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Freedom of Choice

I was having lunch with a close friend and mentor in the business world and I was telling him about my formal leap into the dog training world. After hearing me discuss my business plan and long term plans for the future, he asked me a very simple question that I had never put any conscious thought into….. “what makes your training different from other dogs trainers who have come before you?”

After a brief pause, I summed up my philosophy in one statement – My methods are all about choice. I invite the dogs to interact with me and if they choose not to, I respect their decisions. That lack of pressure allows them to choose to interact with me on their terms, when they are comfortable enough and when they are mentally able to commit to working with me. Working with a dog in that mental state brings about change much faster, the behavior becomes more reliable, the training session more fluid and best of all – it just feels good for everyone.

I worked with a rescue dog that was supposed to be low maintenance and an “easy” dog because the client was going through a divorce and recognized that she didn’t have that much time and energy she had to devote to a dog. Well, as things rarely turn out the way we want them to, she adopted a dog with a lot of spirit with a recurring medical issue. After months of medical bills and lots of tears and frustration, she reached out to me as a last resort.

On the day of our appointment, I drove to her house and spent some time getting to know the dog and chatting with the owner to get a better picture of what is going on. Within minutes the dog was working with me and the clicker and pushing me to do more. We involved the teenaged daughter who learned how to work the clicker and what behaviors to mark. At the end of the session, I was getting up to leave and the dog was trying to engage me to get a cookie. I asked for a “sit” and the dog just stared at me. I know he can sit because he had been doing it frequently on cue during our time together. When he didn’t respond, I just said “ok” and turned to walk away. I made it his choice whether to interact with me or not. As I took my first step in the opposite direction, I heard nails scrambling on the hardwood floor and the before I took my second step, the dog had passed me, turned around and was sitting like a perfect statue in front of me. I told him he was a good boy and gave him a few seconds of scratching. I started to side step him, he got up and then I asked for a “sit” again, this time the dog couldn’t hit his bottom to the ground fast enough. He got a cookie for that one because I asked and he answered.

Everybody likes to have choices in their world…..why should our dogs be any different?

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