Giving your dog a choice will build trust.
Have you ever tried getting into the car with your pup, only to notice their body language suddenly shifts as you get closer to the door? Maybe their tail is tucked between their legs, or they look for safety by hiding behind you. Maybe they begin barking at a distance or pulling in the opposite direction at the end of their leash. At this point, some pet parents might pick their dog up to get them in the car, so they won’t be late to their vet appointment. Unfortunately, though, this will only increase the dog’s stress levels, as they were now forced into being somewhere they were initially unsure of. We need to give our dogs a choice.
Think of being at the edge of a high diving board and having someone run up behind you and push you off into the deep end before you were ready. You’re overcome with a sense of panic, like forcing our dogs into situations they may not have been prepared for. We didn’t give them any free-will in this scenario, instead, pushed them into the deep end and expected them to deal with it.
Now, what could we do instead? Rather than waiting until it’s absolutely necessary to get in the car, we can practice with our dogs to build their familiarity with the vehicle and get them comfortable before going on car rides. During these practice sessions, we will give our dog agency, the feeling of being in control of actions and their consequences. Give your dog the choice to interact with the vehicle, instead of physically controlling them to move into the car. As soon as your dog gains enough confidence to explore the car, make it an extremely positive experience by providing high value treats and lots of praise. In this way, we can reinforce further exploration, and eventually have a dog who is happy and willing to jump up into the back seat.
Giving your dog the opportunity to choose – whether it be choosing which toy to play with, when to ask for scratches, or how long to sniff a certain spot on your walk – will help build their confidence by encouraging these natural behaviors. It can also build their cognitive skills through training to recognize certain objects and choosing between their options. Most importantly, it strengthens the bond between you and your dog by building trust between you and avoiding pain, fear, and discomfort at levels that may lead to aggression down the line.
Our fear-free trainers place a great emphasis on providing our pups with the opportunity to make choices. Call us now to book your consultation and learn more about agency in dog training: 786-299-1552