Updated: Oct 18
Dogs are more than just pets; they are sentient beings with emotions, needs, and desires.
As responsible pawrents, it is crucial to recognize and respect their individuality. One fundamental aspect of this respect is understanding that dogs have the right to say "no" in various situations.
This concept of agency, where dogs are allowed to make choices and express their preferences, plays a pivotal role in their physical and mental well-being. In this blog post, we'll delve deeper into what agency means for dogs, why it's essential, and present our top 10 ways to provide dogs with more agency in their daily lives.
Understanding Agency for Dogs
In the context of dogs, agency refers to their ability to make choices and control aspects of their lives. Just like humans, dogs have preferences, boundaries, and comfort levels. Giving them the freedom to express these choices contributes to their happiness and contentment.
The Importance of Agency for Dogs
Enhanced Well-Being: Allowing dogs to exercise agency promotes a sense of control and reduces stress. This can have a positive impact on their physical and mental well-being.
Improved Bond: When dogs are respected and empowered to make choices, the bond between them and their pawrents grows stronger. This trust and understanding are crucial for a harmonious relationship.
Reduced Anxiety: Dogs that feel they have no say in their daily lives may develop anxiety or behavioural issues. Agency can help mitigate these problems by giving them a sense of security.
Increased Confidence: Making choices and controlling their environment as far as they can in a safe way for all involved boosts a dog's self-confidence and independence.
Dogs often have limited choice and agency in their day-to-day lives, primarily because they rely on their human caregivers to meet their needs and make decisions for them.
Here are some key aspects that illustrate the constraints on a dog's agency:
Routine and Schedule: Dogs typically follow their caregiver's daily routine. They eat, go for walks, and engage in other activities based on their pawrent's schedule, which may not align with their natural preferences or energy levels.
Diet: Most dogs have little to no say in their diet. They eat what their owners provide, and their caregivers determine the type and quantity of food.
Walks and Exercise: Dogs require regular exercise, but the frequency, duration, and locations of walks are usually determined by their owners. Dogs often have little say in where or how long they walk.
Social Interactions: Dogs may be introduced to other dogs or people without their consent, which can sometimes lead to uncomfortable or stressful situations.
Grooming and Veterinary Care: Dogs are often subjected to grooming, bathing, and vet visits without being able to consent or choose when and how these activities occur.
Living Environment: Dogs typically have limited control over their living conditions, such as the arrangement of furniture, access to outdoor spaces, or even where they sleep.
Playtime and Toys: The toys and activities available to a dog are usually chosen by their pawrents. Dogs might not have the opportunity to select their preferred toys or games.
Training and Commands: Some dogs are still trained to follow commands, which limits their freedom to act independently. They may not have the choice to disobey commands even if they feel uncomfortable. Sometimes they are forced to suppress their emotions and always ignore their needs.
While these limitations are necessary for the safety and well-being of dogs, dog pawrents need to recognize and respect their pets' preferences and needs. Providing opportunities for dogs to express their agency in controlled and safe ways can improve their overall quality of life and strengthen the bond between them and their human companions. Giving dogs choices, even within a structured environment, can enhance their mental and emotional well-being.
10 Ways to Grant Dogs More Agency
The Five-Second Rule for Petting: Respect their personal space and allow them to initiate physical contact. Check in after petting your dog for 5 seconds by taking your hand off and waiting for your dog's response. If the dogs come back, nod your hand, and lean into you, they want more. If your dog walks away, no hard feelings, the cuddles were plenty, and your dog had enough.
Breed and Personality-Specific Needs: Tailor their care to their unique characteristics, considering their breed, energy level, and temperament. A Chihuahua has different needs than a senior Pug, a young Border Collie, or a Great Dane puppy.
Choose Their Walks: Let your dog lead the way during walks, allowing them to explore and decide where to go.
Varied Treat Options: Offer a selection of treats, allowing them to express their preferences. Let your dog pick the flavour of the day or the moment. You will be amazed how excited your dogs are!
Interactive Toys and Puzzles: Provide stimulating toys and puzzles that engage their minds and allow them to problem-solve.
Communication and Training: Use positive reinforcement training to foster communication and trust. It is a relationship, not ownership. Communication is a two-way street! Effective communication requires active listening.
Create Safe Spaces: Designate a quiet, comfortable area where your dog can retreat when he/she wants to.
Cooperative Care Exercises: Implement cooperative care exercises during grooming, vet visits, and other care routines. Allow your dog to actively participate by offering choices whenever possible.
Social Interactions: Respect their comfort level with other dogs and people, allowing them to decide when to engage.
ACE-Free Work: Introduce "ACE-free" work, "Active Choice and Enrichment" work. This approach, developed by Sarah Fisher, involves designing activities where your dog actively participates in decision-making, promoting their autonomy and mental stimulation. Sarah Fisher, a renowned dog behaviourist and trainer, has dedicated her career to improving the lives of dogs and their pawrents through her innovative techniques and methodologies.
Agency stands as a cornerstone in ensuring the well-being of our beloved canine companions. Allowing dogs the freedom to express their preferences and make choices not only empowers them but also serves as a powerful tool in reducing their stress levels and elevating their overall quality of life. By embracing these ten strategies, you can bestow upon your furry friend the respect and autonomy they deserve, ultimately fortifying your bond.
Our dogs rightfully deserve agency, as they possess the same rich tapestry of emotions, preferences, and the capacity for joy, comfort, and contentment as humans. Just like us, they harbour a distinctive sense of self and individuality. Affording them agency is an acknowledgment of their intrinsic worth and a tribute to their right to lead a fulfilling and enriched life.
It's crucial to remember that, just like us, our dogs have only one life, and each day in their journey should be celebrated as their best one yet; let's wholeheartedly embrace them and allow them to be their authentic selves. 🐾❤️🐶❤️🐾