Responsibility, part 3: Taking responsibility as a dog owner

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Dog ownership is more than having a beautiful animal to love or show off as a status symbol. Dogs depend upon their owners for their needs, among which are owners who are competent leaders that set clear, reasonable boundaries around their dogs’ behavior.

Unfortunately, some dog owners acquire a dog without accepting that responsibility. This puts themselves in jeopardy legally for the dog’s behavior, for everyone who may be in physical jeopardy from the dog’s uncontrolled behavior, and for the dog’s life if a serious incident occurs.

Incident:

A dog owner entered a pet store with a German Shepherd, which was on a lead but allowed to run six feet ahead of the owner. The dog approached another customer, sniffed the scent of the customer’s dog on the customer’s jeans, then growled. The other customer immediately grabbed the lead, gave it a quick snap to break the dog’s concentration, and ordered the dog to sit, which it did immediately.

 

The owner complained that the other customer was mistreating the dog. The other customer said the owner was not controlling the dog’s aggressive tendencies and refused to give the lead back to the owner until one of the store’s trainers took control of the dog.

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What is happening here?

The customer considered it the owner’s responsibility 1), to train the dog to behave in such a way that, barring inappropriate behavior toward the dog initiated by the other person (see part 2 for an example), other people were safe around it and 2) to control the dog so that it is not able to initiate or continue an attack. The law concurs.

The customer neither approached the dog nor encouraged it to approach. Instead, the dog approached the customer, and the owner made no effort to restrict the dog’s movements. When the dog growled, it was threatening the customer, who was thus justified in taking control of the dog.

This interpretation was supported by facts unknown to the customer until after the incident. The owner and the dog had been removed from training classes because the owner was unable to control the dog. The dog had bitten people before without provocation, and as the incident described here unfolded, a trainer who knew the dog and its history, and thus expected the dog to attack, was rushing to intervene just as the customer took control of the situation. The trainer confirmed that no other response from the customer would have prevented the attack. The owner and the dog were walked out of the store. The owner was allowed to return without the dog to complete purchases.

What should have happened?

The dog should walk with its head or shoulder beside the owner’s knee, which is part of standard obedience training. That way, the dog would not have been able to approach anyone without the owner present to correct or intervene in the dog’s behavior, or to protect the dog from another dog’s or customer’s bad behavior toward. Obedience training also would have helped socialize the dog, desensitize it to other dogs and train the owner how to correct aggressive behavior toward other dogs.

The success of obedience training, however, depends upon an owner’s willingness to manage a dog, to learn how to do so and to reinforce good habits and correct bad ones daily. Owners who are unwilling to work with their dogs to develop a solid set of good behaviors and a good working relationship, or who feel any sort of correction is abuse, are risking their dogs’ future as surely as driving on the wrong side of the road risks an automobile accident.

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