11 May There are no bad dogs, just bad dog owners?
I’ve been meaning to write an article for quite some time. However a busy schedule and lack of inspiration have left me procrastinating on this task, until today. Today, with a little extra time on my hands I stumbled across an article applying that there are no bad dogs, just bad dog owners.
Anything with “dog” in the heading usually grabs my attention. Sometimes in the hope of learning something new. Sometimes with the cringing curiosity of “I wonder what sort of misinformation is going to hit the dog-loving public this time?” I proceeded to read this article due to the latter.
Is anyone qualified to publish information about dog behavior?
Information regarding dog behavior found in the media these days is often written by an author without any formal education on the subject. This offending article was no exception. After some research it was apparent that the only knowledge this particular author had, was that he was a dog owner himself. Strike number one.
This is comparable to me attempting to write an article about the solar system, because I get to view the stars at night from my backyard. Given my limited knowledge on how our planetary system works, I may be able to offer my observations, but they would in fact end up biased and incomplete. Likely leaving an astrophysicist shuddering in his planetarium
Bad dog behavior?
Let’s consider what many consider a BAD dog versus a GOOD dog. A “bad” dog is generally stereotyped as a larger breed, aggressively barking and lunging at a passersby. A “good” dog is one that is seen quietly walking next to his owner in heel position ignoring all the distractions around him. But all may not appear as it may seem…
A dog may bark and lunge at another dog or person (or object) for many different reasons. Some dogs are nervous or fearful, hoping their behavior will keep the threat at bay. Others are demonstrating extreme frustration because they cannot go to say “hi”. Some may be acting that way due to medical issues, such as diminishing eyesight or pain-related illnesses, which can make them feel defensive about their space. Others may be suffering from a neurological issue, affecting their brain’s ability to handle certain stimuli. This sends the individual’s sympathetic nervous system into overdrive.
Good dog behavior?
On the other paw, the stereotypical GOOD dog, the one who is walking quietly through town by his owner’s side, may not actually be “good” at all. It may be that he has been trained to ignore what makes him nervous using punitive methods such as a prong or shock collar. Knowing there will be severe consequences to pay should he communicate doggie-style, he remains quiet. Let off his leash, he could turn out to be the most dangerous dog of all.
Assuming that the GOOD dog IS actually confident and calm in this situation – this doesn’t guarantee that he is without other behavioral issues behind closed doors. He could suffer from separation anxiety and have caused thousands of dollars in property damage when left alone. Or may exhibit resource-guarding behaviors and snap or snarl at his owner when she tries to take his bone.
Reviewing the human element.
Turning our attention to the human side of the equation, what exactly distinguishes a good owner from a bad one? Every parent has a set of ideals in regard to child raising, but how the child turns out as an adult is not always a reflection of how he was raised. In certain circumstances, quite the opposite occurs (in both directions). The same applies to our pets.
For me, a GOOD dog owner is one that: Takes the time to make a sound decision on breed of dog or is at least prepared to deal with whatever is thrown at them; Takes time to learn about canine behavior from reputable sources; Communicates clearly; Provides for their dog’s needs; Provides comfort when he’s scared; Celebrates with him when he’s done something great; Doesn’t give up on him when the going gets tough and is there by his side when he takes his final breath.
Others will have their own thoughts and opinions on what makes a good pet parent. However, I’m not sure any of us can judge a pet parent based on how their dog behaves, unless we know the whole story. There are just too many variables to consider. Plus expecting all dogs to behave the same way, is like expecting all educated school children to end up working for NASA one day building rocket ships. Every person and every dog is an individual.
How are behaviors developed?
Any qualified behaviorist will attest to the fact that behavior is developed through part nature and part nurture. That is, some behaviors are genetic and some behaviors are learned through the environment. While behaviors can be influenced and improved, not all can be 100% solved. Anyone who suggests otherwise is not educated in behavioral science and is sharing opinions, not facts. And boy, is the dog training industry full of opinions.
Consequences of following wrong advice…
The author of the offending article also suggests that it is guaranteed that a dog will grow up to be the perfect canine companion, providing that he is socialized before 16 weeks of age. Daily exercise to the point of exhaustion and obedience training also playing key factors to success. He also implied, that any under socialized rescue dog has the ability to be fully rehabilitated. While this is a possibility, this is not always the case.
To begin with, puppy socialization starts the day the pup is born. If the puppy is not appropriately socialized from 0 – 8 weeks, (a time period most dog owners have no control over), a dog born with a timid temperament could suffer for the rest of his life with confidence issues, regardless of his owner’s efforts. On the flip side, a puppy who was under-socialized but born with a confident temperament, could turn out to be the best dog ever with little to no training at all.
So is there such a thing as an inherently well-behaved dog? Yes, I believe there is. And no, a dog behaving “badly” does not always suggest a bad owner.
A few points to take away are…
- Anyone can write an article on dog behavior. Do not believe what is shared just because it is published. Someone who is qualified to share information about dog behavior should have a certification in the subject. Be wise, and discern between “somebody’s opinion” and scientific facts.
- There are good dogs with bad owners. Bad dogs with good owners. Good dogs with good owners and bad dogs with bad owners. It is wise to remain non-judgmental unless you know the full story.
- Bad behaviors can manifest for a variety of reasons. While socialization and training your dog will greatly improve your chances of raising a good canine citizen, it is not a guaranteed path to success.
- Every dog is an individual, even within the same litter, let alone the same breed. Educating your dog in how to act appropriately in a human world is advised. It is also wise to realize that some of our expectations may also be unrealistic for that individual. Think square peg, round hole.
- Concentrate on being the best pet parent you can possibly be and leave judgements of others behind. In fact, next time you witness a dog barking at the end of the leash with an embarrassed owner by his side, increase your distance and silently wish them well.
Are there any positives to note?
I do commend the author for recommending that dog owners seek professional advice when behavior issues occur. Encouraging the use of reward-based training was also nice to discover. While I agree that the owner in question was likely reinforcing her dog’s reactive behavior, this doesn’t suggest she is a BAD owner overall. She could have been following advice from a traditional trainer. A trainer she hired and spent good money to do so. Unfortunately, dog training is an unregulated industry, leaving those who still stick by methods based on punishments not rewards.
It is also important to note his cringe-worthy advice puppy socialization. If followed, this could very easily land you with an adult dog who demonstrates the exact behaviors that he chastises. This leads me back to one of my first points. Demonstrating why I frown upon people who dish out canine behavior advice who are not qualified to do so. The consequences can be detrimental.