Don’t Deceive Yourself About Your Dog’s Problems – Phoenix Scottsdale AZ Dog Training – Dog Trainer – Behaviorist
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Part of being a good dog trainer is being a good detective. I tell students that when I am working with them and their dogs, I put on my proverbial “Sherlock Holmes” hat, raise one eyebrow, and I then proceed to question everything everyone says and believes.
I can’t tell you how many times I have been told one thing only to find out something completely the opposite. Or, I’ve been hired to solve one problem, only to find out that the situation was more complex and more dangerous than I was led to believe.
I remember one time I was asked to evaluate an Australian Shepherd for the purpose of obedience training. As a general rule, I always try to get as much information as I can up front on the phone prior to meeting the prospective student. I still remember meeting the owner at their property, walking towards the house, and then unexpectedly seeing a dog rushing towards me. At the last second, the dog leapt in the air towards me, jaws open wide, and just barely snagging my right forearm with it’s teeth. It was a big dog, bigger than your average Aussie. And I would have been hurt pretty badly if the dog had connected. Fortunately, the dog was tied out on a long rope that just ended millimeters from where I was standing. I asked the owner why she didn’t tell me the dog was aggressive towards strangers. She said she wanted me to see the dog in action first. Great. My safety was put in harms way by this deception, and she must have figured it was OK to endanger me because I was the dog trainer. It is NOT OK to endanger anyone like this, dog trainer or not. There was no justification. I’ve also run across people that had dogs which weren’t good with kids, yet, they brought them around kids and the kids got bitten. What were they thinking?
And, I’ve seen people try to hide or even deny that someone in the home was abusing the family dog. Fortunately, you can’t fool this dog trainer. If I work with a dog enough, the dog will “tell” me what’s going on.
I have seen this in other situations, as well. I was recently called to help with a dog that had a barking problem. OK, pretty simple thing most of the time. But, when I met the dog at the door, the dog didn’t have a barking problem, the dog had a biting problem. The owners then went on to not only try to explain it away, but to blame me for not greeting their dog properly (that is, by not calling them when I arrived in my car, not arranging for them to meet me in the street, not allowing the dog to decide if a stranger would be allowed to greet the owners or be allowed in the home, etc.). They didn’t tell me any of this stuff, just assumed I would know what kind of gymnastics they were doing to manage the problem.
Self deception weakens a person’s ability to exercise good judgment and make good moral choices for themselves and others. There’s a famous saying by Shakespeare: “To thine own self be true.” Being honest with yourself helps you to be honest with others.
Self deception also contaminates a person’s sense of what is right and wrong. Thus, you’ll do things with your dog that a reasonable person wouldn’t do in the same circumstances. Don’t you ever wonder why people sometimes get themselves in terrible situations with their dogs, when everyone else around them saw that a problem was brewing? I think of the Diane Whipple mauling / homicide case in San Francisco. The dogs involved had an ongoing history of aggressiveness, the owners apparently knew it, the owners had been having trouble controlling the dogs, and on that fateful day, the dogs got loose and killed that poor woman. It landed the owner in prison.
Self deception causes people to disregard the evidence that is staring them in the face, and makes the person behave less than candid, sincere, compassionate and genuine. Studies show that more than 50% of the time, the average person can’t tell that someone is being dishonest with them. They don’t know you aren’t being honest and open with them, and it is like they are walking right into a trap… your trap. You weren’t honest with yourself, so how could you be honest with them?
Self deception also manifests as a lack of courage in some people. They don’t have the self control to do the right thing. When you believe a lie, you find it is better to believe and promote the lie than to deal with the truth. Self deception is a kind of paradox, where the person knows one thing, but holds onto a competing and opposite belief more strongly than what the facts would tell another person. This kind of thing causes people to marry the wrong person, to fall for the deception of a swindler, and for dog owners to ignore the potentially serious problems they are having with their dogs. And it isn’t always about aggression. Some dogs are destructive. I remember one customer who allowed her dog to eat wood. Eventually, the dog needed surgery to remove a large portion of the dog’s cheek in order to extract the splinters. I had warned her over and over again to use different toys with her dog, but in this one thing, she just wouldn’t listen. She thought her dog was having a great time chewing wood, so she ignored the risks involved even when her professional expert… me… was telling her how dangerous it was.
When I encounter these situations, and it happens more often than you might realize, I have to put on my “Dr Phil” hat and deal with the people problems before I can deal with the dog problems. Sometimes, it is too late. I’m halfway into the lessons before I uncover some serious problem.
Any more, I just don’t believe anything people tell me when I’m on the job. I’ve become a pretty good detective, though there’s always room for improvement. No one hits a home run every time at bat.
One of the first things I have to do in these circumstances is to address the owner’s attitudes and beliefs about their dogs, and their situation. As you can see from these real life examples, self deception can cause harm to others. It steals away free will choices from others because they don’t have sufficient information in order to make a good decision. Dog owner’s should not choose choice to ignore the truth, and thus, decide for others what risks they should be taking. And owners shouldn’t ignore the risks to their dogs when a problem is going on. If I can’t get through to the owners about the situation, then I won’t work with the dog.
I have to have reality in my life. And so do you and so do others. To do anything else is immoral.
Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.
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