Our dogs are so much more than just our ‘pets’; they’re our best pals. And as with any friendship, there’s an element of trust on both sides. Our dogs trust us to provide love, protection, food, shelter, and to stop them getting sick (or have them treated when they do). In return, we trust them not to ‘misbehave’ and to obey our rules.
In this deal, modern domestic dogs don’t have a ton of freedom. After all, to protect them in this dangerous, human world, we have to take most of their choices away. We can’t let our pups run free near busy roads, decide which doggy pals to visit, or source their own food – it’s just not safe, plausible, or practical!
That said, there are a few ways that we can let our dogs choose. Introducing these five small changes could make a hugely positive impact on your furry friend’s life.
Make time for sniffaris
Rather than dragging your pup along the same old path, why not shake things up by letting them dictate the pace and route? After all, the daily walk is one of the few hours in the day that’s all about your dog. If you’re somewhere safe and your pup has good recall, unleash them so they can explore. Or hold the leash loose and let them lead the way, stopping to sniff as often and long as they like. A dog's sense of smell can be up to 100,000 times better than our own, so a ‘sniffari’ is a wild adventure for them: the part of their brains that analyses smells is 40 times greater than ours! So, pause and enjoy the moment while your dog catches up on the daily peemails. The bonus? A sensory walk means a calmer, mentally satisfied hound later on.
Mix up mealtimes
Most dogs don’t get much choice when it comes to feeding: we already choose when they eat and how much food we give them. So why not let them choose what they eat? Within reason, of course – we know plenty of dogs who’d choose a Mars Bar on a bed of fresh cow pat if it were entirely up to them! But you can offer your dog a selection of safe, healthy foods and let them show you which they like best: wet or dry, in a bowl or puzzle feeder, frozen or fresh. Is your hound a ‘NoFishy Dishy’ fan or more of a ‘NoCluck Casserole’ aficionado? You can now buy THE PACK in individual flavour boxes and selections of three, so your pup can taste test before deciding their favourite.
Let your dog decide who they interact with, and when – and that includes you! Tempting as it is to interrupt your dog’s snooze with a cuddle or pull them up on the sofa with you, this might not be what they want. Let your dog approach you for hugs! Give them as much space as possible in your home, so that they can choose where they sleep during the day, whether that be by your feet in your office (the dream!) or in another room altogether.
Don't force your dog into social situations he or she isn't comfortable with. If you have a jumpy Jack Russell, don’t take her to a busy park; if your Shih Tzu’s shy, keep him away from doggy meetups. On the flipside, don't let your super-friendly dog introduce herself if her potential new pal is on the leash! That other dog might not want to play, and he or she can't get away. Finally, never bring a strange dog into your home without testing the water outside: introducing new fur friends in a neutral space with plenty of room to escape means they can decide whether to be mates.
Choose your own adventure
If your dog likes a game, make available lots of different toys, so they can choose which to play with. Try a variety, from tug ropes to soft toys to tennis balls, and see which is your pup’s sport of choice!
Because we make so many choices for our dogs, we have a responsibility to choose things that keep them healthy and safe, including feeding them high-quality food and training them to interact safely with friends, two- and four-legged.
Even so, giving our dogs some choices back means that we’re able to respect their unique preferences and meet their specific needs. Accepting your pal as the one-of-a-kind individual they really are? Now that’s what true friendship is all about!