As instructors, we often tell our students to not allow their dogs “too much freedom” while they’re in training and are learning the ropes. But, what exactly do we mean by this? And how much difference does it really make? That's the topic of today's post!
Many students think of freedom in terms of “physical space” only. Even though that is part of it, it’s so much more than that. It’s about restricting the dog’s ability to make poor choices and to make up their own rules.
It's Not Just About Space
You could very well restrict your dog’s freedom to a specific room in the house, but what exactly is your dog doing while they’re in that room? Are they chewing things they shouldn’t be chewing? Are they having accidents? Are they barking at people and other dogs who pass by the window outside? Are they choosing when to nap, when to play, when to wander around, and when to eat? While some of these behaviours are unwanted behaviours (like inappropriate chewing and barking), the freedoms to choose when to nap, when to play, and when to eat are reinforcing to the point where they build a solid case against your leadership simply because the dog has the freedom to make their own choices.
A Dangerous Message
When we allow our dogs unrestricted freedom to choose what they want to do and when they want to do it, we’re sending a potentially dangerous message. We’re essentially telling the dog that they make up the rules. Then, at some point when the human steps in and attempts to give the dog direction, they’re met with resistance and reluctance (and yes, sometimes aggression) on the dog’s part. But when you think about it, why SHOULD the dog listen when they’ve grown accustomed to calling the shots on their own?
Management Fills in the Gaps
Dog training is all about teaching our dogs to make good choices. In order to be able to do that, we need to provide our dogs with structure and limit their freedom while they’re learning so that we’re in a position to provide them with consistent direction and to give them good information in a timely manner. The best way to go about this is to use a crate to manage your dog and to control access to freedom. When you’re unable to closely supervise in order to give them the direction they need, it’s best to crate them. Dogs who object to being crated are often protesting the loss of freedom to make their own choices and are essentially objecting to your leadership and control.
Until your dog clearly understands the household rules, listens well, and accepts direction from you regardless of the situation, it’s very important to limit their freedom. By simply controlling their freedom, you’re helping them to accept your leadership and guidance and in time your dog will learn to look to you for direction as opposed to doing whatever they please, whenever they please.
When we get to the point where our dogs accept us as their leader, they have reliable listening skills, and they understand the rules, we can grant them more and more freedom knowing that they understand how to make appropriate choices and that they’ll listen to us no matter what.
Hi! I’m Robbie Stevenson and I started training at McCanns as a student in 1995 when I discovered my passion for dog (and human!) training. I then joined the McCann team as a full time employee in 1997 and taught classes for 14 years. After leaving McCanns when I had to move away, I rejoined the team in 2020. I’m now the Online Program Development Manager for McCann Professional Dog Trainers. I love writing about anything related to dog training as well as online learning after my own personal experiences as an online student studying horsemanship. I currently have 2 Border Collies (Spright and So) who keep me very active and busy with lots of fun activities when I’m not working