I am incredibly blessed. After a busy holiday season at Tug Dogs, I scheduled a few weeks off to participate in 2 very different trips. The first was a girl’s trip to New Mexico where I got to spend time with an amazing group of friends as we ventured out onto Pueblos, visited local Santa Fe markets, and made our way through the very unique “museum” Meow Wolf. Next, I was off to Maui to meet up with family and spend some quality time soaking up the sunshine and spotting turtles along the beach.
Both of these trips were incredible and I felt very fortunate to have such wonderful people to adventure with. But nothing (and I mean nothing!) beats returning home. As I got back into my normal routine at home, I really began wondering…just what is it about home that makes it so special to me?
I started off by considering the heavy hitters of what makes home, well home: my dogs and my bed. And sure, those two elements (mostly my pups) are BIG part of why returning home is always so amazing. But there is something else about home that I couldn’t quite put my finger on that makes it what it is. So I pondered and reflected until during an afternoon walk along the countryside in my neighborhood it suddenly struck me…part of what makes home life so enriching for me is, at home, I have the ultimate control over everything I do.
Traveling comes with compromise. I cannot control how vegetarian-friendly the local cuisine is, whether my plane door loses a screw (leaving me stranded in the airport for 6 hours,) if the tram ride we drove 90 minutes to get to will be unexpectedly closed, if the museum is at max capacity, or which random person I am squeezed in next to during a 5 hour flight.
While traveling with friends and family, I must be willing to give up the control I enjoy at home over things like where I will sleep, what time I will go to bed/wake up, where we will eat our meals, what activities we will partake in, how we will drive, and a whole bunch of the other small day to day decisions that come with traveling away from home. And this perpetual state of having things decided for them is often how dogs live a large portion of their lives.
That is not to say that we shouldn’t be making decisions for our dogs, we absolutely should. Dogs need coaching and guidance to be able to live mentally and physically safe in our very human world and to learn about when and how it’s appropriate to engage in normal dog behaviors like barking and using their mouths. But I do believe that training should not be solely focused on giving commands that control how a dog moves their own body but instead should be about working on helping dogs arrive at appropriate decisions and giving them access to freeing experiences that come when you have built a positive training relationship.
My personal dogs have a wealth of experience in polite leash walking, following commands and focusing on me yet because of the depth of our work together, I rarely use those skills. Instead, I find our most enjoyable time spent walking off leash in the countryside where my dogs are free to roam, sniff, and munch grass because I trust in their ability to make good decisions and to follow coaching when it’s needed.
Ultimately the compromises and experiences I receive when traveling are a good way for me to grow perspective and build character that doesn’t come from staying in the comfort of home. But being a dog trainer means that a big part of my point of view is always comparing things to how dogs experience the world. And where I practiced compromise during my adventures, I ultimately got to return to a home where I have the ultimate control over how I choose to live my life.
The longer that I train dogs and the more my personal perspective grows about what it is we are trying to accomplish when working with a dog, the more I confirm that giving freedom is my ultimate goal. Freedom is undoubtedly one of the most enriching elements of life and to be able to help a dog learn how to let go of the thoughts, feelings, and assumptions that lead them to make poor behavior choices is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. I know that once a dog starts understanding how to make decisions that align with their humans’ needs, they are on the road to enjoying more freedom and a better dog life.
-Erin Kramer, Tug Dogs Owner