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Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: Owners must be advocates for their dogs, even when it's not easy

By GAIL FISHER
September 29. 2017 7:32PM


I got an email from a dog owner asking my opinion about advice she had gotten from a trainer in her area who had come to her home to do a behavioral consultation. I don't second-guess another trainer's advice without learning what led to their recommendation, but this email started me thinking about situations in which it's good to question, to get a second opinion, so you don't do something or allow someone else to do something with your dog that you might regret. 

On occasion, I've met with an owner and a dog whose behavior has been worsened by incorrect treatment by someone - a visitor to the home, a friend or family member, or even a pet professional such as a groomer, trainer or veterinarian. This has even happened to me.

Years ago when I bred Mastiffs, one of my dogs was in labor and had delivered three puppies. I didn't think she was finished and took her (along with the puppies) to the vet for a checkup. I didn't know the vet on duty, and he had never met my dog. With no greeting at all, he briskly entered the examination room and quickly approached my dog with the worst bedside manner possible, reaching over her head to examine her. His body language was (from a dog's perspective) impolite, overbearing and frightening. Startled and put off, my dog did what any self-respecting mother in labor would do - she growled, saying "You're impolite. Knock it off!" The vet jumped back and said my dog had an unfit temperament, shouldn't have been bred and recommended she be euthanized. Had I not known better, had I not known what a jerk he was and how badly he had behaved toward my dog, I might have followed his advice.

That wasn't the end of this incident. Because of that vet visit, this dog was suspicious and nervous each time we went to the veterinarian. Had I known what he was going to do, had he given me a chance, I would have told him that she was not overly friendly with strangers and that she was nervous because of her puppies (not all vets have experience in this area), and to please approach her with that in mind.

If I had been aware of what was about to happen, would I have done all of that? Would I have had the self-confidence to give recommendations to a veterinarian I didn't know in his own domain? With hindsight, sure I would have, but without the knowledge of such hindsight, my tendency, as most people, is to be polite. Don't make waves. Don't offend. But our dogs count on us to protect them.

I'll occasionally talk to a client whose dog had a bad experience with a training method or trainer. We can usually help the dog learn that not all trainers (generalized to "strangers") and not all training situations are fearful and unpleasant.

Sometimes owners tells us they stopped a trainer before he or she did something objectionable to their dog. That's the best! The owners were able to foresee an issue and had the confidence to step in and prevent a potentially harmful training tactic from being used on their dog.

I've also spoken with owners who have removed their dogs from classes in which the trainer did something to another dog that they wouldn't want done to their dog. It can be difficult for some to risk embarrassment or confrontation, but for our dogs' sake, we should be willing to take that risk.

The bottom line is that we are more than our dogs' owners; we are also their advocates. It is our responsibility to foresee - as much as possible - a potentially dangerous or damaging situation, and protect the dog from it. It's not always possible, easy or comfortable, and often we can't recognize it until it's too late, but if we have the opportunity and foresight, we need to protect our dogs. They deserve nothing less.

Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog" and a dog behavior consultant, runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a topic for this column, which appears every other Sunday, email gail@alldogsgym.com or write c/o All Dogs Gym, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. You'll find past columns on her website.


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