There’s a man I walk around the park with sometimes early in the mornings when I have one of my dogs with me. I’ve known this man since before he ever got a dog, and was familiar with his philosophy about dog behavior. It goes something like this: Every dog is fixable if the person knows what they’re doing. I’ve tried to tell him in the past that not every dog is stable temperamentally, but not only would he not listen, he’d tell me I was being way too careful and overprotective with Sierra around unfamiliar dogs. I should let her go right up and meet all of them. Umm….okay. Luckily for him, he ended up getting the easiest, sweetest Lab in the world. The dog is friendly with other dogs but doesn’t get in their faces. In other words, an easy dog. Good for him.
We were having a perfectly nice walk this morning, discussing the Olympics, the rocket launch, and other innocuous subjects. I had Sierra off leash, as we walk very early and when there are no dogs in the area, she’s free to romp around. I saw another dog coming, and put her on leash. After we passed the woman and her dog, this conversation happened:
Him: You know, Sierra’s never going to be good with other dogs if you don’t let her go up to them.
Me: She is good with other dogs. I just don’t let her run up to dogs she doesn’t know.
Him: Why? When I first got my dog, he wasn’t always good with other dogs. You know that lady with the pit bull? I saw her one morning and her dog was on leash. I asked if the dogs could play. She said she didn’t know if her dog was friendly, but okay, she’d let him off the leash. (Insert cringe here.) The dogs sniffed each other and then they were fine.
Me: Lucky for everyone!
Him: And you know that one guy with the big dog that you always say is really aggressive? I saw him one morning and both of our dogs were on leash. He moved off the path to let me pass and I asked if I could bring my dog up to his. He said no and I asked why, and he said he knows what he’s got, his dog is not friendly with other dogs.
Me: Well good for him! He was being a responsible owner.
Him: No! It’s his fault the dog is that way. It’s always the person’s fault. The only way that dog is going to get better is if he takes him up to meet other dogs. You could give me Sierra for a day and I could take her up to any dog.
Me: (trying to stay calm and civil) Okay, let’s not get personal. So you’re saying I could give you any dog, any dog at all, and you could get him to be okay with other dogs.
Him: Yes! Yes! From everything I’ve read and watched, it’s always the person’s fault.
I’ll spare you the rest of the conversation. Suffice it to say that this man has a very hot temper and although I remained polite and calm, he worked himself into a frenzy that ended with saying that I clearly thought he was an irresponsible owner. Well, if you really want to know, yes. I do. It’s ignorant to believe that you or anyone else can “fix” every dog’s aggression issues. Yes, you can absolutely work with dog-aggressive dogs and get them to tolerate or even be friendly with other dogs. In my professional career, I’ve helped hundreds of owners to rehab dogs like that. But to blame it all on the owner? Where does that come from, do you think? Could it be television shows that purport, in 30 minutes or less, to completely change the temperament of a very dog-aggressive dog, working with the dog away from the owner, and then blame every bad behavior on the owner? Those shows might make for good drama, but they’re not doing anyone any favors.
I really try to avoid arguments about dog behavior. There’s just no point. I will absolutely have a civil conversation with anyone about it, regardless if their opinions are different than mine. But trying to gently educate someone, given the amount of misinformation out there, can be frustrating. For the record, there are dangerous dogs out there. Sure, owners contribute to some problem behaviors in dogs, absolutely. But are they completely responsible for a dog’s issues? No. Telling an owner whose dog had to be euthanized because he was flat-out dangerously aggressive that it was her fault would be cruel and untruthful. Let’s stop blaming owners for everything, open our minds, and work together to rehabilitate the dogs.
Speaking of aggressive dogs, my latest book “Keeping the Peace: A Guide to Solving Dog-Dog Aggression in the Home” is now available for pre-order! Click here to read the full Introduction, view the Table of Contents, and pre-order. Books should be out in April!