What does your dog think about that? I think it’s important to consider our dog’s opinion on various things and activities we do together. I suppose it sounds like a strange thing to talk about our dog’s opinions but they do have preferences. The things that our dogs will work for or work to avoid in training are the most obvious examples of these preferences. But there is a more subtle level that you can see in your dog’s reactions that can be even more valuable.
There will be evenings when I will call my dog Tira over to me. She will slide up in front of me, tuck her tail, and slightly lower her bottom. She wants to be picked up into my lap and be fussed. There are other evenings when I call her in the same way and she takes a smiling step backward – “No thanks, dad. I’m good.” In that moment, I could beckon her again more insistently but I choose instead to honour her request to not be picked up just now.
I think it’s important to respect what our dogs tell us. Sure, I like to cuddle my dog but I don’t want to do it at the expense of her trust. By allowing her to have some control over what we do together, I have given her a sense of confidence that she has a say in what goes on with her life. It seems to be very empowering for her and it has made her more willing to cooperate with me in situations where we can’t really negotiate. She will forgive my occasional tyranny because, for the most part, she gets her way a lot of the time too.
I think that listening to our dogs is important. Behaviour analyst and professor Dr. Susan Friedman believes that giving our dogs control over aspects of their lives can act as a primary reinforcer. It has been my experience that it certainly helps in building strong relationships based on trust and cooperation.
So these days, I ask my dog things. I don’t demand them. I listen when they tell me that they don’t understand or don’t feel up to it right now. In return, I have found that my dogs are much more likely to work with me when I really need them to. Funny how that works.