Fault and responsibilty

There are two things I hear most often when I go to someone’s house to help with their dog. They are:

“I know it’s my fault.”


“It’s just because that other dog provoked my dog.”

As with so many other things, moderation is key.

“I know it’s my fault.”

Until recently, this blog had a look that was slightly difficult to read and navigate. That was my fault. Should I feel guilty about that? Did I slop it together and say, “I don’t care if it’s user friendly! Pah!”? Of course not. I put together a blog that was as good as my abilities could make it. When I then had time, I did a little more research and figured out how to make it better.

So, let’s look at this phrase again: “It’s my fault.” Yes… and no. Like me with my blog, when a dog’s owner sees their dog start to have problems, they do the best they can with their knowledge and experience. Owners who realize they’re out of their league and have the time and/or money to do research are then able to add to their knowledge, with better outcomes.

Whenever someone says to me, “My dog jumps on people, and I know it’s my fault,” I respond with, “You did the best you could with the information you had. Now you will have more information!” No one should be castigated for not having ALL the information. In this day and age, no one can have all the information on everything! You do the best you can with the information you have. If that isn’t good enough, hopefully you’re able to get help via books, blogs, or experts. Feeling guilty because you couldn’t solve the problem yourself isn’t helpful for anyone. You did the best you could with the information you had. Now it’s time to get more information or help.

“It’s just because that other dog provoked my dog.”

The flip side of taking all the blame is, of course, the denial of responsibility. “My dog attacked this dog, but this dog provoked it.” This isn’t helping anyone, either. If you shift responsibility, you can’t solve the problem. We can’t control other peoples’ dogs (much as I would like to, sometimes!). All we can do is ask our dogs to be AWESOME.

Lily was doing zoomies around a ranch (when your dog seems to lose their mind and RUNS AS FAST AS THEY CAN IN GREAT BIG LOOPS OHMYGODZOOOOOM!). The akita who lived on that ranch didn’t appreciate it. The akita came running over and lunged at Lily. I yelled, “Lily! DROP!” Thank goodness she did. The akita stopped attacking at her submission, and though the akita stayed there in a very aggressive posture, ready to attack again, it gave me time to run over and pull the akita away.

In this scenario, I would say the akita was at fault. A dog doing zoomies shouldn’t trigger an aggressive response in another dog. However, I can’t stop the akita’s behavior: I can only control Lily’s behavior. In the future at that ranch, I told Lily she couldn’t do zoomies. Is that fair? No, but it was safe.

There was another possible outcome, too. Lily could have not dropped when I told her to, which would be “normal” dog behavior. She could have defended herself. This would have been reasonable behavior in the face of being attacked, but it is not ideal behavior. If Lily had defended herself, there would have been a dog fight. In that case, who is at fault? Well, the akita started it. I could abdicate all responsibility and say, “It was the akita’s fault. Lily was just defending herself.” That would be true. It would be leaving out a key part, though: Lily and I could have stopped it. If Lily chooses to fight back, then she carries some fault as well. Since I can’t control the akita, I have to teach Lily what the correct choice is — in this case, not to fight back.

Most of the time, the provocation is less than this. Most of the time, the provocation is one dog standing over another while the other chews a toy. This is provocation and should be stopped. BUT, the dog chewing the toy should also learn to ignore that looming behavior, or walk away. Both parties have some fault in a dog fight.

“That dog was barking at my dog, so of course my dog barked back.” That dog was provoking your dog, no doubt. But your dog has a choice: to bark back, or to ignore the behavior. It’s up to you to teach which choice is correct.

So, let’s look at these phrases again:

“I know it’s my fault.” Did you do the best you could with the information you had? Are you now looking for more information? Then give yourself credit for that, and keep working on it. Don’t feel guilty just because you don’t know how to make it better. Simply continue trying to make it better.

“My dog reacted, but they were provoked. It was that other dogs’ fault.” Did your dog walk away? Did you put in the time and effort to try and teach them to walk away? Did you subtly, maybe unconsciously, encourage the behavior by not doing anything about it, or joining your dog in going after the other dog verbally, emotionally, or physically? Your dog has a choice. It’s up to us to teach them the right one.

In short, don’t blame yourself if you’ve done the best you can and things aren’t perfect, but don’t abdicate responsibility if something goes wrong or seems hard, either. Dog training is a tightrope, and the way through is through moderation!

Bird update:

Tango is 6 weeks old and looks something like this:

(Those bare spots on his neck and shoulder area are just where the feathers haven’t grown in. You see them in all baby greys!)



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