Good intentions are not enough. It is challenging as a trainer who has spent the past 16 years thinking about how to work with dogs struggling with fear based behavior challenges, to have to confront and work with the self-proclaimed sensitive and empathetic folks out there who are responsible for making decisions about a dog’s welfare.
It is very easy to become misguided that our own, often very strong, feelings for a dog, reflect the value of our treatment of them. Step onto the property of an animal hoarder and witness how these feelings impact the animal’s life. It doesn’t have to be this extreme to be an important consideration when making decisions about what to do next with an animal.
Some of us are forced to use the judgement of Solomon routinely to make decisions with animals. It would be great if every decision we had to make for an animal also made us feel better. We will stretch the options, prime for believing that those that make us feel better, are also better for the animal. Often they are not. Some of us have to witness displays of selfishness and arrogance routinely, when our professional recommendations are ignored or discounted. There is no doubt an endless supply of bad arguments and faulty logic that trainers have heard in the course of trying to do their jobs to make life better for dogs and the families and communities they live in.
I remind myself that I don’t have a crystal ball to know for certain how my own preference for what was done with a dog will play out. I hope the dog and caregiver can rise to the occasion and pull the aces out of their sleeve that I tried to slip in when I shared my thoughts on their situation or provided training help. I try to carry on despite the unintended slights from people who profess to love an animal yet ignore my suggestions regarding what would probably be best for them (based on years of study about dog development and behavior, and more years of experience observing and assessing the conditions that led dogs into the care of trainers and veterinarians) opting instead for doing what, if they were honest with themselves, was based as much, or more, on how it makes them feel. I try to stay in the game despite selfishly wanting to be the person who breaks the chain of bad handling and decision-making that some dogs have suffered through, desperately wanting to step up to the plate and say, “Enough already, let’s do what’s best for this animal,” but be ignored- again. Maybe it will be ok. Maybe I was able to do enough to make a significant difference. And if not, I doubt we’ll ever run out of next time’s.