In the last week or two, with my pet sitting business so quiet, I’ve hit the books. And the computer. It seems like a good time to learn as much as I can about dogs and dog training, while my world is relatively quiet. (It is also a really good way to distract myself from the work needing to be done for the pet sitting software upgrade that takes place next week, which will probably grab most of my time next week!)

I borrowed a book from the training center where I train by Dr. Nicolas Dodman on various behavioral issues. He’s always a good read and I enjoyed the book, though I suspect, as the book is 20 years old, that some of what I read may be slightly outdated. Still…interesting stuff to contemplate.

I’ve also been reading a book by two authors who have a dozen or more initials after their names (dog training and behavioral certifications) called Canine Enrichment for the Real World. As one might expect with two authors with 12+ initials after their names, it is fairly academic and has a ton of references, but is still a helpful read for those of us who want to make enrichment a larger part of our dogs’ lives.

And just for fun, I am taking the Victoria Stillwell Academy’s (VSA) Fundamentals of Dog Training and Behavior course, which is also recommended by the authors noted in the previous paragraph. It is online, and packed with information, some of which I know, and some that is new to me. There is a large follow-up course, pretty intense, for dog trainer certification, and it isn’t cheap, but may be worth doing. We’ll see. It is all online and I can work on it all at my pace.

What I find really fascinating is that the issue of choice is front and center in both the book on Canine Enrichment and in the VSA course. Of course the authors of the enrichment book call it agency, but essentially we’re talking about choice, and that’s not really something I’ve thought about with dogs. Adult people might make around 3500 choices in a day, and that ability to choose helps us be confident and happy people who feel we have some control over our lives.

When I grew up, decades ago, dogs were usually let out of the house in the morning and they went where they wanted, did what they wanted much of the time. In some parts of the country, they probably still do. But where I live, and where many of us live, dogs live in our homes. They might have a fenced yard to run in, but they are otherwise in our homes, or out on leash. Without a lot of choices. Choices that could help our dogs become more confident and content, just like with people.

And just parenthetically, I’m sure this applies to cats as well. The kittens are out of their mind with boredom being stuck in one room, my foster room, until Leia is spayed next week. They go to their new home in about 2 weeks and they can’t wait! They escape every single time I open the door right now.

One of the reasons Nose Work is perhaps so helpful in confidence-building for dogs is that the decisions in Nose Work are almost all the dog’s to make. They choose where to look, what to do, and they experience the satisfaction of finding the treat or the odor, if they are doing advanced Nose Work. In fact, one of the hardest parts for people who start Nose Work class is to learn to do nothing, to let the dog do it all. For those of you who haven’t seen Nose Work before, here’s Gracie having fun with it.

The VSA course suggests some ways that we can give dogs choices. Where to relax is one way, and our pups have way more beds and relaxation spots than anyone needs, so plenty of choice. Leelu is quite fond of Marley’s chair when Marley’s not in it!

One of the new ones I’m doing to try is to let the dog decide where to walk when we’re out (within reason/safety issues, etc.) and see what happens. I’ve also been letting Gracie and Leelu do a ton of sniffing rather than rushing them along. (My challenge is to keep it to sniffing and not snacking, but that’s a different issue.) The opportunity to sniff where they want for as long as they want gives them the satisfaction of choosing, and is also intellectually stimulating, since they got tons of information from their noses.

I have many chapters to read in the Canine Enrichment book, but the authors promise that agency, or choice, is foundational for all the remaining chapters, and I look forward to reading more. It seems the universe wants me to think about choice for the time being, which seems like a fine way to start the new year.

10 thoughts on “Choices

  1. We have a couple of very nice large spaces designated as off leash in my location and our dogs always know when we are going there. I try to go when there are not a lot of other dogs about so our dogs can have the freedom to explore and sniff as they please. They are both big dogs and exuberant so I try and keep them from getting too boisterous in their play with other dogs but the freedom to sniff and explore is the big attraction at these parks, not necessarily the contact with other dogs, which they also enjoy.

    1. Sniffing really is important to dogs. It is tiring mental exercise as much as walking, playing with other dogs. Sounds like a fun time for your pups!

  2. My cats do not being confined in a room unless they are recovering from anesthesia. As soon as they can manage, (even if they are wobbly) they are out the door when I open it a crack. However they have no interest in the great outdoors if that door is opened. I’m lucky about that. Maybe the screened porch allows enough sniffing to satisfy. My childhood dog was a raging lunatic. Lovable but not well trained at all. He had to be leashed or you wouldn’t see him for several hours. Back then (the 1950s) people didn’t neuter their pets and I suspect he had a girlfriend or too in the neighborhood up for a good romp. I always feel sad for solitary pets. I think they all (just like us humans) do better in pairs.

    1. Most animals do better in pairs – I definitely agree. There are a few exceptions, dogs or cats who want/need to be an only pet. But I always try to be sure my foster kittens either go with a buddy or have a buddy in their new home. People just can’t play with dogs and cats the same way they play with each other.

  3. Those two adorable, innocent faces wouldn’t fool me for a minute! I can well imagine they keep you on your toes!

  4. Ah, choices. That’s what I love about ACE Free Work. And, like nose work, we humans need to let the dog do the “work”. With free work, we can keep busy using our cameras’ or phones’ video recorders, which helps (me at least) to not form result expectations.

    1. It is so hard for some folks to step back and let the dogs do their own work, but so worthwhile!

  5. Your points are all well taken…..Decades ago, I – and most of my friends – were turned out for the day, maybe to be interrupted by picking beans or helping with the milking. It is a different world for all of us life forms,

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