I was in the barn last night puttering around putting away stuff from a show Sunday when Big T looked around and said "the dogs have a good life". It seemed self evident to me in that moment but got me thinking. Thinking is dangerous.
The dogs here have a great deal of freedom. There is a fenced yard which is mostly used at night to keep coyotes away from the little dogs as much as anything else. There is a pond the dogs can go splash in as they want.
The canine crew here largely has agency. That is to say they have the freedom to make choices many, many times in a day. Lie n a comfy bed? Awesome. Outside puttering? Fabulous. Want to come with me to see the horses? Big dogs always welcome. Want to hang out on the porch while the rest of us go for a walk? Terrific - have a good time. Need to rush to the chickens and make sure they are all still there? Suit yourself terrier. The list could go on for pages and pages
We ask them to keep themselves safe and encourage them to stay in either the pond field, home field or with us but to be quite frank they take the responsibility for watching us pretty seriously. If the "travelers" hear a vehicle start up they come to see what's up. They are often lying in eye sight of us supervising what ever activity we are up to or perhaps nosing around looking for critters to scare or smell.
They ask each other to play and they ask us to play.Sally, Yen and Dora love a crazy zooming chase game we all enjoy, We ask them to play too. It's pretty unusual for any of us to blow off a reasonable request for attention.
How has this somewhat feral lifestyle affected training? Well. Here's the rub. It's strengthened it. Behaviours that were offered because of insistence are now offered because they are asked for? For fun? For something to do? I don't know exactly but I do know the dogs are fully engaged in
play training . The dogs celebrate their successes with as much joy as I do. Letting the dogs "dog" has given them more motivation to be present with us, not less. They don't sneak off or avoid us because if they really wanted to go to a back field we would all go out back (or those of us who wanted to would - and whoever didn't want to could hang on the porch or inside instead). The dogs' independence has enhanced their bond to us.
My Mum noticed this change too. The dogs know her well but she's never trained or worked with them. Sam has a long history of being
obnoxious a bit pushy with her. Today she told him it was too hot, he was too wet and he should just "go lie down". He looked at her and instead went and picked up a plastic tub to play with. But he left her alone. She saw Dora headed down the driveway and reported her location to me. I suggested she ask Dora to come to the barn if she was worried. She called "Dora" once, happily, and Dora instantly decided being with us was going to be more fun than whatever else she had been thinking of doing. A one call recall, that would make Susan Garrett proud, to someone with no history of rewarding her .
I feel sometimes like we have gone back in time. To a fire pit where the canines chose to pair up with people for mutual pleasure and benefit. It's a pretty neat realization.