings me back to choice. I have heard the argument that people get to choose what types of methods they use, what types of equipment they use and defend those choices vehemently. Which they have the right to do. But, it leads me to this question: When it comes to training, what choices do dogs have? The answer is pretty much none. They get stuck with the choices we make on their behalf to make them the ideal, perfect (fill in your favorite adjective) dog. So, if we choose to knee them in the chest for jumping, oh well, it’s our choice. If we choose to shock them for doing the wrong thing, oh well, it’s our choice. Shaking cans at them, spraying water in their faces, yanking on leashes, all our choice. The dog’s choice? Go along with the program or get more nasty stuff. It wasn’t until I delved really deeply into learning more about behavior that I began to understand just how unfair this is. I have no doubt that, like me, before I learned a new way to train, people who use harsh methods, love their dogs. What I can’t wrap my mind around sometimes is why some people cling to a bill of goods that is not only harsh, but potentially dangerous and why one would continue to expose a being they love to something because of a choice they made- that theirs is the only choice that matters.
Something that I think goes along with the bill of goods dog owners have been sold over the years (dogs will try to be dominant, must be put in their place, shouldn’t be allowed on furniture, kneeing them in the chest is a perfectly acceptable way to teach a dog not to jump) is this idea, that they may not even be aware of, is that less behavior equals better control. Actually, less behavior usually means a dog who is shut down or afraid to make a mistake, knowing the consequences will be ugly. Why would we do that to a being that we love when there are alternatives? Consequences drive behavior, and you have a choice about what those consequences are- your dog does not. I choose to make the consequences pleasant for desired behaviors and use the least invasive consequences available to me for undesired ones. The video below is an amazing depiction of the lack of choice our dogs have. You don’t need sound, you don’t need to speak German, you just need to be able to really *see* it to understand that this is what life is like for many of our dogs. And as the quote above says: “That we have created animals who have to appease us in order to survive should at the very least encourage us to be generous with what we give in return for their acquiescence.”; we can be generous, we can choose to be compassionate. Dogs bring so much to our lives, and part of that is by design: we domesticated them to be companion animals. I don’t want my dogs or the dogs I train to have to appease me, or be submissive to me or to be put in their place. I want them to be partners in their learning experiences. I want them to enjoy it as much as they do the play time and the cuddle time. Since I am already making so many choices on their behalf, I am more than happy to add that one to the list. Click Here to Watch Video