choice is at the core

Story was laying down at my side while I was talking to a friend on Main st. the other day. If I stop to engage with someone else, and there is nothing else to sniff or mark, he flops down and waits.

As I walked away with Story, a women came up behind me and very politely said, “can you tell me how you got your dog to obey you and see you as his leader. I loved how he was so submissive to you and layed down next to his master. I have a training collar on my dog, and even when I step on the leash and jerk him down, and stare at him in the eyes, he won’t obey me like your dog”. I just politely handed her my card and told her to look over my website and give me a call sometime.

What I really wanted to say, but it wouldn’t have served a purpose, was, “there was not a submissive bone in his body, and he is comfortable in his own skin, in all of his choices. I was not asking him to obey anything and never have, I love that he has opinions and the power of  a steam train. He chose to lay down because there was nothing interesting around him, I didn’t ask. And I’ve never been his leader, he is my partner and we walk through life together. I respect Story a great deal for many reasons, I hope I have earned his respect in return.”


But truly, this was for my mind alone, until right now as I type away. No person on the street wants a long response to a simple question, they want something ‘cocktail party’ like; short, quick, easy to digest, solves life’s problems, and ta da, on with errands, no harm no foul. I totally get that.

My partnership with Story, and in turn our ability to read each other, didn’t completely happen by accident. You see part of it is him, he is such a balanced dog. I bought him because of this balance, and saw it in him at 9.5 weeks old. This is something I had been looking for. I was very selective about adding a third dog to my household, and what I wanted in temperament. He was going to be living with two opinionated older female dogs, go into multiple dog sports, and live with an active family with children. Balance was imperative.

Story water

But part of our working partnership has also been about work. We have worked on behaviors together, mine and his, in sports and out of sports. Life skills inside and outside of our family, while traveling, in social situations, and a lot of the time just hanging out together.

And with all of this, the core has always been about choice. I can present something, but it isn’t going to happen if Story feels it’s lame, unnecessary, unfair, or unsafe. Integrity should have been his middle name. I usually don’t propose training situations like that, but sometimes my enthusiasm for trying a new trick gets the best of me, and thankfully he keeps me in check. And visa versa really.


Choice is at the core of everything we do. Yes choice. I come at every single sport, trick, and life skill with choice in mind. If we are going to do something together, and I have done my job to ensure safety, necessity, and fairness, I allow for choice, and in return, so does Story.

There is a great deal to be learned from this. If one of us ever bulks, gets a bit sticky with a behavior, or walks away, I know something is not right. I check my plan, the environment, and myself, and I look Story over to make sure all is well. When I work on fixing whatever it was that was not right, teaching and learning are as smooth as butter. I learn, Story learns, I teach, Story teaches, and we both become better at being who we are supposed to be. Without choice we would never be able to share this very important lesson.


I could most certainly force a dog into a down and keep them there, but frankly it’s a massive amount of energy and emotion on my part, the dog would probably think I suck super hard, and there is nothing I am doing that would be likened to teaching a skill, it is simply force. And when you have to use force, you are relying on physical strength not skill or knowledge. With force you no longer allow for choice, and without choice there is no respect or partnership, and without partnership there is no trusting relationship. It’s basically shutting a dog down, stripping the spirit, and saying to your dog through your actions, “you don’t matter, it’s all about me, ME, ME!” So what is the point?

Teaching is fun and easy when your dog trusts you and you trust your dog, but you have to be willing to work at it together, it for sure is a two-way street.


The next time you step out with your dog into your yard, and start to work on whatever tickles your fancy, watch with objective eyes, trainers eyes. Are you doing your part so your dog can do their part? Are you allowing for choice so you both can learn?

Choosing a beautiful day, Nancy

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Kim says:

    “Choice” is a topic a co-worker and I have discussed at length. He doesn’t want his dogs to make choices, ever. Sad.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Kim, when I see or hear this, there are usually other things going on as well that a person does not ‘allow’. And most of the time it comes from not wanting to ‘expand ones range’ in life skills, knowledge, or skill.

      I always think that this type of person, who fears choice in training, would make a great case study when their choices are taken away, all of them, and to see how they handle it and function.

  2. Mags Corner says:

    What a great post and Story is such a handsome dog. His markings and coloring is just gorgeous. Hugs and nose kisses

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      To you as well! xoxo

  3. cat says:

    What a beautiful post…………………….I love your description of the respect you both have for each other……………and that Story has choices……..I laughed at the “lame” reference………….Shep often thinks what I’ve asked is lame and I usually have to agree……………………Really moving Nancy…….thank you!

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Cat, maybe we should have a ‘lame’ cup of coffee or glass of wine soon. I miss you. I hope you are warm and tucked in up on your mountain!

  4. nutsfortreasure says:

    My heart stopped when I heard the question 😦

    JT is a Border Collie first and foremost and I adore her and she me. People ask me all the time if I can train their dogs and children in fact but sadly I know if I ever took on a job like that they would go back to their homes and not be shown the same respect I would give them Animal or Human 😦 not everyone should have kids and certainly not everyone should share a home with an animal mine for me have been some of the best dogs I have ever know and I see that it is a give and take and thankfully with play comes a very happy JT and her Momma 🙂

    You handled it much better than I would have BRAVO

  5. Great story, Nancy! I like a dog, and trainer, with integrity, love and partnership. And knowledge of course. Lack of knowledge do dogs a lot of harm.

  6. Lovely photos of Story. I believe dogs know how to ‘obey’ us (if that’s the right word) Spotty my welsh collie started her life up on a remote farm in the Welsh countryside. Coming to live in a semi rural area she appeared already trained but I knew she had lived an outside life with none.
    I give her lots of love and she returns the same.

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