The Question of Freedom

September 15, 2023

When I decided to move to monthly as opposed to quarterly newsletters, I was a little apprehensive about producing good content more frequently. But what made this much easier is the enjoyment I feel being in touch with all of you more regularly. .

As we return to our post-summer lives, I look at this coming fall with deep emotion, knowing that my book, The Way of Life Method, is only a few weeks away from being born on October 19, 2023.

Many times, I questioned the value of writing this book given the sacrifice it exacted, particularly in terms of precious time away from my dogs. What kept me going these last three years was remembering the difference I was able to make where no one else could. I held in my mind the many more who are still unaware of the power of way of life – people desperately trying to change their dogs, thinking the dogs are the problem.

If you haven’t had the chance to join my Book Pack yet, I hope you’ll do so soon! I need all the help I can get to promote this book so that it can reach those who need it most. 

Regarding events coming up – the last seminar of the season on September 17 is almost full so please sign up ASAP if interested! 

As well, please mark your calendars for virtual events in October! 

  • October 19 Launch Day: Live AMA on Zoom for Book Pack members only
  • October 19 Launch Day: Facebook Live celebration 
  • October 29: Half-day Webinar – Introduction to the Way of Life Method 

And regarding the theme of this newsletter, the freedom that we so want for us and for our dogs, and which seems to elude many dog owners…

  • In Reflecting on Our Bond, I consider the idea that it takes work to raise a dog that can be free – work that not all are ready to put forth. 
  • In Pro Tip, I explain why I simply crate rather than crate-train dogs, as many seem to do and recommend.
  • In Ask Way of Life, I apply the notion of a dog’s freedom to an owner concerned about her dog’s territoriality and aggression to other dogs.  


I wish you all a smooth back-to-school and a great Labor Day weekend!

~ Souha & Dogs

PS: Seriously, I’m very much looking forward to seeing you at one of the in-person and virtual events coming up – do check the Events section below for details and to sign up!

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In the last issue, I discussed the stage-by-stage thinking so central to the Way of Life method. Like anything else in a dog’s way of life, the granting of freedom is done in stages. Yet too often, in the name of compassion towards our dog and ethical and humane treatment, we give our dogs freedom prematurely, out of sync with the stage of our rearing and relationship, only to end up with behavior issues.

Those who coach with me or know me personally see that I rarely have leashes on my dogs. Each one of my four dogs is what I consider an integrated dog – a mature dog capable of agency and choice, a dog deserving of freedom. This even includes my dog Bob, my senior Formosan who continues to challenge me around other dogs sometimes. While he remains suspicious of dogs at a distance and certainly doesn’t appreciate human or canine intrusions into his space, I can still cut him loose because he ignores things, pays attention to me, and has enough mind and maturity to avoid confrontations.

Many people see these dogs, are deeply impressed with them and their demeanors, and mostly how easy they make it look to have a loose dog around. But in many cases, people are not willing to do the work, the logistical and psychological effort, of preparing dogs for that freedom.

What does that preparation involve? It involves starting from a place of minimal freedom. It means starting from a place of structure and control, of law and order. At Stage 1/Foundations, we relate to our dog as a “child” or “juvenile” and normally, we don’t give children much freedom at all and that’s regardless of species.

It can feel strange to have a leash on the dog at all times, even indoors. It can be difficult restricting dogs to crates and exercise pens, to separate them behind baby gates or in outdoor kennels for some of the time. And yet, this is what allows dogs a gradual integration into the home and incremental practice of freedom. When we don’t take the time to create that foundation, at the very least, we’re looking at a lifetime of being unsure of whether we can trust our dog.

As we mature that juvenile and move into Stage 2, a stage of adolescence, education, and exposure, we begin our off-leash work. But now, we’re armed with relationship foundations whereby the dog WANTS to be with us because we’ve made things so safe and successful at Stage 1. To borrow on language from attachment theory, we would have become a safe base for our dogs to go out into the world and a safe refuge to return to. This is what it means for a dog to be truly free.

