Littlest Hobo.jpg

Who remembers the TV show “The Littlest Hobo”, about a dog who turns up in the lives of people who need help?

The show was guaranteed to have me weeping at the end of each episode, because the dog always set off alone on his travels again once everyone’s problems were solved. “How unfair! Poor dog! I would give him a home!” sobbed my 8-year-old self. Not sure my parents, nor our existing dog, Jet, would have been that thrilled had Hobo turned up to accept my offer. In reality, I was missing the point. Every one of the people he helped also tried to offer him a home – and clearly none of them (like me) listened to the words from the theme tune “Maybe tomorrow I’ll want to settle down. Until tomorrow, I’ll just keep moving on”.

The dog was making a choice not to stay in town. And lucky for him, being a dog with near super-powers, and a TV star to boot, he was able to make that choice for himself.

When I was reminded of the show the other day, it got me thinking about the decisions we make every day on behalf of our dogs, and what choices they would make if they could. Would they really choose to eat their food twice a day out of a plastic bowl? Some might, but many would probably prefer to work, hunt and forage for their food. Would they really choose to go to agility/flyball/HTM events every weekend? Would they wear the pink collar with unicorns on, or the ‘hilarious’ Halloween costume?

Clearly there are some choices dogs might make that we cannot allow, in order to keep them safe. Most dogs would probably love to just roam freely, for example, but it’s obviously not an option for the majority. We have high expectations of how our dogs should behave and conform within our human world – a lifestyle that some dogs may not chose at all – and we even decide what games, activities and rewards our dogs ‘should’ enjoy.

Clients frequently bemoan the fact their dog won’t tug or retrieve or some other classic doggy behaviour. There are lots of possible reasons for this, and yes, in most cases we can train the desired behaviour, but if it’s just about preference and the games that individual dog chooses to play with his toy, why not try and play a different game? Parading, chasing or dissecting will always be more motivating for some dogs than tugging, so we can optimise on those choices in the rewards we give.

There are also plenty of every-day decisions that we can give back to the dog. Instead of the same evening route-march – why not put on a long-line and let them choose their own route, sniffing out the latest doggy ‘news’ as they go. You might not even get very far as the dog stops and sniffs every blade of grass and that’s OK because, let’s face it, you probably wouldn’t even be on the walk if it weren’t for the dog.

Ultimately, dogs who are empowered by having some control and choice in their lives are more secure in their relationships with us humans, and unlike Hobo are much more likely to want to stick around.

❤️  🐾🐾


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