Animal behaviour expert, Karen Wild, discusses keeping dogs under control
‘There are no bad dogs, only bad owners’ so the saying goes, writes animal behaviour expert, Karen Wild. This really isn’t fair. Dogs just do what comes naturally to them. Left to their own rules, they would struggle to live in our society! However, it’s up to us to teach them these rules. We are just helping them to fit in.
I do think dogs can behave in obnoxious ways sometimes, and I also think we humans are never perfectly innocent. The problem is the use of the word ‘bad’. How is something bad when it might come from a mistake, or something we didn’t know about before?
Saying someone, or their dog, is ‘bad’ gives the idea that they are deliberately trying to be harmful at all costs. The reality is a lot more complicated. We all do things that are not kind sometimes, or we might misunderstand a situation and react. We might act on impulse, even behave aggressively, but that does not make us, or our dogs, ‘bad’. Misguided, yes. Scared or uncertain? Of course! Often we and our dogs don’t know what to do to get themselves out of a situation that is a problem. This means they might behave in ways that other people see as bad, but they don’t deserve shame.
The key is what to do about it, the second you notice it might become an issue. Don’t wait for it to happen again. Stay calm, take action in a positive way (don’t yell or punish, because that makes it all a lot worse and harder to resolve).
Each time you feel like someone is a ‘bad’ owner, ask yourself if you have ever allowed that to happen. Did your own dog escape from the garden, or was not trained properly not to jump up or steal from the worktop? Does that mean you are inherently bad? Likewise, does a dog realise that his behaviour could cost him his life, when he is running in the road, or could cause harm chasing a cat?
Instead let’s approach this with words such as ‘teamwork’ and ‘boundaries’. Are you the dog’s teacher? Are you their guardian? Yes.
Any owner knows that their dog can work with them, or work against them, but this is down to their skill as an owner, and their dog’s instinctive desires. If there is a problem, seek professional, experienced and qualified help (go to the ABTC website, because they regulate and check all trainers and behaviourist – no excuses!), and avoid blaming yourself or your dog. The best way to change things is to move forward, and labelling ‘bad’ won’t ever help that.