Choice is something we take for granted. Whether we go for a walk, eat, don’t eat, sit and do nothing all day long or run a marathon every Sunday is all down to choice for us. Our dogs though, their choices are much more limited – and even more limited if we don’t speak their language or empathise with them.
We see it often, the dog pulled along on a walk or with something wrapped around their lovely face. We see them try to get a sniff of something just to be dragged away. Recently I have seen a dog obviously suffering with arthritis being forced to run/limp alongside someone jogging. Not looking happy, in fact looking desperate to stop.
I often wonder how many people think about what their dog actually wants. I wonder if that runner ever empathises with the dog and says to themselves, “does she really want to be doing this?” or “would she prefer to be driven somewhere else and sniff walk instead at her age?” or even “would I want to do this if it caused me pain”.
Does the dog walker with their dog on a short lead pulling them along ever think “he might really want to sniff this” or “this is his only time out of the house and the highlight of his day” or even “he might be acting this way because he’s scared and given a choice he would leave this situation”.
Hopefully as you’re reading this, you already think about what your dog might like. Hopefully you already enable lots of choices, as many as you possibly can. I hope you already empathise with your beautiful dog and think about them and how they feel as a unique individual.
Giving our dogs choices isn’t hard. We can let them choose to stop on walks and sniff. We can offer a choice plate of food, so they have the option of different foods and to choose what they prefer from that plate or eat in the order they want to eat. We can allow them to sleep where and when they want to sleep. We can learn and watch their body language, letting them choose if they want us to touch them. We can let them lead us on walks, both in pace and direction where safe and possible. We can do Freework as taught by the lovely Sarah Fisher in ACE, allowing them to choose which bit of their Freework set-up they go to next.
To provide choices to our dogs we must understand and empathise with them. The runner with the limping dog ignored her friend when she went to a car and waited – until the dog limped off after her again. The puller on the street missed the dog’s desperate calming signals after being tugged away from the most interesting thing he will experience all day. The stranger with the looming hand, leaning over the little scared dog, misses all the requests for space because he lacks knowledge and empathy. The huge guy with his dog on a prong collar in the City centre doesn’t see the dog’s desperately dilated pupils and spatulate tongue panting, the high stress level his dog is in. He just sees that the dog isn’t pulling.
In this age of information there is no need for us to be ignorant. Every ethical dog person gives away more knowledge than they sell on understanding and empathy for dogs. The importance of choices and the emotions our dogs feel is shouted from the rooftops by everyone from the double degree scientists to the excellent positive trainers on the ground making the difference.
It just takes knowledge and empathy to make a difference to dogs all over the country, and those two things naturally lead to providing our dogs more choices, along with the quality of life they truly deserve.