Is it Always the Owner’s Fault?

There’s dog on leash pixabay smalla 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.
You can find my books, seminar DVDs and blog at Don’t want to miss a blog post? Subscribe above and be notified by email of new posts. You can also sign up for my Training Tips Tuesdays by going to and clicking on Join Nicole’s Inside Scoop List. You’ll get free tips on training and behavior weekly! You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter.



13 Responses to Is it Always the Owner’s Fault?

  1. Marni Fowler says:

    OMG!! I am in awe. How do you stay so calm? Well, you know me. Its probably a good thing this guy doesn’t live near me. 😦 And probably good for his dog too because, well, you know Joli. SMH

  2. Jim Crosby says:

    Great post Nicole. Sadly, not everything can be fixed. Some are too damaged (like some abuse/fighting victims) and some just don’t have the ability. A responsible owner doesn’t set their dog up to fail.
    It’s amazing how much nonsense our dogs take from us.
    Let this guy meet one or more of the dogs I have evaluated that killed people. He’d be lunch.

  3. Some people think they know it all from watching TV and reading books.
    Maggie is usually good with other dogs, but she has a blind side and even with dogs we know, we have to be alert (two little incidents last week). We explain to the owners our actions, even when they say their dog is OK. It’s ours we’re cautious about, knowing how she is and taking into account her age as she has arthritis so is perhaps in pain when one over excited pooch comes along and just sniffs her wrong. Better safe than sorry, and I’d rather like to keep our friends.

  4. fearfuldogs says:

    Great cover image!

  5. Jenny H says:

    It’s enough to make you weep.
    Apparently your ‘friend’ has never witnessed a serious dog fight!

  6. pupluv88 says:

    Definition of a “Baiter” is someone who starts an argument, turns it all around and blames you, you become the offender. Avoid these people at all costs. Advice I received from a police officer. There are people who are stimulated by starting arguments.
    Both of my dogs were attacked from being introduced to other dogs on two different occasions. No more meeting dogs. They are 100% happy not being “socialized” w/other dogs. Just happy keeping the peace.
    All the poop in my yard from other dogs, tells me there are plenty of lousy dog owners out there.

  7. juliabarrett says:

    I so look forward to your articles! It’s as if you are speaking directly to me and my GSD, Jake. Jake gets along with 90% of the dogs he meets, on or off leash. But then there’s that other 10% that either he dislikes or who dislike him and become very aggressive. I pay attention all the time. I am polite- try to head off any issues. And yes, I get the same comments you get.
    Sometimes you just want to, and have to say no. Makes me gnash my teeth!
    Jake is off-leash under certain circumstances and around certain dogs. He’s on-leash when I say he’s on-leash. Fortunately when he’s on-leash and other dogs are off-leash, he’s not reactive. Sometimes they are, but he listens to me. Took a couple years of constant work with my high energy GSD, but it has paid off. I know my dog. I won’t deliberately put him or any other dog in a situation where one or both could get hurt.

    • wildewmn says:

      Beautifully said, Juliabarrett. Only YOU know what’s best for your dog. Like your Jake, Sierra gets along with most dogs, but there is a small percentage that she does not. Why do people expect dogs to like every dog they meet? And some dogs ARE dangerous. It can be difficult to do what you need to do under social pressure, but the bottom line is that no one’s opinion matters because you know your dog best and do what you have to do to keep him safe. Thanks for the comment.

  8. philospher77 says:

    I sort of get where he is coming from. Owners can definitely make a dog better or worse. And sometimes, you make a dog worse by allowing it to go up to (or forcing it to be approached by) every dog in sight! However, have you ever asked him if HE likes everyone he meets, and if the answer is no, why he expects a dog to instantly like every dog it meets? That might be the more interesting and fruitful conversation. Does he assume that animals were somehow living in a natural state of harmony until humans arrived and messed everything up?

    Reading this also made me wonder: is there a dog equivalent of a serial killer? Or is that something that we can’t really determine, since we can’t interview them and find out how much empathy they feel for other dogs and what their motives are? Or, to look at it another way, are there dogs who simply LIKE killing other animals, or is it always more-easily attributable to fear, hunger, resource competition, etc?

    PS. Sorry if this is a duplicate post. Had troubles with the site!

    • wildewmn says:

      Unfortunately, logic does not work with this man. Trust me, I’ve tried. But to your question, although I don’t know that it would really be an accurate equivalency with a serial killer, there are dogs who are absolutely flat-out aggressive with other dogs, dangerously so, and possibly they’re just wired that way. It’s lifetime management with those dogs, of course, and hopefully no one is ignorant enough to bring a dog up to that dog to meet or advises the owner that the way to fix the dog is to just let him meet other dogs.

      • Jenny H says:

        Or (unfortunately?) there are some dogs who are super friendly. I now have one other these. she just “lurves” other dogs, and has been known (without my permission) to rush up to a dog whose owner says is unsafe/unreliable/whatever and yes these dogs have never hurt her.
        So IF your only experience of dogs is with one like this, then I can see you might not understand other people’s worries.
        I am however perpetually apologetic when Mad Millie does this, and assure people that since MY dog was in the wrong, I would not have made any complaint against their dog if it had hurt her. And I am not the only person who is perpetually apologising for my mad dog! (All my other dogs have been either ‘stand-offish’ or reactive to other dogs in their faces. And I am likely to tell people off who let their dogs approach them. )
        Millie is a funny thing — (Beagle/Spaniel). She doesn’t like people all that much and doesn’t like human strangers to approach her — but she just cringes back of hides under the table

  9. Peter says:

    I would love to have seen his attempt at Apollo, our 95lb Doberman. He would be fine off leash with other dogs after he beat them up enough, for them to understand who was BOSS!

%d bloggers like this: