At a recent training appointment, my client and I were discussing her dog’s issues when I noticed a dish of hard candies sitting on the coffee table. “Is that dish always left there?” I asked. She said yes. I asked whether she was concerned that her dog might eat the candy. She looked surprised. “It hasn’t happened yet,” she responded. Then I noticed a dish of grapes sitting on another low table across the room. “What about the grapes? Are they always there?” When she once again answered in the affirmative, I mentioned that grapes can actually cause kidney failure and death in dogs. Also, that it might not go well for the dog if he got hold of the hard candy. Why take chances?
A man I see regularly at the local dog park seems to have a similar laissez faire attitude. His large, unneutered, six-year-old male dog had been pestering an adolescent male at the park week after week. The younger dog would run and sit between his owner’s legs facing out, and when the older dog came by to harass him, the youngster would show teeth, lunge, and snap. I mentioned to the owner of the older dog that sooner or later the dogs were going to get into a fight. His response? A shrug and an unconcerned, “It hasn’t happened yet.”
I’m sorry, but I will never understand this philosophy. When the woman with the too-tempting dish of grapes said, “It hasn’t happened yet,” my response was to bring up her very young granddaughter, who visited often. “So,” I said, “if you keep a loaded gun on the coffee table whenever she comes by, and a few visits pass and she hasn’t shown any interest in it, should you leave it there? I mean, nothing has happened yet, right?” She quickly got the point, and the grapes and candies vanished. To her credit, when I’d initially mentioned the dangers to her dog, she’d responded, “That was pretty stupid of me, huh?” (Actually, this is a kind, intelligent woman. The dog was adopted not that long ago, and for whatever reason, she hadn’t reevaluated the environment.)
Look, none of us are perfect. We’re all guilty of being lax in our management or good habits now and then. But when it comes to our dogs’ well-being, we have to consider the worst case scenario. No doubt some of my training clients think I’m the Harbinger of Doom. Especially when it comes to owners of young puppies, I seem to be constantly warning them about this or that terrible fate that could befall their young furball. And that’s okay. I’d rather be overly cautious than have a tragedy on our hands. Risk-taking is fine if we’re the ones who will be affected by it. If we want to go bungee jumping, or ski an insanely high slope, that’s our choice. If things go wrong, we’re the ones who will suffer. But it’s simply not okay for our dogs to pay the price because we’re willing to play fast and loose with their safety. So, will I ever stop warning people about the harm that can come to their dogs if serious risks are taken? I think you know the answer. “It hasn’t happened yet.”
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