Giving your dog a choice

How much choice does your dog have? How much choice do you give her, or do you want her to have? While thinking about this, I wonder how much choice Reggie has. But he’s a dog and, much like a small child, choice is not something he gets carte blanche. Conflicted though, I want him to experience, explore, and grow- have the best doggie life he can. What’s a dog owner to do?

Well, maybe there is latitude for choice. Maybe there are things we can do that are within the realm of keeping our dogs safe, trained, and mentally growing. The major areas we can look at are your speech, the house, and the walk.


How do you talk to your dog? When your dog drops the toy because she wants to play do you immediately pick it up and throw it? Or do you ask “Ready?” What are the visual cues that your dog gives you that she has made the choice to continue playing?

When your dog does something wrong, how do you address it? Does “No” fly out of your mouth so frequently it means nothing? When I use my “mom voice” because Reggie has picked up something he shouldn’t have (bad choice) a firm “No” will cause him to drop it immediately.

Your House

How much choice does your dog have in the house? Things like places to sleep, eat, toys. Admittedly, Reggie has very little choice in this category- with the exception of toys. He has an obscene amount of toys. And he does choose different toys to play with depending on his mood, which is very interesting to me.

What would happen if you gave your dog the choice to sleep in two different locations? Or two different places to eat? When doing mind exercises (mental games) in the house does your dog pick the game? Reggie will sometimes “paw” the game he wants. Maybe he thinks there’s a treat inside, but I interpret it as a “yes”.

The Walk

Now this gets fun. There’s a fine line between maintaining that level of discipline that we all want and giving your dog choice. Sniffing and exploring are how dogs learn and discover their surroundings so it’s important to allow this behavior. However, it’s also important to actually walk- the point is exercise, right? When Reggie and I walk by ourselves we walk at a brisk pace and he is right next to me. If he wants to stop and sniff something, I let him. I’m controlling the walk but he has the choice to stop and discover something. For the most part I also let him control the pace. He will walk briskly but in warmer weather and towards the end of a walk he slows. It’s his choice based on physical ability at that point.

When I started reading about this I thought, well duh. These are common sense things. But after I stewed about it for a little while I thought that I would focus more on how I can incorporate choice into Reggie’s life. Letting him have choice for certain things would give him some autonomy and that in and of itself is a sort of mental exercise, training. Remember these are dogs. Their cerebral cortex is not developed to the level of a human and you can’t expect them to make choices and decisions at that level or you will be frustrated at the lack of response. Try some choices and see what responses you get!

One thought on “Giving your dog a choice

  1. A couple of times a week I plan to take Zeke out on a ten minute walk (additional to his regular walks) and just go about 2 blocks-any direction he likes and he can stop and sniff as many times as he wants. When at the dog park he has learned that my asking him “ready?” as i walk towards the door means we may be leaving. If he turns and starts playing again I let him and if he goes to sit by the door I know he wants to leave.
    There’s been many studies with zoo animals that when given more choice/control over their environment it can significantly decrease their pacing or other stereotypical behaviors. Great topic!

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