Recent studies suggest that the number of dogs and cats euthanized in animal shelters has steadily decreased over the past several years. However, few would deny that too many animals still lose their lives on the streets or in animal shelters each year. The vast majority of animals end up in these circumstances for one reason – a lack of responsibility on the part of a person.
This lack of responsibility is also responsible for the increase in anti-dog legislation. Ordinances which limit the number of pets which can be kept by a household, prohibit dogs in public parks or even prohibit ownership of certain breeds are becoming more the norm than the exception in today’s society.
While many dog bites are the result of interactions with family pets and therefore are unreported, the number of reported dog bites has been increasing steadily. Much of the current anti-dog legislation has been triggered by this increase in reported dog bites across the country.
The simple fact is that the dog-owning public has, in many ways, been responsible for much of the current trend in legislation. The general public is concerned, and rightly so, about the health hazard of animal droppings in public places and the very real danger posed by animals roaming free. People who object to laws and ordinances dealing with animals often fail to acknowledge the responsibilities which accompany their ‘right’ to pet ownership.
Obedience instructors are in an position to educate the general public regarding issues involved in responsible pet ownership. It is no longer sufficient for obedience classes to be limited to teaching people how to train their dog to perform standard obedience exercises such as down, sit, stay and come. Teaching ‘how’ should only be a part of the instructor’s job. Teaching ‘why’ is also necessary and equally important.
Not only do obedience instructors need to be able to effectively teach the mechanics of training to their students, they need to educate people about how to use obedience exercises in the daily routine at home and when the dog is taken out in public. Classes should also incorporate discussion about the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of maintaining a healthy and safe environment for dogs. People also need to be informed about how a dog’s environment influences its behavior.
Another critical aspect of the obedience instructor’s job is to instruct their students about their responsibility to the general public in preventing their dogs from becoming public nuisances. Cleaning up after your dog in public, keeping your dog on leash in public, minimizing barking, and confining dogs to houses or yards are just a few of the issues involved in preventing dogs from negatively impacting upon the general public.
Ideally, the handler should not be the only member of the family to receive this type of information. If the dog owner has children or grandchildren, then the instructor should strive to include these other family members in portions of the class structure. It is especially important that children, who are the most vulnerable to dog bites, be taught how to correctly and safely approach and interact with dogs.
Since a large percentage of dogs are given up due to behaviors their owners feel are unacceptable, obedience instructors should also be prepared to discuss common behaviors which most pet owners perceive as problems. These behaviors would include bolting doors, barking, digging, house soiling, chewing inappropriate items, jumping on people and so on. The solutions offered by the instructor need to be clearly explained, should be practical and, most importantly, within the ability of the average pet owner who may have limited time and experience with dogs.
Whether paid or volunteer, obedience instructors are not just ‘training dogs’ but are (or should be) educating the general dog-owning public in methods of interacting with dogs safely and responsible dog ownership. Obedience instructors should not ignore the growing trends of anti-dog legislation throughout the country. Their expertise and experience is invaluable as a tool in fighting this type of legislation if used to provide education regarding what dogs do, why dogs do it and how to correct unacceptable behaviors.