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Trainer’s Corner: Choice


That is a word we may not often think about but it influences so much of our daily lives. When we are allowed to come up with our own decisions for behavior based upon choice—and the outcome of our choice—we learn from our experience. We can become better, more resilient problem solvers.

Sure, you can force employees to drop what they are doing to attend a mandatory staff meeting. You can also give them a choice; however, if they do not come, they do not get access to information that will help them be better able to succeed on a project. You can force a child to clean up his room, telling him he can not come out until it is spotless. Or you can tell a child that the choice is his but by cleaning his room, he will be able to have friends over to come play in it.

In both of those situations, while you are giving choice, you are making the RIGHT choice the most valuable choice for the other person. You are setting that person up to want to do what you would prefer. Because it was ultimately the other person’s decision, he/she will be more likely to want to make that same choice again. And remember, positive practice builds stronger behaviors.

Now think about that from the standpoint of your pet. Sure, there are times when you cannot give your pet a choice (when it is a matter of safety, for example), but if you can teach your pet to make decisions based upon the outcome of that decision instead of coercion, there a higher likelihood that you will see those taught behaviors more.

If your pet is showing any kind of fear, it is even more important to offer your pet the opportunity to have choice. Choice can build confidence.

If a puppy or dog is showing conflict in approaching someone or something, allowing him to choose whether or not to move forward and ensuring that only something positive happens if he chooses to come closer will build his confidence for future decisions.

In this video, I show how I worked through that conflict with a puppy that moved away when I tried to attach his leash. By giving him choice, and teaching him that coming closer was safe, he began making the choice to stay in front of me while my hand moved to his collar.

My challenge to you is this: think about your own life and your relationship with your pet. Where can you give your pet more choice while making the choice you want to see the most valued? I bet you will see your dog  go to your preferred choice more.

Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA, CPBC, is a certified dog trainer (and certified parrot behavior consultant) with So Much PETential who uses and teaches the most positive strategies for changing pet behaviors. She offers individualized dog and puppy training for manners and problem issues. Learn more about her at www.SoMuchPETential.com.

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