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"Damn dog! I called him and he didn't come - what a bad dog."
"Look at that dog ignoring his owner - they must not have done their job training - what a bad human!"
Blame, blame, BLAME! We want to place it when we see something not going as planned. Dog not coming? Must be a bad dog! After all - he didn't come. No wait, that seems wrong - how can it be the dogs fault? Must be the humans fault - yes, that sounds right. After all, someone has to be at fault, right? Wait, what if nobody was at fault? Let's play the blame game for a moment.
Imagine this. You're in Grade 1 math class learning about addition and subtraction. You seem to be ahead of the class and the teacher is excited about that, so she decides to fast track you. Over she comes with a giant Calculus book that she drops on your desk with a wink and a "good luck," as she walks away. Obviously, this giant leap in steps is overwhelming for you and even though you try to look at the Calculus book, you fail to make progress since you lack the necessary foundation. As you look up to seek help, you see your teacher glaring at you, clearly disappointed in your lack of ability, she shakes her head and mouths the words, "dumb kid."
Does it seem reasonable to blame the learner?
It's NOT the Dog's Fault
This is the equivalent of blaming the dog for not coming when we haven't taken the time to teach. We expect them to ignore their own instincts and their own agenda and shut out distractions that they've not been taught to contend with.
How can we blame the learner?
The truth is, it is never the dog's fault. Period. End of story.
When we started domesticating dogs, we were asking them to live in our world.
Our world has different rules.
Our world has different goals.
Our world has different ways of communicating.
We've invited them to join our world. If we are to expect them to engage well and follow rules, we need to make sure we're not just tossing a Calculus book at them and hoping for the best. They need the proper foundation of grade school, the advanced learning of High School and even the formal education of Post-Secondary if they are ever going to be able to make sense of Calculus - the dog equivalent of turning away from a fleeing squirrel!
If a dog misses a recall cue, there is a reason. Most of the time, they are undertrained and that is just as dangerous as being untrained. So why do we hear people blaming the dog? Just like in the example above, can you see any logic in blaming the learner?
Can you EVER see logic in blaming the learner?
So, It Must be the Human's Fault
This is still not right.
The Disney model would suggest that you bring home a puppy and within 2 minutes, you're up and running, living a normal life with the addition of fuzzy adorableness.
There's an idea out there that dogs are easy. They're not!
There's an idea out there that dogs are stubborn. They're not!
There's an idea out there that every dog should just listen. They don't!
Basically, there are a lot of ideas floating around that are just inaccurate, but they are spread around as the common opinion.
So you bring home a fuzzy puppy with big, adorable eyes and sharp needle teeth. OUCH! That wasn't in the brochure. They don't bite like that in Disney movies. What gives? He must be (insert dramatic pause)... a BAD DOG!
You call them to come around the house and that springy little puppy, well - he does! He must know how to come. Fast forward 2 months and he blows you off to chase a squirrel. Why has he stopped coming? He must be (another dramatic pause)... STUBBORN!
I just wrote an article called, "The Problem with Common Sense and Dogs." It talked about how common sense is a fluid concept that moves as the masses change their minds and opinions evolve. General opinion or common sense surrounding dogs is that if they are not perfect, they must be somehow less than, stubborn or bad. Even with a total lack of effort put into their training, people assign these labels and society backs them up. Not only is it untrue, it's unfair and it sets us up to label either the dog or the human as somehow lacking.
It sets us up to blame the learner.
Here's the truth - When you bring home your new puppy, you can expect that they are going to eat, sleep and poop! Most other things are up in the air! Well, not quite, but close enough. You don't know what you're going to get. You may get a super cooperative dog and you may get a very independent dog. Either way, they need training. Even if you win the genetic lottery and end up with a lovely puppy who thinks you are their entire world, they still need training and clarification of the rules they'll be expected to follow. Anything less will continue to feed the frustration that a lack of communication creates.
Since society reinforces so many inaccurate ideas about dogs, I don't believe it's the human's fault, but it is the human's problem to address! Which is why the dog often takes the blame. If we continue to lay blame on the dog instead of seeking professional advice and putting in some sweat equity, we alleviate our own responsibility.
The trouble with that is the problem still remains.
No amount of blame will EVER teach that puppy a recall - EVER.
What if Nobody were to Blame?
My question is, why do we need to find blame and fault? Does it help us? Does it solve the problem? Not usually, so let's stop!
What if we stopped trying to lay blame and spent our energies looking for solutions instead? What if the learner, be they human or dog, could simply learn without judgement? No name calling. No assigned labels. No blame. Just learning and communication. Problem still there? Try a different solution rather than trying to find a different point to fault.
What a nice world it would be for both dogs and humans.
So drop the blame.
Enjoy the journey.
Teach the learner!
As always, Happy Training!
Hi! I'm Shannon and I joined the McCann team in 1999 while training Quincey, my wonderful and spirited Rottweiler, to have good listening skills. I'm the Director of Online Training and Content for McCann Professional Dog Trainers and I enjoy writing about dogs and dog training for the McCann blog. I currently share my life with 2 Tollers (Reggie & Ned) and I love helping people develop the best possible relationship with their 4-legged family members. Join us for a FREE lesson at MyDogCan.McCannDogs.com.