Want to boost your dog’s happiness and improve their behavior? Trainer says it all comes down to this one thing

Happy golden retriever outside
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you're anything like most dog owners, your canine companion's health, happiness and overall wellbeing is likely at the top of your priority list.

Investing in the best dog treats, lots of fun toys and a comfortable and cozy bed are all great ways of helping your pup to thrive, but what if we were to tell you that they're not the most important things?

When it comes to improving your dog's behavior and boosting their happiness there's one thing your dog needs more than anything else and it won't cost you a thing.

In a recent Instagram post, expert trainer and behaviorist Renee Rhoades explains the power of agency and why it's so significant when it comes to your dog's wellbeing.

You may be wondering what agency is and how it relates to your dog. According to Rhoades, the term refers to "an animal's ability to control their own life. Animals should be able to make choices, giving them a say in what happens to them."

Rhoades says that as dog guardians, offering our pups agency has a profoundly positive effect on their mental and physical health, whereas giving them no choice can lead to the opposite.

"The daily lack of control dogs experience can greatly affect their physical and psychological wellbeing. A dog who does not get to experience making choices will suffer negative outcomes in some form," she explains.

Dogs are captive animals who have little control over their day-to-day lives, relying heavily on their humans to provide them with the right environment, plenty of social interaction, good food, and outlets to engage in natural behaviors. 

One of the best ways for improving your relationship with your dog, boost their happiness and improve their behavior is to provide them with choice whenever it is safe and feasible to do so. 

Here are a few simple suggestions from Rhoades for incorporating more agency into your dog's day:

  • Provide designated spaces where they can choose to rest or retreat to
  • Supply more than one enrichment at a time
  • Offer a variety of toys to interact with
  • Let them sniff when they show interest
  • Let them decide where they want to go (within reason)
  • Allow them to approach or retreat from other animals
  • Let them opt out of activities

Whether it's providing your pup with plenty of engaging toys or letting them sniff when you're on a walk, empowering your canine companion by offering them choice is one of the best ways to be a responsible dog owner.

Your dog's newfound sense of agency won't just improve their wellbeing, it will help you to establish a lasting bond, too. 

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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.