When the Humans Fail
Sometimes, even when we spell it out — humans don’t listen. They don’t take it seriously. And they fail.
I recently learned that a dog I worked with quite some time ago has been put down. It's heartbreaking. And it makes me angry. It didn't have to happen under these circumstances.
This dog found himself in rescue with behavioral issues related to dog to dog aggression. This dog has a prey drive that w
as off the charts and a willingess to act on it, especially with small critters. Instinct.
This dog also had not been given the best of foundations for training and stability in the early years of his life. This dog also was not a well-bred specimen of the breed. (And no it was not a pit bull)
He was a good dog with people. He was a good dog in the right setting. He was a good dog unless little dogs were around.
With cases like this, training isn't going to outweigh genetics and instinct. What training can do is create structure, leadership, and obedience. As much for the owner, as for the dog. Training can create less of a reaction and better decision making options to avoid acting on prey.
But what if the prey runs directly into the lion's den. What if it's shoved directly down his throat -- by you. Is he not to act on it then? What if you set him up to fail?
So someone please tell me why an owner would decide after all this time, to give it a try with a 4lb dog visiting the home? Why would you assume it would be ok? Why would you think even under the best of circumstances a dog weighing over 80# should be off leash to play with a 4# dog he's never met, especially one who has history of prey drive and dog aggression?
I have told many clients with aggressive behaviors that there will forever be safety and management protocols they must follow. In some cases, we tell them your dog cannot be trusted around children or other dogs, ever. And I mean ever. But people sometimes just don't listen. I cannot seem to change people.
In this case, though I never met the adopter, I know the adopter was told this dog couldn't be with other dogs, especially small dogs. Ever. I know they received training & hand-off of the dog and this was message reinforced. She agreed. She understood. She promised.
So yes, I'll say it. My opinion is, this owner killed two dogs by making a really bad decision. You can't say she was ignorant or uniformed. She knew better. Clearly she knew far better than the trainers, rescuers, and vets who told her no to having her dog with any other dogs.
I get it. She thinks about how she lives with the dogs and sees how wonderful he is on a day to day basis. Surely, the experts are wrong. Let's just see what happens..
She's not alone though. This happens daily.
When we tell you the safest place for your dog when you have visitors for the holiday is to be boarded -- we mean it.
When we tell you the best place for your dog when your kids playmates are over is his crate -- we mean it.
When we tell you no one needs to pet your dog ....
Keep the kid out of your dog's face and crate
Dogs don't need to greet on leash.....
Your dog needs to be child free home or a 1 dog home...
WE MEAN IT
If you cannot commit to the dog 100% for 100% of his life -- don't. Pick another one if you're adopting. Rehome the dog you have if you can't do what it takes to keep him safe. Certainly don't take one and then start changing the rules as time passes -- it's too hard on the dog and the people invested in his life. Don't become part of the problem.
Time does not fix these things. Just because you have had a long time of such good overall behavior, doesn't mean that the things that triggers him should be tested again. Because unless you have been extremely diligent in proofing skills daily -- he's all the more out of practice in what he was taught -- and so are you. Most owners don’t practice the skills enough.
Training isn't magic. In most cases we get amazing results and can truly change behavior. But sometimes, improvement and management is the best you can get. Sometimes the best you can hope for is a delayed response -- time for you to handle the situation if you're supervising. Why would you choose to take the risk and put the prey in the lion's mouth, if you know this? I really wish someone would help me understand the psychology of people that makes them do this -- its it something akin to why we text and drive? Do we just not really care?
I can tell you what's happening and it sucks...
Trainers don't want to take on clients that give any impression of not taking matters seriously. So they refuse clients for an expectation of future failure. They don't want the responsibility.
Trainers won't help rescue groups with even mild when they can't have input or training with the adopter.
I know I'm certainly getting a lot harder on clients and rescues -- but hey we thought we did this one right.
A lot of rescue groups won't touch dogs with aggression anymore. They won't pull it from the shelter. And if they have it in rescue, they won't pay to train it. Too many of the 4.5 milling shelter dogs to choose from for a better choice..
People avoid getting rescue dogs an opt for a "breeder" where they can get a puppy to raise -- because there is less likelihood of behavioral issues if they raise them.
Note: this only works if a) the breeder is a reputable one, not some fool who knows any boy and girl dog can make puppies and b) once the puppies are born, they get proper care, socialization, developmental support, nutrition, and training. Doesn't have to professional training, but it does have to be good.
Dogs die because of the behavior of people.
Yes, I often want to blame the breeder and the owner. For not caring enough to learn more to do better -- or for blatantly not following the rules and setting up the dog to fail.
Our efforts of educating the public aren't working well enough. They just aren't. Despite countless people trying. I'm not giving up on trying to reach the right target audience -- but most them aren't even reading blogs or watching videos. But the worst are the one who say they get it -- and then do something intentionally stupid. I get accidents happen. This was no accident. Nor was it ignorance. A lot of issues aren't.
Why can't I take this challenging dog? I love him. I love every dog that comes through my doors. But that's the issue -- dozens of dogs comes through my doors on a regular basis. I am not a dog-free home. And even if I integrated the dog into my pack, which I could probably do -- the arch nemesis walk through my training room door all to often. That's too much stress f him too often, risk for business, and risk for other dogs.
Yet, he could have been fine where he was, if they hadn't changed the equation and assumed he needed to be friends with another dog and put the prey directly in his mouth.
I've sat here for a while trying to figure out what I need to say to close my thoughts. Something compelling to create a change. Something that will make you want to tell someone else to be safer and smarter. Something that hits home. Something that creates a magnitude of change.
But I will settle for attempting to save one more dog, one more family.