Control. How Much Do You Need?

Fun for us, but for the dog? Control and how it impacts on our dogs wellbeing.

I was at my local (fenced) dog park recently and noticed a lady throwing a ball for her dog. When her dog would run past her with the ball in his mouth she would shout at him to ‘come back’ and ‘drop the ball’. She seemed to be upset with him because he did not want to continue the game. I see this scenario regularly, and it raises some important questions; why do we feel the need to control so much of our dogs’ behaviour? Does it matter all the time? Do we often forget to see things from our dogs’ perspective? When does the relationships with our dogs become less about them, and more about us?

Why do we feel the need to control so much of our dogs behaviour?

There is no question about it, much of it comes from so many different dog trainers and dog owners sharing their views with the world through books, television and even blogs! This can be wonderful for empowering people to train their dogs, but it also means people are becoming confused about what rules to implement- so they implement them all, inadvertently, controlling their dog every which way.

When you find yourself becoming confused about all of the information you are receiving, it is best to stop, and work out what pieces of information you like, and enjoy using, and also what is useful for your circumstances. Rules that work in one home and for one dog, are not always best for another home or dog. You do not need to implement every rule that you come across in dog training. This would be impossible to maintain.

Quite often the level of control we require of our dogs is also society’s influence over dog owners. Local councils are imposing tougher and tougher rules for dog owners, off lead areas are disappearing, and people are largely less tolerant of dogs. It’s no wonder people feel the need to control so many of their dogs behaviours.

Does it matter all the time?

Contrary to popular belief you do not need to control your dog in every situation. Allowing your dog to make some decisions for themselves will provide them with great learning opportunities. The general rule is, if the behaviour is not causing tension in the home, or is not placing people or animals at risk of harm, (generally) it’s OK to allow the behaviour to keep happening.

For example, I see no good reason to having a dog heeling the whole time on a walk. Or making a dog sit-stay when greeting another dog. This kind of control will lead to a dog that is ‘stale’ and frustrated in its obedience, and will ‘cut loose’ eventually and simply stop listening to anything you have to say. Often the owners who try to control their dogs too much describe the relationship with their dog as a strain, difficult, frustrating and wearing. They may describe their dog as defiant, stubborn, hyperactive and dominant.

To their credit, these people are often feeling this way because they want their dog to live a more free life, they want to enjoy watching their dog run off lead and interact freely with other dogs. Often they just don’t know how to start. The only way to start, is by letting go of a little bit of control in a constructive way.

Allow your dog to walk loose on the lead anywhere and greet other dogs naturally, they will be using much more brain power, and will be more satisfied at the end of the walk. If you are having problems with lead pulling or dog-dog interactions, there are better ways of dealing with this, just click on the links.

Do we forget to see things from our dogs perspective?

Spending all the time I do with dogs I cant help but to see things through their eyes. What I wouldn’t give to spend one day as a dog!

Spend some time seeing things from your dogs’ perspective, while at the park allow them to chase the birds, trot over to greet other dogs, spend time smelling something very interesting. Realise that English is a second language for them, and they may have no idea what you are asking them to do. Work slowly and consistently, and maintain realistic expectations of them.

Unless you successfully practice with your dog in distracting areas, a reliable response will not be learned. I should add, a response is reliable once it is occurring more than 85% of the time. No one, animal or human, is 100% perfect.

When does the relationships with our dogs become less about them and more about us?

Sometimes we want our dogs to do things because of what we want, for whatever reason. I tried doing pet therapy with my first dog, Lloyd. I really wanted him to like it but he didn’t get anything out of it, he never really enjoyed being patted. I realised that this was my dream that I was pushing on to him, consequently we stopped.

If your dog is not enjoying an activity as much as you would hope (whether it be enjoying car rides, playing fetch or playing with other dogs), you may get them to tolerate an activity, but you cannot force them to love something. Dogs have their own preferences that are different to yours (possibly different to previous dogs you have lived with). Love for an activity may come on it’s own or may never happen at all. In this situation you should ask yourself; Is it that important for you? Can you find an alternative activity that you both get benefit from?

In my next post I’m going to write about how giving up a little bit of control could be the best way to training success and developing a relationship with your dog that is free and willing.

Please feel free to comment. I have raised some difficult questions that we will all have an opinion on, and I would be interested to find out your thoughts on this topic.



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