Life exists through relationships. The search for a well-functioning relationship is a life-or-death proposition for a dog. Without it, they feel doomed. As such, they are dependent on becoming part of a social system -- a family. The family works cooperatively for mutually beneficial goals, and the ultimate goal of the family is survival. This relationship is the wellspring of life.
Dogs were never meant to be completely free. Popular images of dogs frolicking through open fields only offer a partial story. Yes, dogs require an amount of freedom for various reasons, but that should not be construed to mean total freedom. To completely liberate a dog from family rules and guidelines is to liberate them from relationships, and thereby liberate them from life itself. I do not know many dogs who purposely seek to be liberated from life. Instead, every fiber of their existence strives to live; to seek and maintain relationships. If this need for structure is not met, they begin to misbehave. Misbehavior is an expression of feelings of insecurity; an expression of fear of death.
Dogs that run away from home, for instance, do not seek to be reunited with their inner, wild wolf. Instead, they seek to find boundaries, structure, and belonging within a family. They are tired of being alone, so they leave.
Dogs that spend too much time outdoors alone often dig under fences, or jump over them to escape -- not to find freedom, but to find connection. Dogs will risk their lives to find better relationships. Some navigate hundreds of miles, or risk busy highway crossings multiple times to find a suitable homes that will provide them structure. It is not an accident when they leave. It is a choice they make. They plan it, they decide it, they act up on it -- and often at their own peril. Simply building a higher fence will not address this problem.
Moreover, there is no such thing as pure freedom in a wolf pack. Theirs are highly structured societies with rules and job functions carefully assigned to each individual member. Also, parenting wolves also do not allow pure freedom for their offspring. Instead, they work actively and with fanatical consistency to maintain boundaries for their young. This is true for all social mammals on the planet Earth. So to completely free a dog, or wolf, violates the rules of nature. Pure freedom for a dog is a death sentence.
Relationships and boundaries are a function of life. All living things, even the organs in our own bodies, thrive on relationships. When we die, it is the relationships between the parts of the body that have ceased to exist, not just the physical part itself. So to set limitations and boundaries for your dog is healthy, natural, and life-affirming. Dogs require physical, intellectual, and emotional boundaries. These are semi-rigid structures that uphold relationships and affirm security -- the scaffolds of life.
Aaron McDonald is a canine cognitive behaviorist, theorist, and author. He can be reached at www.ThreeDimensionalDog.com.
If you are interested in learning about your dog's mind, grab a copy of Three Dimensional Dog, A Unified Theory of Canine Behavior.