Dogs need food, water, and plenty of love – but they also need the freedom to be themselves! Here are three ways to let your dog be a dog.
Dogs are amazing creatures and certainly need to be loved, trained, and cared for. But over time, you may find yourself becoming a helicopter dog parent, watching and manipulating every move your dog makes. As a dog trainer, I’m certainly guilty of this. But curtailing your dog’s activities may not be the best choice if you want to have a deep and mutually beneficial bond with him, and here’s why.
The importance of free will
A life without choices is not good for anyone – dogs and other mammals included. Can you imagine living in a world where you did not have the free will to look, sniff, or investigate things at your own pace? What if, as an adult, you wanted to call up an old friend and your mom said you couldn’t? Welcome to a dog’s world.
Dogs need to be dogs. They need to be free to move about, sniff things and make their own choices. This doesn’t mean they don’t need to be positively trained and have rules and boundaries, but rather that they require some free time to take part in their “doggie hobbies”. If you are scratching your head and aren’t sure where to start, here are three ways to let your dog be a dog:
1. Let him sniff on walks
Have you ever just observed your dog navigating the world at his own pace? If you have, I bet you’ve noticed that his actions are led by is nose. It is estimated that dogs have 300 million olfactory receptor cells. Humans only have about a measly 5 million. But that’s not all for our canine friends! Inside a dog’s nasal cavity along the upper part of the mouth lies the dog’s vomeronasal organ, otherwise known as Jacobson’s organ. This organ is responsible for detecting pheromones. Yes – all of that exists inside your pup’s cute little nose.
The next time you take your dog to the park, instead of dictating which trail to take, allow your dog to lead the way. Allow him to sniff, and follow along where he wants to go. Keep him safe and redirect him to appropriate places if he starts to go in a bad direction, but otherwise, allow him to linger and smell or move at his own pace. Occasionally tell him how smart he is and even engage in what he’s smelling by bending down and looking at the spot, picking up a blade of grass, and tossing it around. He’ll appreciate your attention!
2. Let him choose a toy
Every dog needs a new toy or chew bone every once in a while. If your pup is good in social situations, take him to the pet store and allow him to sniff up and down the aisles at his own pace. Allow his great scenting ability take over once again, and follow him up and down the aisles. Encourage him to sniff the toys and chews and let him pick something out. If he’s on a restricted diet or if there are specific toys he can’t have, pick five acceptable items and lay them on the floor so he can choose between them.
You can also try this activity at home! Dump your dog’s toys onto the floor and ask him which one he wants. If he needs extra encouragement, grab each toy one at a time and wiggle them around to see which one he gravitates toward. Once he’s chosen one, engage him in a game of toss or tug!
3. Let him do what he was bred to do
Do you know what your dog was bred to do? Maybe you have a retriever that was bred to retrieve, or a terrier that was bred to dig and burrow in the dirt. Do some research on your dog’s breed and offer him ways to explore his environment in a way his ancestor’s enjoyed. Buy your border collie a herding ball or build a sandbox for your Jack Russell mix to dig in. Never force an activity – on him… just give him the tools he needs to be himself!
A good relationship is one of give and take. Your dog gives you so much, so don’t forget to fulfill his need and desires, too!