Three Rules of Thumb to Choosing Correctly: Choice or Structure?

Which is appropriate in a given circumstance; choice or structure?

I am going to make this super simple and it’s not super simple at all. On the other hand, super simple means that when you are in the moment and a little unsure, you are more likely to react in a helpful manner. So let’s call this “better than nothing!”

First, do not offer choice when there is a distinctly wrong possible response that could cause harm.  Harm can be mental or physical, and can be towards the animal, the trainer, or society.

For example, if your dog wants to approach (or even stare) at another dog, and you already know that your dog tends to react badly towards other dogs? Then choice is not an option, because if your dog reacts badly, then harm will result to your dog, yourself, the other dog or society. This is true even if there is no physical contact; emotional harm counts too!

Second, do not offer choice when there is no choice. Asking your dog if they want to go in their crate when you need to put them in their crate? Don’t do it. You’re going in the car and your dog is going in the crate. Cue them to go in their crate, and if they don’t and you plan on going anyway? Pick them up and put them in.   Work on that crate behavior at another time when you really do have choice to offer.

And finally, do not offer choice when your dog is becoming anxious (or is already there). Anxious animals, including humans, want structure! If you are in a shaping session and your dog starts to become anxious? That means they’re no longer thinking clearly. End the session or switch to known behaviors that you can simply cue (cues are structure) or maybe you’ll decide to use luring to start teaching the new thing. Choice is only a reinforcer if the dog wants it, and anxious animals do not want choice. They want to be right. Give that to them! Structure the answer.

At the end of the day, what you choose, choice or structure, is totally dependent on the overall situation, but there are a few rules of thumb. Give those guidelines a try and see if they help you.

On another note, in addition to our 30+ regular 6-week long classes currently registering for the December 1st start in two days, FDSA is offering our 16 most popular workshop recordings of the past year for sale through the weekend. If heading to the mall on the busiest day of the year is not your idea of a good time, then sign up for an educational opportunity instead! Workshops offer a one hour recording with specific steps for you to take to progress towards a goal. They are designed to be watched and put into practice immediately. The second follow-up video will give you examples of how other students applied the material so that you can learn from their experiences. And at only $29.95 each, they are an excellent way to spend a quiet day with your furry companions!  Follow this learn to see what is available and to purchase.  I have three workshops for sale – Precision Heeling, Precision Heeling – Formalizing Your Hand Position (Second step), and Heeling Games.  Read the descriptions and learn more here:  https://www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com/top-workshops

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