It’s not the dog, it’s the people!

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How often do we hear those words?

“It’s not the dog, it’s the people!”

I have to admit I really take offence when I hear it and I’m not shy about speaking up when I’m faced with someone who says it so off-the-cuff.

When we bring a dog into our lives, we do so with the best of intentions. We do so because we love dogs, we want companionship, we crave unconditional love, we want to excel at a sport or activity, because we long to care for something or someone. We visualize our lives with said dog – family barbeques with our lovely dog running with the kids, playing fetch or running through a sprinkler, hiking with our dog, dog parks, play groups, daycare, training classes, sports like agility or flyball, long road trips with Fido’s head out the window, tongue flapping in the wind, lazy days at the beach, tossing a stick into the water only to have it retrieved and barked at for more.

Most people don’t adopt a dog with the hopes of having a dog who barks and lunges at other dogs, people, children, cars, small animals, cyclists and joggers. We don’t dream of adopting a dog whose separation anxiety is so bad that they claw through our walls, barking all day, causing us to get eviction notices. It’s not often we check off the “most desired behaviour challenges” on that checklist at the breeder or shelter. Most of these behaviours are founded in fear and anxiety and not always because the dog had a traumatic event relating to one of these triggers.

We often hear clients tell us that their new rescue is afraid of men with beards and it’s likely that the dog was abused by a man with a beard. We trainers beg to differ. I would say that more often than not, it’s because the dog had little to no opportunity to build a positive association with men and beards; it’s likely that they were simply not socialized together and now this trigger is ‘new and scary’.

Fear doesn’t need a reason. Sometimes it just is.

Whether we adopt an eight week old puppy from the most spectacular breeder or a four year old rescue dog from the streets of Mexico or a nine year old dog from a hoarding situation, the bottom line is that it’s not always the people who have caused the issues. Genetics and environment always play a part in behaviour so let’s not be so quick to judge the person holding the leash. They’re doing the best they can with the knowledge they have.

I remember the looks I used to get walking Parker down the street two weeks after I adopted him from the SPCA where he had his hind leg amputated. He had been starved and was a wobbly bone-rack, hauling it down the street, barking and lunging at dogs.

People assumed it was me who was so cruel, when I was the one who pulled him from that shelter and gave him soft beds, home cooked food, four walks a day, so much love. If someone had ever said to me “it’s not the dog, it’s the YOU”, I would have crumpled into a ball on the floor.

So before you speak those words, please rethink it and give the person a compassionate word of support and remember that even if they’re making mistakes in training, creating negative associations, even using outdated methods and tools; they’re doing the best they can with the knowledge they have and they truly have the dog’s best interest at heart. 

The world doesn’t need more judgment; that’s for sure.

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One Response to It’s not the dog, it’s the people!

  1. Chris Floyd says:

    Thank you, this is a great piece.

    I have a client who began to bark/lunge at bicyclists, joggers, or people approaching in a abrupt manner. He’s not abused, his owners love him very much (as do I), and are working hard to help him with his sensitivities.

    They sometimes feel embarrassed, or slightly shamed, when other people are judgmental when he has a moment.

    But to them, it hasn’t been a lifetime with a problem dog they haven’t dealt with appropriately, but rather, a challenge that began recently after they moved from across the pond. He went from a quieter country-side lifestyle, to the hustle and bustle of the big city. It’s a bold new world for the little guy, and a big adjustment. (It would be for us humans, too!)

    It’s sad when people pass judgement before they have any information.

    If you don’t know the history, you don’t know the story! 🙂

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