I’ve recently been made aware of a new trend in some dog training circles regarding the idea of consent. Perhaps the trending topic of #MeToo has had something to do with this and it has spilled into the area of dog behaviour. The idea is that we have to be watchful and mindful of our impact on the dog. As such it is a worthy aim and of course I agree, however the emphasis is put on reading the dog’s state of mind and trying to react in a way that doesn’t put any strain on the dog. Again, so much is great advice that it becomes more and more difficult to disagree, however instead of making the cues more subtle, requiring greater expertise to understand I think a better approach would be to empower the dog.
Consent training involves pushing at the dogs at a level that doesn’t upset them and then rewarding them with a treat for accepting. To me this seems dangerous. A biscuit for staying silent feels really uncomfortable. Either rewards or punishment aiming at docility can be a problem. The dog will feel out of control, the handler starts to think they’re in control. The balance is out of sync and it can grow into a buried volcano, simmering beneath the surface, waiting to erupt. A soft dog will find expression in panic without a target, a strong dog will find a target and we’re left wondering were it comes from.
The goal for me is to give the control to the dog. Instead of becoming more sensitive I want to play at being insensitive. That way the dog can feel power and say so. I don’t want the dog to be a mute, without a voice to say “stop”, I want the dog to assert itself. Now obviously, in sensitive situations like this a clumsy approach could result in injury. The dog feeling pressured can react and bite without meaning to harm. The challenge is to show the dog how to react without biting, to express its discomfort without getting in trouble. The assertive reaction then gets the dog what it wants even with the clumsiest handling. The human who doesn’t understand doesn’t have to be shown how to understand the intricacies of dog language. Everyone’s happy.