Agency is very important for anxious dogs. Giving them a choice in the activities they participate in, where and when they rest, and how they interact in the world is one of the key building blocks to support resilience. Agency means giving your dog choices whenever possible.
Riker, my little spitz, is afraid of larger fast moving dogs and so he has chosen not to accompany us on group hikes. I have allowed that and I have spent the last two years walking him separately, finding him some slower paced, small dog friends. It is OK to have separate rules, separate activities, and separate outings for dogs in a multi-dog home.
Guess what happened today? He jumped in the car when I loaded up the big dogs for a hike! So he joined us. I don’t typically bring many treats with me on hikes, but I brought a lot with us so that I could support him if he was anxious, reinforce him for checking in, staying close, and coming when called. He had a blast =)
Other ways I give Riker Agency include:
- Allowing him spend time on the deck instead of inside with the pack. He needs more quiet time than the group dynamic allows.
- Allowing him to choose to participate in group training sessions, or not. The other dogs are stationed on dog beds while waiting for their turn, but Riker can come and go as he pleases. When he is feeling brave, he participates. When he is feeling anxious, he might watch from a distance or go out to the deck.
- Allowing him to decide if I or anyone else is allowed to touch him. For the most part, he loves cuddles from me, but he can be afraid of strangers, and if he is overtired, he may not want me to touch him either.
One of the best things we can do is to allow our anxious dogs choices in life whenever possible. Once they have choices, you’ll be surprised at how many times they chose to participate!