As a dog trainer and dog mom, I’m a huge believer in allowing your dog to have “sacred space” or a “safe place” where she can go when she wants to be alone and/or doesn’t want to be involved in what is going on with the family at the moment.
Perhaps a guest is making too much eye contact. Or the kids are petting her too roughly. It doesn’t have to be a fancy place, here’s a picture of my dog, Jake’s, “safe place” (that’s what we call it) where, when he goes there, he gets to be left alone. Note that it doesn’t have to be fancy, just sacrosanct.
For example, if I decide it’s time to clean his ears (which he doesn’t like but is very prone to ear infections so it happens fairly regularly), but Jake just isn’t in the mood for it, he can go to his safe place and I’ll put off cleaning his ears until later when he feels more up to it. This gives him a choice about things that impact him directly and allows him to be in a better emotional state later when he does get his ears cleaned.
Jake’s beloved human cousin, Conal, likes to tease Jake a bit (kindly and usually Jake loves it). If Jake isn’t in the mood or has had enough for one day, he can simply go to his safe place and the good natured teasing stops.
Dogs can also use their “sacred space” for undisturbed napping or chewing, to snuggle down into when there is a storm and to take a break when feeling a bit overstimulated.
Have this place, a sort of off limits I’m going to my room sort of feeling that most of us humans have without really thinking about it, gives your dog choice. Choice is so important in the life of a creature who, because of the nature of our society, really doesn’t have much choice in anything else. As the moms and dads of our dogs, we decide everything for them and a lot of those decisions are based on what works best for us. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but our dogs are intelligent sensitive beings who are entitled to some level of autonomy over themselves.
Having a “safe place” like Jake’s allows them to have that.
In order for a safe place to work it needs to meet these requirements:
- It’s a place your dog wants to hang out and feels safe in. So a quiet out of the way spot versus a middle of a high traffic area patch of carpet. Jake’s space is a comfy bed under the table in his play area. He has another bed in an open space in his play area for when he wants to be more social.
- ALL HUMANS MUST RESPECT THE SACRED SPACE. The whole thing doesn’t work if the people in your dog’s life don’t treat the sacred space as, well…sacred. For example, if I were to ignore that Jake has gone to his safe place and reach in to clean his ears (or worse yet, pull him out!) regardless of his wishes, his space isn’t “safe” in the sense that he hasn’t been allowed to make a choice versus me doing something to harm him.
If you meet these two criteria when setting up your dog’s safe place, she will soon learn that this is the place she can go to signal that she needs a break from the hubbub of life. It doesn’t mean your dog loves you any less or is trying to defy you in any way. It simply means that your dog needs a minute to herself to gather her thoughts.
Giving your dog this choice and ability to have autonomy over some aspects of her life is an act of love and compassion that will win you dog parent of the year in my book!
Share any questions you have about setting up a sacred space for your dog in the comments. I’d love to see pictures of your dog’s safe place as well so share those, too!