One of the first things I tell people when they ask me about pretty much anything concerning dogs is, “Don’t set your dog up for failure.” It’s really a very simple concept. Most of the situations I see/hear about where dogs have done something wrong could have been easily prevented by the owners. The most common instances involve children, and then strangers.
1. Know your dog
You would think this one is a given, but it’s not. I meet so many people who genuinely don’t know shit about their dogs. I’m not talking about breed, age, name, that stuff. I’m talking about what makes your dog tick. What makes them happy, what makes them nervous, or what sets them off. Which situations your dog can or cannot handle.
When socializing my dogs, especially my rehab dogs, I do push them out of their comfort zones. I do it very gently, very slowly, and I know the moment my dog is officially “done” and needs to go home. I also know when my dog is acting like an asshole and needs a time out.
For your dog’s sake and the sake of the people around you, know what your dog can or cannot handle before throwing them in the fire. It will end better for everyone concerned.
2. Know canine body language
I mentioned this in my dog park rant; it’s all about the body language (insert The Little Mermaid Ursula’s voice, please)! This goes along with #1. It’s really not that hard to understand basic body language; just go watch a few YouTube videos and read some informational articles, and you can at least skimp by. I’m not asking you to be a behaviorist; I’m just asking you to not be an idiot.
Knowing your dog’s body language will allow you to remove it from situations that could be dangerous for the dog or for humans/other dogs around it. Signs of stress, fear, or anger will occur before a dog reacts negatively. When I’m out and about with my dogs, I know every move and sound they make, and what those actions mean. That knowledge has ended a lot of skirmishes before they even started. Dogs are complicated creatures, but they’re not that complicated, if you as the owner will just not be too dense to figure it out.
3. Don’t be afraid/embarrassed to take precautions
I think this is one a lot of dog owners struggle with. Let’s say you’re out in public, and a stranger asks if their child can pet your dog. You can say no, and you probably should! It may make you look like an asshole, but at least you’re the asshole who’s not being sued because your dog bit a child. Also, if you don’t know for absolute 100% certain that your dog friggin’ loves children, please just say no. And if you do say yes, go back up to #1-2 and refresh your memory.
I took a foster dog to the clinic to be spayed, and upon turning her over to the vet tech, I told the tech that if they for any reason thought the dog might fear-bite, just go ahead and muzzle her. The tech looked at me like I was the meanest dog owner ever, but I would rather the dog spend the afternoon in a muzzle than bite a tech. It doesn’t make you a bad owner, and it doesn’t mean you have a terrible dog; it just means you’re using your brain in a situation you might not be able to predict the outcome in.
There was a situation recently in NC where a foster dog with a known bite history was taken out for a “socialization outing” with the foster/trainer and another individual. That outing ended with a bite to the face and a dead dog, shot by a police officer. I won’t voice my opinion on whether the dog should have been out in public or not, but I will assert that had that dog been in a basket muzzle, he would probably be alive today. Play it safe – dogs are too powerful to gamble with anyone’s safety.
4. Protect your dog
Why do you need to protect your dog? Because if you don’t protect them, they’re going to protect themselves. More often than not, when a dog protects itself, it’s going to be euthanized. There’s been an email floating around about an eight year old Aussie whose owners are throwing out on the curb – why? The dog bit a child, when the child pushed on her bad hip. This dog lashed out in fear and in pain, and I’m not saying that’s okay, but I am saying that those owners failed that poor dog. They didn’t protect her. Eight years old, had been with the family her whole life and probably would have laid her life down to protect them, but they didn’t protect her from the child and now they want her gone. (They also apparently did a really shitty job of protecting their child, by the way.)
Protect your dog from children, protect it from strangers, and protect it from other animals. It’s not cute and it’s not funny to let your toddler crawl all over your dog and pull their ears. Your dog is not going to “get over it” if you throw it into a dog park with a bunch of big, rowdy dogs that scare the crap out of it. If a stranger walks up and puts its hands in your dogs face, ruffles its ears, and slaps it on the ribs, it’s your job to say, “Hey bud, that’s not okay.” Don’t allow people to disrespect your dog.
Dogs can’t talk, and they can’t make decisions for themselves. I’m sure they would if they could, but they just can’t. It’s your responsibility as the owner to be their voice and their safety net. There are no bad dogs, just bad dog owners.