There’s no doubt we want nothing but the best for our dogs. Sometimes what we term as “the best” for our dogs can often be translated to what allows our dogs maximum freedom, particularly at home. For example, freedom to run in a fenced yard, freedom from having to be in the crate while we’re gone, freedom to go in and outside through a doggy door whenever they want are all highly desired by pet parents. Indeed, there’s no timelier discussion as we just celebrated our country’s freedom and independence.
The Importance of Freedom
Lots of reasons come to mind why we set goals of freedom for our dogs. First of all, freedom equals fun, and who doesn’t want to have fun? We want to run, play and bask in the sun in our time off. What dog wouldn’t want that, too?
Freedom for our dogs often means convenience for pet parents. For example, if we don’t need to supervise our dog in the yard while he goes potty, that means that we can maximize our time to do something else. Makes sense, of course! And who doesn’t want to get rid of that unsightly crate in the living room or bedroom?
A training peer of mine recently shared on her Facebook feed this article around “crate guilt.” This is an interesting article in that it discusses the emotions we experience when we remove our dog’s freedom to roam in the house. Many pet parents feel guilt over restricting their dog’s freedom, especially if they’ve just rescued a dog from a shelter. Since the dog spent so much time in a kennel, they want to provide relief from that lifestyle now that the dog is in his fur-ever home.
The Problem with Too Much Freedom
But it also brings up a concept that has reared itself in a few different contexts recently, which is the notion that dogs don’t necessarily need or want the responsibility of having to navigate tons of space. Some dogs may not do well with having so much freedom and the “responsibility” that comes with it, nor are they comfortable with too much of it.
Dogs, just as people, have varying personalities and characteristics. Think of your workplace and the different personalities there. Some people are independent, confident leaders, and some employees are perfectly happy to hang back and have others call the shots. Some co-workers are extremely focused and motivated, while others, well… not so much. And some have their sights set on the spacious corner office, while others are content to stay under the radar in their inconspicuous cubicle. To force the introvert into a position of leadership could cause some major anxiety in someone who doesn’t want it and isn’t adequately prepared for it.
The important takeaway here is that not all dogs have the same spatial needs, and they may not be equipped at the moment to make good decisions for themselves. And not all dogs need or even want total freedom. Indeed, they may even be overwhelmed by total freedom and actually crave some guidance from us on what to do instead of roam free.
Put It to the Test
How can you tell if your dog might be conflicted? Your dog might experience frequent restlessness, pacing around the house, destructiveness, hyperactivity or nuisance behaviors like barking and persistent nudging for attention. Stress signals like lip licking, yawning and scratching are also a great way to see if your dog is overwhelmed.
Here’s how you can help your dog if you suspect he seems a bit overwhelmed:
- Crating – Sometimes your dog just needs a quiet space or sanctuary to go to that’s all his. It’s like the human equivalent of escaping to your bedroom for some peace and quiet. If your dog seems restless and then zonks out immediately after being crated, it might be a signal that he may have been overdue for some R&R.
- Leashing – Sure, we use the leash outside all the time to keep our dogs safe, nearby and under control. But sometimes client are surprised by the notion of leashing their dog inside the home. Yes, you have permission to use the leash indoors to keep your dog safe, nearby and under control! In fact, your dog might even welcome it. Leashing your dog sends a very clear signal of what they should be doing (staying by you and relaxing) instead of what they shouldn’t be doing (jumping on Aunt Sally, shredding toilet paper, eating your lunch off the counter, chasing their tail or chewing on the baseboards).
- Tethering – is another option using the leash. Tethering just means attaching the leash to something fixed inside, like a heavy piece of furniture, a doorknob, or even an “eye” bolt attached to a baseboard can keep your dog contained and still enough to encourage relaxation. Tethering encourages him to stay in one area instead of running like a madman around the house.
In all these situations, it might be helpful to provide your dog with chew toys, food puzzle toys, a stuffed Kong or something that will help keep your dog occupied. Otherwise they may take to chewing on the leash or their crate bedding.
Of course, with all of these options, proactively encourage calm behavior from your dog. If you capture your dog awake but resting nicely, calmly offer up a small treat without saying a word to him. It will serve as acknowledgement that he a) is doing something correctly and b) should continue doing it. As a secondary benefit, you are also teaching your dog to be more independent by reinforcing calm behavior without overt interaction from you.
Just because your dog might need a little guidance towards better behavior now doesn’t mean that they will need it forever. Just like a shy, awkward teenager can learn and grow to be independent, confident, successful in their adulthood, it just takes a little bit of time and a solid foundation and lots of encouragement for success. Happy training!