Sunday, September 20, 2009

On dogs and freedom

I'm reading Patricia McConnell's latest book, Tales of Two Species: Essays on Loving and Living with Dogs. It's a collection of the articles she wrote for The Bark magazine (she still works for them).

In a section discussing what dogs have lost and gained by being housebound and not let out to roam the neighborhood all day, she says "What we can do is be mindful of how often our dogs have the freedom of choice. How many walks has your dog taken in which he got to decide where to go? How often does your dog get to decide when to stop sniffing? Ever let your dog choose the direction to follow at the dog park? These are good questions to ask ourselves as we exercise our dog's minds and bodies at dog parks and agility trials."

We always try to give Dahlia a bit of freedom. Not only do we allow her off leash in safe places as often as possible (and I'm very thankful we have a nearby park where we can do this frequently), but we also allow her to choose her own direction to go in on leashed walks. I often stop at the sidewalk and ask her which way she wants to go. I let her choose until I feel her choice is going to take us too far from home and make the walk back tiring for us both. But ultimately she gets to shape our walks. Sometimes she takes us on familiar walks we've done many times. Other times she takes us to new places or on a different route through the neighborhood, doubling back and following unexpected paths. We let her stop and sniff and spend all the time she wants taking in the "pee-mail." I'm sure some would think it indulgent and still others would consider Dahlia the "alpha" in the relationship. I'm glad to see that Patricia McConnell agrees with our choice.

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