Freedom Near the Fringe

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There is a pure sense of freedom when your dog leaves the sidewalk, passes the groomed soccer fields, past the pesticide, escapes the astro-turf and finds the fringe. I am talking about the tall un-mowed grass where wild flowers and thistles grow. This a place every dog knows. It holds the best odor, it’s dripping with water, hiding bunny beans (poo) and other lovely snacks. Dog’s need freedom to make choices where owners stop shouting commands, stop causing over-arousal, scheduling activities and just take it all in. This is a place where the leash is long and loose and dogs explore with a “devil may care” sense of themselves.

It’s incredible to me how many people think a dog is happy because he goes for a walk. Something I have accepted as an undeniable truth is dogs are very frustrated on leash walks. I don’t want to be the trainer who tells people to “stop walking your dog” but just think about your dog for one minute (and I’m not talking about a dog park- although it’s about as close as some dogs ever get). The majority of their day is spent indoors waiting for your return or outside in the yard while they wait hours on end.

“We need to provide environments in which animals’ behaviors and choices and actions matter, in which they can be agents of their own lives.” Marc Beckoff, The Animals’ Agenda.

You come home and they think, “ok, let’s do this”. Their little hearts fill with joy and excitement, you open the door and you’re off right, except they pull the leash and you say, “NO, HEEL!”. Dogs need time to be dogs. By this I mean free time, they need to be able to be off leash, sniffing, peeing, making their own decisions. I heard someone describe suffering once as a sentient being who was not able to have any control over their own life and choices. A lot of the dogs I meet, their owners have been so abused by the common cultural fog that persists to tell them that a dog can never make their own choices.

I came across a blog online by a so called Dog Expert with the title “the #1 Cause of Behavior Issues: Too Much Freedom” where this trainer states that “his freedom is evidence of his rank” basically saying that you can’t let your dog get away with anything. I beg to differ. To anyone who subscribes to this “pack theory” mumbo jumbo I say, time to read a book. There are troves of knowledgable professionals out there publishing books that actually will teach you about dog behavior (See: Dr. Ian Dunbar, Patricia McConnell Ph.D, Karen London Ph. D, Dr. Sophia Yin, Jean Donaldson, Marc Beckoff the list goes on and on). But in a world where people get their news on Facebook and seek dog behavior advice from television those misinformed people are being reinforced by algorithms which spew the same poisonous dribble right back at them and sadly they will never see the light of day.

“More people know about dogs than ever before, but it is often a shallow sort of knowledge that is easily exploited by self-styled dog experts for personal gain. The carefully edited antics of these charismatic but frequently ill-informed dog gurus and ‘whispers’ may be entertaining to watch on TV but, ultimately, it is the dogs who suffer when their owners imbibe too much of this quasi-scientific “snake-oil”. James Serpell, The Domestic Dog: It’s evolution, Behavior and Interactions with People. 

All of these so called Pack Leaders and Top Dogs who toot this dominance horn have clearly never studied dogs. I mean seriously they are right her in front of us everyday, you think people would have learned something about this species through observation. In my opinion a dog’s #1 cause of behavioral problems is, they exhibit dog behavior and people don’t like dog behavior. Sorry but that is the truth. Dogs bark, dogs bite, dog dig, dogs walk quickly. Most of the calls and emails I get are from owners who wish to turn off dog behavior and create this furry little subservient accessory to their life, who is seen but not heard. Everyone knows what they don’t want. NO BARK, NO JUMP, etc. but then when you ask “well have you taught him what you DO WANT?” You will get some answer that involves scolding him for the “wrong behavior” or a class with prong collars, choke chains, squirt bottles, alpha rolls or worst electric shocks. This is the state of education in our country for dogs. Poor buggers. Please listen to Dr. Dubar when he asks the question, “Are We Training Dogs All Wrong” on this Ted Radio Hour on NPR, you might learn something.

If you add a dog to your family it is your obligation to teach them. Dogs pull the leash, because you have not taught them to walk slowly like a human yet. Dogs bark because they are frustrated and barking is a species specific behavior that WORKS! It get’s results. So before you turn to another guru toting a miracle cure in a day for dog behavior. Ask yourself what can you do to HELP change your dog’s behavior. It’s really not as complicated as you think.

“We might look, for some guidance, at how the concept of autonomy functions within the realm of human ethics. In its most general sense, autonomy refers to self-governance (auto, self + nomos, rule)… free from both explicit and subtle forms of coercion that lead to diminished freedom of choice” Jessica Pierce Ph.D has wonderful articles on Psychology Today.

Training is the process where two DIFFERENT SPECIES find a common language. It relies heavily on motivation, timing and clear understanding from both participants. This type of training will not only give you the control you crave but it will enhance your relationship with your dog and bring you back from the darkness, unplug yourself from your computer (right now) and go walk your dog and find freedom near the fringe.

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