If there is one phrase guaranteed to make me see red it’s the “no bad dogs, only bad owners” one. Or anything that basically says that all a dogs problems are down to how it’s raised and if you’ve got an aggressive dog then it’s all your fault and you’re a terrible owner. I hate it. Absolutely hate it. Just seeing it written down makes me angry. Irrationally angry really. For one, it simply is not true. For another I can’t describe how it feels to have a dog with issues, to be working on those issues and managing the dog so both the dog and anyone around it is kept safe, only to have some sanctimonious little know it all (not my first choice of words but since my mum reads my blog I’ll keep it clean lol) smugly turn around and basically say it’s all your fault. Do people have any idea how hurtful that comment is? Any idea how close I came to showing them just how awful a person I was by giving in to the rage that rose up when those words spewed from their mouth? Do they not realise how very unfair it is to be blamed for the issues your dog has when those issues have been caused by other people being unable or unwilling to control their own rude or aggressive dogs? Or children. Or themselves. Whichever fits. Dogs were the issue for Rupert so that’s what I tend to talk about. Seriously, it is NOT always the owners fault that a dog is aggressive or fearful or doesn’t have good manners.
Let’s look at some of the things that can contribute to creating a dog who reacts badly to certain things shall we?
First, breeding. There are dogs being bred who quite simply shouldn’t be bred. Health reasons aside it is thought that traits such as anxiety and fearfulness may have a genetic component. People simply throwing two dogs together to get puppies to sell to make money aren’t thinking of temperament. Or health for that matter. Sure, you can say it’s the owners fault for not going to a good breeder. But what if the dog is a rescue? Their own fault for choosing to rescue?
Incorrect socialisation. Socialisation is a case of quality over quantity in some respects. People seem to think that simply exposing a dog to things is socialising it. It isn’t. Having good experiences with those things is important. Not going to try to go into the ins and outs of it here, there’s plenty of stuff out there on the internet about socialisation but here’s an article I like http://www.clickertraining.com/node/3953
Bad experiences. In some cases all it takes is one bad experience to cause long lasting issues that require a lot of work. Some dogs simply do not bounce back well from them even as adults. Spencer will shake off an unpleasant incident with another dog, Rupert could not, it took him a good few days to calm back down and in that time he’d be far more on edge than normal. Spencer seems able to go “yeah, yeah, whatever” at another dog raging at him from a few metres away, Rupert couldn’t. And again, where Spen is over it almost before it’s happened, Rupert took ages to get over it. It ruined the rest of his walk if not his entire day. And bad experiences don’t have to involve aggression. A young puppy being bounced all over by an over enthusiastic adolescent or mobbed by a group of people all wanting to fuss it at once is probably not having a good experience. Nor does it need to “man up and deal with it” as many seem to believe.
Punishing the behaviour. I think it’s perfectly natural for us to go “whoa, no, that is not acceptable behaviour!” and punish a dog whenever it shows aggression. But doing so does nothing to change the dogs feelings towards whatever it is reacting badly to. Punish a dog for growling at a child and you may well suppress the growl, stop the dog from doing it. But that dog is still going to be just as uncomfortable about the child if not more so because it has been punished for showing its discomfort. There seem to be a lot of people fall foul of bad trainers unfortunately. It’s easy to know where to look to find a decent trainer if you already know, if you’re the average pet owner however you’re probably not going to have any idea that organisations such as the PPG exist and are probably going to use google or something to find a trainer near you and chances are it’s going to be one of those old school, punish the dog types. Having done a quick google search myself a certain franchise features heavily in the UK. As do many “whisperers” and “listeners” who promise very quick results.
There are probably plenty of other things that can contribute to a dog reacting badly to things but this is going to be long enough as it is. Now yes, you could say that some of these are down to the way the owner has handled the dog. But still, is it the owners fault? If you don’t know the history of the dog you have absolutely no idea whether it is a rescue dog that came with those issues. You don’t know that it has been punished for its behaviour. You don’t know whether or not it has had bad experiences previously. You don’t know whether the owner, realising they had problems, called in a supposed professional and knowing no better followed advice that made the problems worse. Or perhaps they’ve had good advice and are working to rectify the problems they’re having. It seems a hell of a lot easier to find advice that says hurt or frighten the dog than anything else unless you’re familiar with dog training terminology. Either way, they really do not need someone judging them, telling them it’s all their own fault, that they’re a terrible owner etc. Your dog lunging and barking and snarling is embarrassing and unpleasant enough without someone who has no clue whatsoever about you and your dog spouting what is often complete and utter rubbish.
Are dogs who react badly to certain triggers bad dogs? No, they’re not. But that doesn’t mean that they have a bad owner either. Please, just think a little before thoughtlessly quoting that awful phrase at them. One day you may be the one having issues and that phrase may become the red rag to a bull that it is to me.
Apologies for the rant. I seem to have seen this sentiment all over the place lately and as I say, it just makes me see red.