The importance of choice

Imagine for a moment that your whole life was completely controlled by someone else. No matter what you said or how you asked, they decided when you could eat, where you could sleep, what you could do to entertain yourself, even when you had access to the bathroom.

Humans have a lot of choice about what they do on a given day. Sure we have a basic schedule of things that we have to do (like go to work) but we are able to act on our environment and the people and animals in it to maximise our enjoyment in our day, and to avoid things that make us uncomfortable (or to solve these problems to resolve such issues).

dog choosing to play choice control

Our pets often aren’t afforded this control in their lives. We decide everything for them. Some of our decisions result in lots of fun for our pets, like going to the beach, playing a game, or settling down for some one-on-one affection, but other decisions can create a lot of stress for them.

We have high expectations of how our pets should behave, and we often don’t take the time to communicate clearly and teach them how to meet those expectations. Imagine back to your day with no control, and imagine having someone constantly scolding you for doing what seems logical to you (sitting somewhere comfy, greeting someone when they approach, etc). Given a few tries at finding the right thing to do, if you were still being told NO, you would probably start to feel frustrated, angry, confused, and stressed. This is life, at least some of the time, for many household pets.

So how can we give our pets choice in their day, to reduce stress and allow them to interact meaningfully with their environment? We can train them with positive reinforcement, teaching them through clear and gentle methods what they are allowed to do. We can learn about their body language, and step into the role of their advocate when we see that they are worried by something. We can condition them gradually to enjoy experiencing more things. And we can show them ways to let us know what they want and need. We can empower our pets.

Choice and control over our life is important to our mental well being, and the same is true of our pets. What are some ways you could increase your pets choices around your home?

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