Control vs Suppression – the right balance for the perfect dog

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I have always maintained that the purpose of rules is to give freedom. My dogs deserve the right to be dogs. Just because I can control them doesn’t mean that I should. Now don’t get me wrong – I have control, but just because I have it doesn’t mean my dog’s don’t deserve freedom. In fact, it is just the opposite. Because I can control them, they get lots and lots of freedom and truly get to be ‘dogs’. On a walk each dog probably gets about three to five commands, all that request compliance for about thirty seconds. If I need to reign them in for their or someone else’s safety, then I can do that. However, their ultimate reward is again freedom. My moments of control are short, with freedom always as the reward.

Too many people struggle with too much control. Once they teach it to their dogs, and realize they can control their dogs, they struggle giving freedom back. Just because we have the ability to control another being does not mean that we should. I could keep my dogs beside me off-leash for half an hour on a walk, but I would never ask them to do that. It is an unfair request, with no benefit.

Their walk is for them to clear their minds, to run, and to be free. Me controlling them and imposing my will on them for half an hour is arrogant at best, and not beneficial to any party involved. This I call suppression – which is zero freedom for a long duration of time, and no opportunity for the dog to make any decisions because they are always under our command.
Sometimes in early training, suppression has its time and place. If your dog only ever makes bad choices, taking all of his decision making ability away is the smart thing to do. But this MUST be a temporary solution. Gradually you teach him what you want and expect, and give him his freedom back. Walking on a leash is also different. Your dog can tootle along on leash and clear his mind, and totally be a dog. Suppression is when you are asking him to control himself for long amounts of time.

Some owners suppress because they are ultimately scared of their dog’s potential. Their dog has some newly learned control, and rather than mixing that with an opportunity for the dog to make the right choice, the handler eliminates all thought by never allowing the dog to actually think and be free. While I understand temperament problems and appreciate safety concerns, we somehow need to find a middle ground as we move forward with our training, and management. Perhaps freedom on a flexi-leash, so that the dog cannot endanger himself or anyone else, however, the perception of freedom and the opportunity to listen is still given to the dog.

If the thought of a flexi just made you gasp, then aim towards your dog walking nicely on a four foot leash on his walks, rather than the lesser control that he currently has. With many dogs, the more we attempt to reign them in, the more they want to bust out. By giving carefully deserved freedom to your dog, and removing it for inappropriate behaviour, you might be surprised at just how quickly your dog gets the new rules and manages his own behaviour a whole lot better.

Many of the very challenging characters that I get to work with live in non-fenced yards, and for a variety of reasons, are never allowed off leash. I have found that this constant human-supervision in their lives really stifles their development and they become quite fearful, or sometimes darned right neurotic. Dog’s need a chance to be free; to clear their heads and just be dogs. Of course this can only be done when safety allows, however, it is a necessary piece for a mentally healthy dog.

Dog’s that are never given freedom and are suppressed tend to bust out of their mold. It might not be today, and it might not be tomorrow, but at some stage the dog will become unglued and the minor problem that you have will suddenly become a major one. If you struggle with dog aggression, one day it will increase ten-fold if you only ever suppress your dog. If you struggle with fear of children, suddenly your suppressed dog that always avoids them will have bitten one. I’m not promoting freedom for your dog to go and greet strange dogs if you have had dog aggression. What I am stating is that if you continually control him for excessive amounts of time (half an hour) then over time, he will bust out and become worse.

Remember in your training that your dog needs to look ‘normal’ at the end. Normal means being given the freedom to make choices of their own, but in a safe enough format so that you can still maintain success. Make sure that you always remember that the purpose of rules is to give freedom. And don’t try and bottle that incessant energy of your youngster in with rules, or all that energy will come busting out one day when you least expect it.

Teach your dog. Give him the freedom that he deserves. And make sure you always have the control that you need to have (come no matter what, and down no matter what) so that everyone can enjoy your walk!

Monique Anstee

1633 Kangaroo Road, Victoria, BC V9C 4C6

The Naughty Dogge is a dog training school located in Victoria, BC. We truly are dog-trainers and competitors, bringing out the best in any dog, regardless of breed and issues. That means we teach competitive agility, Competition Obedience, Retrain Dog Aggressive Dogs, Teach Puppy Classes and Pet Dogs to be perfect citizens, and work with behaviour problems. There is probably not an issue that we haven´t retrained! This newsletter is copyright to Monique Anstee, September 2010 and may be reprinted with full credit given to Monique Anstee at You can contact us at 250.590.2664



Monique, I read and reread every word you write. Not only does what you say and your philosophy click for me, I am learning so much. I must say that I came to the same conclusion (control vs suppression) with my second dog who because she had some husky in her I never let her off leash. I had to at one point give her the freedom to make decisions and to be a dog. I wish I lived close by so I could take advantage of your training facilities.

Thanks Monique.! So glad you had the moxy to express this so well.

I think country people and farmers and herders have known this to be true for YEARS, maybe centuries or longer.

It's only since the urbanization of dog ownership that total control has become the mantra.

My dogs compete at the highest levels of Agiltiy but are off leash ever chance they get, run loose on our property, jump on my bed and jump on me (oh my.)

I control only what i need to be safe, live peacefully and perform to their highest potential, and nothing more.

They love and thrive on freedom even more than I do.

Bonnie Norris

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