Q: I have a mini Australian shepherd who is going to be 5 in June. She is a very smart dog with a very determined personality. I was pretty good at working the basics with her but didn’t keep up, being busy with the kids and my work. She gets plenty of walks but no training. With age, she has become “possessive” of the village territory in Switzerland where we live and shows no signs of aggression anywhere else. She is also aggressive toward the female dogs in the village, with some aggressive to her and others submissive. We have managed up till now but a neighbor complained recently, saying my dog would kill their dog. This situation has made me anxious and things are getting worse with my dog feeling my anxiety. I would love your opinion.

A: When we spoke, I was able to have a better idea of the village situation that you have going on in Switzerland. To be honest, it is a dream situation to be able to have our dogs not only off-leash but also welcome in many stores and establishments. In my response, I will touch on three elements: the prevalent manner of socialization, how premature freedom can translate into territoriality, and your breed of dog.

First, the dogs in your village can meet and greet each other freely. This is theoretically not an issue if all the dogs are raised right, don’t have an axe to grind, and therefore don’t size up and pick fights with the dogs they come across. When we have a dog whose social behavior doesn’t appear to be quite appropriate, then it’s important that these opportunities to socialize be rolled back to more basic levels while we focus on healing our one-on-one rapport with our dog.
Regarding your dog becoming “possessive” of the village where you live, again, it can be wonderful to have our dogs walking with us freely in our community. However, it’s also important to appreciate what that can signify for a dog. When we don’t have foundations with a dog and we give that dog that extreme level of freedom, how could that freedom to go around the village, without leashes or boundaries with other people and animals, not translate into territoriality? If we have foundations at home, we don’t have dogs claiming things in the world. They do not seek control because they can rely on someone being in control, at home and everywhere else.
Lastly, know that I get called a lot about Aussies and that I have found the issues with Mini Aussies to be particularly pronounced. It feels to me that what they lack in size, they seem to make up for in intensity. These dogs need that proverbial job for sure but here’s the thing – the dog does not need to be in an agility class or practice herding to be fulfilled. Sure, there are dogs that really need that outlet. But you can challenge your dog deeply by teaching her the job of being a great companion for your kids. Instead of thinking of kids and dog as separate and conflicting, think of the ways that you can involve the kids in teaching your dog to be their “service” or “therapy” dog – walking nicely on a leash for them, learning tricks, and resting quietly as they read their homework to her. The children and the dog can become an integrated endeavor as opposed to contradictory responsibilities.
In closing, it is wonderful for dogs to experience the kind of freedom you have access to. But it’s even more important for them to be sound and strong, so that they can practice that freedom appropriately, safely, and for the good of all.

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Here are a few highlights from last month. Click for the full article on Facebook:

New Puppy Trouble

A Keen Owner’s To-Do List

Troublesome Vizsla

Thank you for your excellent questions – please keep them coming!

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Everyone, meet Toronto-based and award-winning photographer Jack Jackson, who is “obsessed with all things dog.” In his photography, he emphasizes the beauty of captivating outdoor settings with a knack for capturing dogs in action and in moments of enchanting emotional expression.
Jack is also extremely active on the social front, being the co-founder of Don’t You Want Me, a global social impact project that celebrates the bond between queer and transgender people and their rescue dogs through photography and storytelling.
Jack also is set to start filming a documentary, Rescued by Love, following him as he travels through Nova Scotia to chronicle the deep and life-saving relationships between LGBTQ people and their rescue dogs. Filming is scheduled to start in June 2024. If you happen to be based in Nova Scotia, are LGBTQ, have a rescue dog that has transformed your life, and would like to be featured in the documentary, please contact Jack via his website.
We did our own session last month, which I asked Jack if we could have all three girls in the shoot. It was challenging but also extremely rewarding to see how well the dogs took to the experience. Aren’t the pics fabulous? Please message me back and let me know your favorites!

With beautiful fall weather around the corner, might you be interested in an outdoor photoshoot with your canines? Luckily for us, Jack is currently running an unmissable promotion. If selected, your dog photography experience would include:

  • A 2 hour outdoor photography session
  • A guided online zoom appointment to review your images
  • A $180 print credit TOTAL VALUE: $355

Jack is only selecting 5 dogs to win – enter today to make sure you don’t miss out!
To enter, just fill out the form at the link below! contest-alldogs

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