Can our dogs communicate with us? How to give our dogs choices and enrich their lives

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As caring dog owners, we want to build a strong relationship with our pets based on mutual trust and respect. But one aspect of our dogs’ lives less often considered is the importance of choice. Vicky Carne, The Dog Coach, shows owners how to give their pets choices so that they can communicate with us, and enrich their lives.

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Being able to make choices develops an animal's confidence, gives them a feeling of safety and improves their emotional wellbeing. The lack of choice in many dogs’ lives may be a contributing factor to increased stress resulting in behavioural issues.

We tend to focus our training on teaching dogs to adapt their behaviour and to learn the skills they need to fit in with our lives, often with little thought to the choices our dogs might want to make for themselves. We start with a great advantage: our dogs’ willingness to adapt their behaviour to suit us. After all, it’s been thousands of years since early dogs chose to hang around the encampments of early man and our lives began to intertwine.

In the more recent past, dogs were either kept to work or were generally freer to roam and come home when tired or hungry. Today, our pet dogs have almost no control over their own lives, which are in many ways far more regimented than they have ever been.

How can we safely give our dogs the opportunity to make choices?

Here are five ideas to help you begin to empower your best friend:

1. Affection – don’t assume your dog always wants to be petted or cuddled. There are likely to be times when even the most affectionate dog isn’t in the mood or has other things to interest them. Give them the choice of moving away and you’ll soon discover what they prefer at the time

2. The choice to go to a safe place – their bed or crate where they won't be disturbed if they want a nap or have simply had enough of the kids for one day

3. How about letting your dog choose which way to go out on walks?

4. Games and toys – put some toys out and let your dog decide which game to play with you

5. ‘Bucket Game’ - caregiving such as grooming or vet visits, can be stressful. Teaching the 'Bucket Game' is a way of giving your dog a voice, a way to tell you when they're ready or if they need a break. First you teach your dog to focus on the pot or bucket containing treats and reward them for doing so. Then you teach them that while they are looking at the bucket you will carry on with for example, grooming, claw clipping or an ear examination. But, as soon as they look away, you will pause until they once again look back at it. Devised by behaviourist Chirag Patel, this game gives your dog a way to communicate with you. Of course, there will be times when this won't be possible but don't we all feel slightly less nervous when the dentist tells us we just need to raise a hand to pause the drilling?!

Choices in life help us all feel more secure and in control. Once you begin to think about offering your dog choices, I'm sure you'll find plenty more ways to do so.

To find out how to teach your dog The Bucket Game

Could training help your dog or do you want to know more?

This article was written by Vicky Carne, founder of The Dog Coach. Contact Vicky via the website for more information about the PUP plan. Please follow the link to book a puppy or dog training video appointment.

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  • Included free as part of many pet insurance policies Included free as part of many pet insurance policies
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