It’s probably just me, maybe it’s cabin fever or hormonal, but I’ve been particularly bothered lately by all the bad press that dog owners have been getting in blogs and tweets that I follow. Sure there are bad owners out there, negligent and even criminal ones, who should never be allowed control of a dog again. There are owners who are naive, or who display an ignorance of what their dog needs, or who don’t seem to care, the relationship being more about what ‘they’ need. But all of those aside, I prefer to believe that there are more owners who truly care about their dogs and are struggling to work with challenging dogs that even professional trainers would not choose to live with.
Although I have not seen statistics on this, chances are good that the majority of the problems people have with their dogs could be remedied by changes in the dog’s routine, training and an adjustment in the expectations that owners have for their dogs. Young puppies should not be expected to behave like adult dogs, and untrained dogs should not be expected to perform like Lassie. Dogs should not be expected to be content spending the entirety of their day waiting for their owners to return to free them from inactivity and boredom. And although I have not seen statistics on this either, I get the impression that an unfortunate high number of the dogs that people are either purchasing or adopting are bringing to the table severe behavioral issues that someone who is looking for a pet, should not be expected to know how to manage or deal with, nor do I necessarily believe they should be required to in order to be considered a good pet owner.
Dogs are dogs because they have lived with people for thousands of years and developed an extensive, and remarkable set of skills for figuring out what we want from them. I applaud the advances we humans are making in regard to understanding our dogs, and as much as I’d like to see everyone educated in the field of dog behavior, I don’t think one should need to be a dog trainer, nor require the services of a trainer, to live happily with a dog. And for the dog to live happily as well.
Those of us who are living with fearful dogs are often accused of being the cause or source of our dog’s problems. Were we only calm enough, assertive enough, a strong enough leader, if we didn’t try to protect our dogs from the things which can in some instances literally scare the poop out of them, they’d be happy, ‘balanced’ dogs. This is both unfair and wrong. Yes our behavior can affect our dogs, and by changing our behavior we may find that our fearful dogs can learn to feel safer in certain situations, but this will not ‘cure’ them.
Every time I hear trainers complain about dog owners I cringe. I have been berated on a public forum by a trainer who, although unwilling to identify themselves, was more than willing to accuse me of having failed my fearful dog. Most of the dog owners I meet truly care about their dogs. They want what is best for their dogs and struggle to incorporate dogs with challenging behaviors into their lives. We don’t have to look far to find pet owners who are not doing right by their dogs, but we also don’t have to go far to find others who have made huge changes in their lives to accommodate their fearful dogs and are pouring their hearts into their animals.