The Relationship between pain and behaviour.3rd October 2018
Who’s fault is it anyway??
For many dog owners asking for help can be a very difficult thing to do. It can feel like admitting defeat, a dog with a behaviour problem can bring a feelings of shame and embarrassment and also failure and inadequacy. They got it wrong. As the saying goes there are no bad dogs, only bad owners……right?
Typically when an owner first makes contact with me the conversation may involve the following statements
I know it’s my fault…
I know I’ve spoilt my dog...
What does spoilt mean? How does it apply to dogs? Spoilt implies that the dog has always ‘had its own way’. Well how would this affect a dog and what are dogs thinking?
One example that always crops up is that the dog is allowed to sleep on its owners bed. A dog wants to sleep on a bed because firstly it’s comfortable, secondly it may want the companionship of its owner. A dog sleeping on a bed will not suddenly think to itself ‘Great, now I’m on the bed I’m going to start pulling on the lead/being aggressive/not come when called/jump all over people etc’.
Many owners have watched old school TV programs where trainers have belittled owners and told them that their dog doesn’t respect them and blame has been laid on the owner. It hardly makes people feel like asking for help. I’ve also read a Facebook post where someone asked where their nearest puppy class was to be met with ‘If you can’t train a dog you shouldn’t have one.’
I recently met an owner with a reactive dog. The dog had been on a walk and lunged at another dog and also at a stranger. She told me that she knew it was her fault as she’d ‘babied’ the dog. Had the dog come with a manual and operating instructions that she’d failed to read? When I asked her what she meant by this her reply was ‘Well I talked to him in a silly voice.’
Illustration by Jim Cooke.
Ok so firstly lets have a think about why we have dogs. We have dogs for companionship, someone to watch the TV with, someone to look after and mollycoddle. And yes I talk to my Rottweiler in a silly voice frequently and he loves it as do most dogs.
Did the dog hear her talk in a silly voice and think ‘Now’s my chance, I‘ll take this opportunity to lunge at another dog’?
No. The dog was blind in one eye. Other dogs and people were approaching on the blind side and making the dog jump.
One of the rules that I have is any dog must have a vet check before I see them for any sudden change in behaviour or reactivity issues, for many dogs I also ask that they see a canine body worker. The results speak for themselves.
Dogs with hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, arthritis, digestive issues. These issues don’t always display themselves obviously to the untrained eye. It might just be that the dog is sometimes reluctant to get in the car or has just started sitting slightly differently. Not the yelping and limping that some people expect. Some dogs with digestive issues still pass healthy stools. Quite simply for many owners signs are not in the least bit obvious and why would they be. They haven’t studied to be a vet or a trainer or behaviourist. They’ve just wanted to share their lives with their dog.
It’s not just pain and discomfort that can cause behaviour issues. I recently met an owner who told me how she’d ‘failed’ at stopping her collie from car chasing and had lived with years of guilt. Her working collie, who had a strong genetic predisposition to chase. In fact if you youtube border collie puppies, you will find videos of young puppies, just weeks old, without training in amongst sheep and already trying to chase and herd them, that innate drive is in their genetics.
I’ve also met a puppy recently who found great joy in playing roughly and bullying other dogs. Yes the owners can manage the issues but it certainly isn’t their fault.
Diet can also have a major impact on behaviour, but what is the most common dog food advert that comes on TV? That’s right! A food that is full of sugars and e-numbers and renowned for causing behaviour problems. And have a think about that – imagine trying to pick a dog food from most pet food shops. Wall to wall dog food brands, you have to pick one. Now apply that to walking equipment such as different collars, harnesses etc. It’s literally a minefield.
Instead of finger pointing we need to support and encourage owners to get help from the correct source. Placing blame can destroy relationships, dogs with behaviour problems can put a huge strain on relationships and can cause huge arguments resulting in blame placing.
Placing blame makes people feel like failures and it certainly doesn’t make people feel like getting help. There aren’t many people out there who have chosen to give their dog a behaviour or training problem.
And lastly although it may not be your fault that your dog has a behaviour problem do remember it is your responsibility to firstly manage the situation and secondly to get help.