‘Choice’ Moments and ‘No Choice’ Moments
Dogs do, or should, have ‘Choice’ moments and ‘No Choice’ moments. Both are important.
‘Choice’ moments are when we ask our dog to do something, and they can say ‘No’.
An example is when working with a reactive or overexcited dog. Assuming that at home or when there are no big distractions nearby, a dog can sit, then sitting near other dogs (if that is what they react to) is a ‘choice’ moment. If I ask a dog to sit with a scary or exciting dog nearby and they can’t, this is information. We may try an easier task like a cookie scatter, or we might move away and try with more distance.
I could coerce or force the sit & many people do! By using force or coercion, we ignore the animals emotional state. I often get calls about dogs who ‘seem fine, then explode’, this is often seen in the dogs who were trying to communicate that they can’t sit. As a side note, coercion doesn’t always mean force. Cookies can be used coercively too!
& ‘No Choice’ moments are when we need our dog to do something, and saying ‘No’ is not an option for them.
Ideally, we do this as little as possible, but life has no choice times for us all. Barking and lunging at people or dogs is one example of a ‘No Choice’ time. It’s NOT ok to bark and lunge at people or dogs while out on walks. If I am training a dog and they start to back and lunge or I can see they are about to, we are walking away. Period. No choice is available. If the dog is capable of responding to cues at that time, I’ll call away or even lure away with a cookie as it is less aversive and will entwine less ‘icky’ feelings into the scenario. However, if the dog isn’t likely to be able to respond, I won’t ask and we are still leaving. Standing there waving cookies in a dogs face while they terrorize people at the park isn’t an option that I am willing to entertain. I simply shorten up the leash, and off we go.. I’m going, and the pooch is attached to me via the leash, so they are coming too! I’m not angry or punitive, just simply and matter-of-factly leaving and taking the dog too.
Another, less obvious is getting into the car at the end of a hike. If a dog gets car sick or has an aversion to the car, they might avoid being caught or lured into the car at the end of the walk. If I know that this is the case, well ahead of arriving at the car, leash goes on and when we get to the car simply, & without drama, put the dog in the car – don’t ask them if they want to get into the car if there isn’t a choice. If we ask, then we say there’s no choice, we risk creating confusion and anxiety around our cues.
A Time for Choice
When a dog is anxious, holding a position is a ‘choice’ moment. If we have a dog settled in a down, and a scary dog comes by, if we try to force or coerce the down, we have effectlively takes away the dog’s flight option. Do you know what’s left? Fight. Instead, if our dog wants to get up, encourage that and teacht hem how to move away from stress rather than towards it.
Riker’s ‘Choice’ Moment
As you can see in the video, Riker communicated very clearly that he did NOT want to get out of his crate at the groomers. Typically he excitedly jumps out, pees on a shrub, then runs in to see his groomer bestie and any little dog friends who are already inside. This is a very sudden behaviour change for him. Riker is saying “No.” And I am listening.
But!!! I can hear people now. He needs to be groomed for his well-being. Yes he does, but we have options. I can groom him at home. If he was too anxious about grooming, a mobile groomer might work for him. If those weren’t options, I would talk to my vet about a sedative to suppress his anxiety long enough to have him shaved down, nails trimmed, etc. And then I’d make a training plan to help him accept grooming.
This is an area where the negative emotions associated with the ‘No Choice’ moments out weigh the need for him to see his groomer. Luckily, we have an awesome groomer and she 100% agrees and supports my decision.