Your Choice – or is it?

A definition of Hobson’s Choice is: ‘an apparently free choice when there is no real alternative’: Take it, or leave it. (Merriam-Webster)

Freedom of choice ‘describes an individual’s opportunity and autonomy to perform an action selected from at least two available options, unconstrained by external parties’ (Wikipedia). This could be a hundred available options.

People using force-free methods like to feel we give dogs as much freedom of choice as we can

No choice would be, ‘obey my command’.

There is another kind of choice we use. It’s neither Hobson’s Choice though, nor is it quite Freedom of Choice.

It’s a ‘manipulated‘ choice – a way of getting the dog to do what we want whilst he feels he’s doing what he wants!

So, asking my dog ‘do you want to go outside?’ gives him some freedom of choice; he can decide yes or no – or later. Leaving the door open would give him more choice still.

Asking my dog ‘do you want to go outside by yourself or shall I come with you?’ is manipulated choice. I have already decided he’s going out, so the options are constrained by me. He probably feels he’s had choice whilst I have already chosen the outcome.

Win win!

If we are sufficiently creative we can find all sorts of ways of letting our dogs feel they have choice where actually they are doing what we want.

It’s a great thing for people who feel their dog is ‘stubborn’. If puppy has a sock, for instance, and doesn’t want to give it up, we can place in front of him half a dozen tempting alternatives from food to other toys.

Then the question is ‘which of these do you want the most?’ not ‘do you want to swap?’ (where the answer would probably be ‘no’).

Choice training gives dogs some autonomy.

Choice walks as in ‘follow the dog’ are fantastic. The dog can snuffle and explore as much as he wants. The dog feels he’s having choice but it’s only within certain boundaries (we must keep him safe and not have him annoying other people so he may be on a long line). The options are constrained by us.

Watch this fabulous video of the dog taking the lady for a walk with no constraints at all other than having to be on a longish lead and stopping at roads.  She set certain parameters by deciding to go for the walk in the first place – and letting him decide where to go. That’s all.

Three and a half hours later the dog leads her back home – by his own route!

I myself decide when my dogs go out. I decide where. When we get there they can do their own thing. I decide when it’s time to go home.

Manipulated choice is something I learned with my children years ago when I wanted them to go to bed. ‘Do you want to walk or shall I carry you?’. What wasn’t optional was going up to bed!

There are always constrains of some kind that have to be considered. Even street dogs’ choices are constrained by the environment.


About Theo Stewart

I am a dog Behaviourist C.C.B (Certified Canine Behaviourist) INTODogs). I have helped over 3000 dog owners over eighteen years. In addition to online consultations all over the world, I cover Beds, Herts, Cambs and Bucks for home visits. A 'Victoria Stilwell' Positively Dog Trainer (VSPDT) and a full member of the IMDT. Graduate ISCP, International School for Canine Practitioners. My main site:
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