Dogs benefit from having choices, trainer reveals six ways to give it to them

Man laughing as he gets kiss from his Pit Bull in the park
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If you're looking to boost your dog's confidence and happiness levels, plus deepen your relationship with them at the same time, offering them more choice may well be the answer.

Whether you're pondering the reasons why your dog's recall isn't reliable or you're curious as to the reasons why your dog may be behaving weirdly, some of the issues we experience with our dogs can be traced back to them rebelling against a lack of choice. 

"Our domestic dogs don't get very many opportunities to exercise their choice," explains trainer and behaviorist Nikki Mather.

"We decide where they toilet, when they go for a walk, where and how fast they walk, what they eat and where they spend their time. 

"As guardians, some of these decisions must be made by us in order to keep our dogs safe. However, where possible, we should allow our dogs to have some control over their own lives."

Keen to find out how you can start giving your dog more choice? Read on as Mather spills the beans...

1. Walks: "How often do you take your dog out for their walk and completely dictate their route? And how fast they walk it?," Mather asks. "Next time you take your dog out for a walk, in an area that's safe to do so, allow your dog to choose the path you take. Focus on keeping the leash loose and letting them follow their nose. Try your best not to take control, it makes for a far more interesting walk and you get to see the world through their eyes.

2. Toys: Mather says that more often than not, when we want to play with our dogs, we pick up a toy and try to engage them. But why not let them decide which dog toy they'd like to play with? "Next time you want to engage in play with your dog, lay out a few different options and see which one your dog engages with most. Once they've made their selection, play with them with that toy," she advises.

3. Food: "Most dogs love something to get their teeth sunk into, such as bones or carrots," explains Mather. "Letting our dog's decide which chew item they'd prefer is one of the most simple ways to offer them choice. Take a carrot and a bone, offer them both to your dog and see which one they pick."

4. Sleep: Another area where you can offer your dog choice is letting them select where they'd like to sleep. "Ensure your dog has an abundance of safe areas around the house where they can take themselves off to sleep," Mather advises, "be it a dog bed, cool floor, blanket, sofa, or your bed. You may find their preference changes depending on the temperature, how busy the household is, or the time of day."

5. Training: "This may not be one of the most obvious but it is one of the most important," says Mather. "Allow your dog the choice of whether they want to train in that particular moment, or with that particular training exercise. Positive training should always be fun, but if your dog walks away or disengages, listen to them."

So, next time you go to take your dog for a walk or engage them in a play session, why not consider letting them choose part of the route or the toy you play with?

Not only does giving your dog more choice help to build their confidence and optimism, it will also assist the two of you in developing better communication and a stronger relationship. 

Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.