Want to build trust with your dog? Trainer reveals why it all comes down to giving them choice

Golden Retriever dog lying in between two people on the grass and playing
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Unless specifically stated, any expert comments quoted in this news piece have been taken directly from the Instagram post cited below.

Sometimes, there will be things your pup isn’t totally comfortable with, or they’re scared by. Of course, this isn’t ideal as a dog parent – you’d like to be able to walk past the dog or the car that spooks them, for example, without too much difficulty – maybe just a couple of the best dog treats to help coax them. 

But listening to your dog and giving them the chance to leave situations they aren’t totally comfortable with can actually be beneficial – and make them more comfortable in the long term. 

Jamie Huggett, or Jamie the Dog Trainer, of Southern Cross K9 has explained how in a recent Instagram video.

In the video’s caption, Huggett uses a human analogy to explain his point. “You start a business but you have a 100% secure fallback plan if it goes wrong,” he explains. 

“You’re obviously going to take way more risks and push yourself further than if you had no fallback plan because if it goes south you always have an alternative.

“Your dog will be more likely to push themselves further when they know they have a safety net. In this case, it’s creating distance to the trigger.”

Essentially, if your pup knows that they can trust you to give them an ‘out’ if they need one, they’ll be more inclined to face their fears – because they know they can back out at any point. 

In the video itself, he shares footage of Hazel, a dog with car reactivity – she was injured by a car in the past.

They begin with a car driving past Hazel at different speeds, as Huggett praises and rewards Hazel for looking at him rather than the car, or not moving away when the car approaches. 

“She wants to create space between herself and the car,” Huggett explains, so he actually loosens the lead and lets her get some extra distance. This not only shows Hazel that she can leave situations she isn’t comfortable with, but also that her wishes will be listened to. 

Of course, it’s not always possible to give your dog an alternative, or an exit from a situation. If your dog needs to go the vet, they need to go to the vet and you’re the human, so what you say goes. 

But in a scenario like the one Huggett shares, giving your dog that alternative can actually be beneficial, and boost their confidence in the long run. 

If you’re struggling with your dog’s reactivity to certain things, you might find this article useful: These are the five most useful things I’ve learned as the owner of a reactive dog.

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Adam England
Freelance Writer

Adam is a freelance journalist covering pets, lifestyle, health and culture, and he has six years' experience in journalism. He was senior editor at DogTime.com, and has written for The Independent, GoodToKnow and Healthline

He's also spent the last few years studying towards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in journalism. While a cat person at heart, he's often visiting his parents' golden retriever, and when he's not writing about everything pets he's probably drinking coffee, visiting a cat cafe, or listening to live music.