I love choiceWhen it comes to many issues in this world, I am firmly on the side of pro-choice and self-determination. This includes the work and play I do with dogs, especially shy, fearful or anxious dogs.

Think about it. If something scares or worries you, is your anxiety lessened knowing that you have no control over your options when confronted with those things? Mine sure isn’t. During his presentation at the latest IAABC conference Dr. Frank McMillan of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary gave the example of being asked to go with a friend to a party, an experience you dread. Would you rather go knowing you could leave whenever you wanted or go and be stuck there regardless of how much you would prefer to be elsewhere? In many instances just knowing that you have the option of removing yourself from a situation makes that situation less odious at the start.

Dogs on leashes, in cages or confined areas may feel more vulnerable. Dogs that cannot escape from something that scares them may escalate their response to it and try to defend themselves. Dogs that have had the option to move away from something scary are likely to repeat that response in the future, a far safer alternative to trying to chase off or bite whatever they’d rather not have near them.

Overall our dogs’ choices are limited. They do not survive long without our care. Giving a dog a choice does not mean we allow inappropriate, dangerous behaviors. Giving a dog the option to opt-out of a situation not only may help lower their anxiety, it shows on our part, an understanding that these incredible animals are both sensitive and complex. It allows us to show the respect for the creatures we have chosen to include in our lives. I want my dogs to be as happy with that choice as I am.


11 comments so far

  1. sagechronicles on

    You are so right. Sage is going through that 18-month stage where she’s afraid of certain things. We are working through it, but if she gives me the “look” that she wants to leave, we go. Actually we are working on the “look” command to re-direct her attention and hopefully it’ll get her over this stage.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Targeting objects can be helpful. Targeting is just a game and sometimes we can make those scary objects just part of it.

  2. KellyK on

    Good point! My dog does much better with new people coming to our house when we make sure the bedroom door is open so she can hide if she wants to.

    • fearfuldogs on

      We’re less likely to want to sit down at the table if we think we’re going to HAVE to eat the spinach 😉

  3. melfr99 on

    Amen and Hear! Hear! I love that. Pro-choice – a nice way to describe it. I always let people know that if Daisy chooses to approach them it is her choice and not theirs to make. I have had too many people try to swarm her and it absolutely drives me crazy. I know that allowing her to decide has made all the difference in her progress towards approaching people. It has been amazing to watch her grow.

  4. Sue on

    Poppy my puppy farm girl often checks over her shoulder if someone she doesn’t know stops to chat. I’m sure she is checking to make sure there is an escape route if needed.
    When I am out of the house, she sleeps halfway up the stairs. That way, she can run up, or down, depending on what frightens her. Bless her, I love that little dog so much, and wish I could take all her pain and hurt away.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Certainly the feelings of compassion these dogs provoke in us show just how good people can be. We may not be able to take all the pain and hurt away, we can use whatever tools available to us, to minimize them. If you haven’t spoken with a vet about behavioral medications it might be worth it for Poppy.

      • Sue on

        Thanks for the advice. We are going to see the vet next week for vaccinations, so will ask then.
        Poppy does have moments of happiness,usually in the house where she feels safer. It’s always lovely to see.

  5. Erica on

    you’re so right! Love this post!

    Given a choice, we tend to make more rational decisions. The same goes for a fearful dog – if they think they have no other option, they’re more likely to wig out!

  6. Karleencalmdoglindsey on

    This theory of having an escape route is exactly how I was able to gain the trust of my Zoey, who would not let me touch her for several days after being rescued due to her fear of strangers. She was in a large kennel (horse stall turned into a kennel) with a large outside yard where I sat day after day reading a book, sometimes out loud so she could get used to my voice. Obviously she was limited by the fencing, but she was free to run as far away from me as possible and I never attempted to go towards her, which would have pressured her. She was the most fearful dog I’ve ever worked with, but eventually she came around – in her own time. Now she totally trusts me and sleeps on my bed – all because I never forced her to trust me or accept me or be with me. I didn’t force her to “stay at the party”. She just chose to in the end. Thanks for your great posts.

    • Debbie on

      Thanks for sharing that story. Taking away social pressure is the way to start. Congrats on your good work, patience and understanding!

      Sent from my iPod

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