When it comes to many issues in this world, I am firmly on the side of pro-choice and self-determination. This includes the work and play I do with dogs, especially shy, fearful or anxious dogs.
Think about it. If something scares or worries you, is your anxiety lessened knowing that you have no control over your options when confronted with those things? Mine sure isn’t. During his presentation at the latest IAABC conference Dr. Frank McMillan of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary gave the example of being asked to go with a friend to a party, an experience you dread. Would you rather go knowing you could leave whenever you wanted or go and be stuck there regardless of how much you would prefer to be elsewhere? In many instances just knowing that you have the option of removing yourself from a situation makes that situation less odious at the start.
Dogs on leashes, in cages or confined areas may feel more vulnerable. Dogs that cannot escape from something that scares them may escalate their response to it and try to defend themselves. Dogs that have had the option to move away from something scary are likely to repeat that response in the future, a far safer alternative to trying to chase off or bite whatever they’d rather not have near them.
Overall our dogs’ choices are limited. They do not survive long without our care. Giving a dog a choice does not mean we allow inappropriate, dangerous behaviors. Giving a dog the option to opt-out of a situation not only may help lower their anxiety, it shows on our part, an understanding that these incredible animals are both sensitive and complex. It allows us to show the respect for the creatures we have chosen to include in our lives. I want my dogs to be as happy with that choice as I am.