If you love and train dogs, your ears and eyes always seem to catch these blurbs from the news: “Nine year boy is on life support after being mauled nearly to death by a Rottweiler.” And if that isn’t horrible and shocking enough, the news goes onto say that the owner will not be charged with any crime, except having a dog running loose. Of course, the TV and newspapers are full of articles in the next few days about dog bite statistics, and which breeds are the most “vicious.” The fact that dog owners do not assume responsibility for training and safe management of their dogs is what is propelling the breed specific legislation bandwagon onward. When we, as individuals and as governing bodies, do not hold dog owners responsible for the actions of their animals, we will continue to see all owners punished, especially those of certain breeds. Dog obedience instructors have always under-stood that it is our job to teach control and good manners to our students, but now more than ever, our mission should be to teach responsible dog ownership as well.
The majority of dog owners do not enroll in obedience classes out of a sense of responsibility but because they are driven to it by a usually adolescent, out of control dog. Therefore, instructors should not assume that their students are “good” dog owners who understand the responsibility associated with owning a dog. Obedience instructors are in a position to educate the general public about all issues involved in responsible dog ownership and should not limit their classes to simply teaching people how to train their dogs to perform the standard obedience exercises like sit, down, and heel. Teaching “how” should be only a part of the instructor’s job. Teaching “why” is also necessary and equally important. Not only should obedience instructors be effective in teaching the mechanics of training to their students,they also need to be educating their students in how to use the commands they have learned in their daily routine.
Dog owners must also be taught how a dog’s environment influences its behavior. In the case mentioned above about the nine year old boy, the Rottweiler had lived his entire life chained in a backyard behind a stockade type fence. Investigators found self-feeders and waterers in the yard, and the owner admitted that the dog was not socialized to people. That this particular dog was unpredictable when he finally did get loose should be a surprise to no one.
Another aspect of the obedience instructor’s job is to inform their students about their responsibility to their neighbors and the public in general in preventing their dogs from becoming a nuisance to all. Owners should understand that they must clean up after their dogs, keep them on a leash when in public, work to minimize nuisance barking, and make sure their dogs are confined safely and securely on their property.
Teaching responsible dog ownership also means keeping to our goal, as instructors, of making sure dogs stay in their homes for life. We know that many of the problem behaviors that bring students to class may not be directly related to the standard obedience commands, but if not solved will result in the dog being passed on to someone else, abandoned, euthanized, or given up to a pound or shelter. Jumping upon people, digging up the yard, chewing indiscriminately, barking all night and house soiling are all examples of issues that we, as instructors, need to be addressing.
Unfortunately, anti-dog sentiment is growing in our country, and all dog owners, responsible and irresponsible alike, are feeling its effects. Dogs are banished from many public places where they were once welcomed, homeowners may have problems getting insurance, and in some cities, certain breeds are not even allowed to exist. More so than ever, dog obedience instructors can make a big difference not only in the quality of life for our dogs and dog owners, but help determine whether or not we can even have certain breed of dogs.
Let’s all resolve to make owner education a top priority, and keep creating responsible dog owners!