Teach Your Dog to Choose Things

How to play "You Choose" with your dog


Our dogs have very little opportunity for choice in their lives in today’s world. We tell them when to eat, when to play, when to potty, when and where to sleep. We expect them to walk politely on leash without exploring the rich and fascinating world around them, and want them to lie quietly on the floor for much of the day. Compare this to the lives dogs used to live, running around the farm, chasing squirrels at will, eating and rolling in deer poop, chewing on sticks, digging in the mud, swimming in the pond, following the tractor…

There’s a good likelihood that this lack of choice is at least partly responsible for the amount of stress we are seeing in many of our canine companions these days. Imagine how stressed you would be if your life was as tightly controlled as your dog’s! We can introduce choice to our dogs by teaching them a “You Choose” cue: Select a very high-value and very low-value treat. Show one to your dog and name it (Meat, Beef, Chicken). Let her eat it. Repeat several times. Show the other to your dog and name it (Kibble, Milkbone). Let her eat it. Repeat several times. Now tell her to “Wait,” say your high-value name, put it in a bowl and set it on the floor at your feet. Repeat “Wait” if needed, say your low-value name, put it in a bowl and set it on the floor six inches to the side of the first bowl. Now say “You choose!” “Pick one!” (or whatever you want your “Choice” cue to be) and invite her to choose a bowl. While she eats that treat, pick up the other bowl. Repeat numerous times, randomly putting down high-value/low value first, on random sides, until it’s clear she’s realizing she can choose her preference. (You might be surprised to discover what you think is higher value for her; it may not be!) Now think of other ways you can offer your dog choices in her daily life!

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Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, grew up in a family that was blessed with lots of animal companions: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, goats, and more, and has maintained that model ever since. She spent the first 20 years of her professional life working at the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, California, for most of that time as a humane officer and director of operations. She continually studied the art and science of dog training and behavior during that time, and in 1996, left MHS to start her own training and behavior business, Peaceable Paws. Pat has earned a number of titles from various training organizations, including Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She also founded Peaceable Paws Academies for teaching and credentialing dog training and behavior professionals, who can earn "Pat Miller Certified Trainer" certifications. She and her husband Paul and an ever-changing number of dogs, horses, and other animal companions live on their 80-acre farm in Fairplay, Maryland.