Offering Choice

There’s a growing trend in the world of dog training to offer dogs choice. This can come in so many forms, from a sniffari where your dog gets to follow their nose and they generally get to pick the route of the walk as a result of that to offering consent during grooming and veterinary care or even stroking and petting your dog. It’s really important when we offer choice to a dog that we respect their choice. Consent training carries with it the promise that if your dog says ‘no’ that’s okay and it will be respected. 

Sometimes in life there isn’t the possibility that we can respect a ‘no’ if a dog indicates one. There is nothing more damaging to your relationship with anything, not just dogs, to offer the option of a ‘no’ and then not respect it. Every time you offer the option you need to be able to honour a possible ‘no’ response and walk away without completing your goal for the session. This means that we need to make a ‘yes’ a really appealing option. Making the ‘yes’ appealing is done by breaking down the behaviours you want consent for as much as possible, taking your dog’s emotional response to the behaviour into consideration and utilising start buttons to have multiple channels which your dog can communicate their attitude to the behaviour throughout the training. If this is done often, in a variety of locations, especially where the behaviour is needed (i.e., grooming consent training being done at the groomers and consent for veterinary procedures occurring at the vets) it will build a reinforcement history for the behaviour that makes your dog want to say yes. 

This is a great time to consider the bank account analogy when it comes to your relationship with your dog. The idea is that you train little and often, putting plenty of money into your account. This means that when you have to do something that your dog would prefer you didn’t, i.e., a withdrawal from your account that you won’t go overdrawn and enter debt. 

It’s okay to not offer your dog the option of choice if you know that you cannot respect a no. For example if a veterinary procedure is urgent and has to be done in order to keep the dog healthy and there is little time to train for the procedure and get the required reinforcement history then just get the procedure done with as little stress as you can for your dog. Train for it after and so that you don’t need to force your dog through it again and they can become a willing and active participant in the procedure should it ever need doing again. 

In the case of non-emergency veterinary care where the training is in place, by all means offer your dog choice to participate, just be aware that if they say no you have to respect that. Respecting that may mean walking away having paid the vet for their time without having the procedure done. However, if the training has been done correctly this shouldn’t happen. If it does, it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure, it’s just information about how your dog felt about that procedure at that moment in time. It may not mean that the training is ‘broken’ or ruined, your dog may have just been having a bad day. At worst it means your training needs some topping up, particularly in that environment. But if you accept your dog’s ‘no’ and walk away with them, you will have the biggest win regarding your relationship with your dog and have stood up for their emotional needs over your convenience which is one of the biggest compliments within the dog training world to exist and you should be incredibly proud of that. 

Have you had a scenario where your dog has said no and you either respected it? I love to hear these stories, let me know in the comments!! 

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