Dog behaviour problems: It’s always the owners’ fault, right?

Blog post busting the ‘blame the owners’ stereotype
By Laure-Anne Visele, May 2015

About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

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Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

My name is Laure-Anne and I help with dog behaviour problems around The Hague (Canis bonus). I am also Head Trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague). I graduated in Zoology, and am a certified dog trainer and applied animal behaviourist.

If you live close to The Hague and are getting worried or annoyed about your dog’s behaviour, tell me about the problem. I’ll get back to you within two business days. You can always read up a little on how it works first if you’re not sure.

From business consultant to dog behaviourist

It was a beautiful, crisp Dutch morning and I was psyched. I was catching up with an old friend. We hadn’t seen each other in years but it was like we’d shared our last beer yesterday. She was still chatty, smart, easy-going, and genuinely interested.

Helpdesk jerks used to be the most dangerous thing in  my job. Those were the days...

Helpdesk jerks used to be the most dangerous thing in my job. Those were the days…

Inevitably, we started playing career catch-up: last she’d seen me I was soaring up the corporate ladder, travelling all over the world with my fancy suits and priority/privilege/platinum/insert-self-indulgent-idiotic-word-here cards. I had frequent flyer miles coming out of my ears and spent more time in hotels than in my own bed.

Yet there I was, wearing manky jeans and a comfortable sweater, getting down and dirty with the local dogs. My work anecdotes had jumped from helpdesk jerks to neurotic poodles. Her own work stories had shifted from tourism to… psychiatry. Interesting catch-up ahead.

So she was asking pointed questions about my job to get a feel for my new life. That’s when it happened: “It’s always the owners’ fault though,” she said. “You have to rehabilitate the owners, right?”

Dog training stereotypes

Convenient as they are, stereotypes rarely match reality

Convenient as they are, stereotypes rarely match reality

My job is lousy with eye-rolling, toe-curling, teeth-grinding stereotypes like “They treat their dog like a kid” or indeed “It’s the owners’ fault.”

As she picked up on my facial expression (I am not exactly gifted in the poker face department), I explained. “Look”, I said, “That’s what many people think but I don’t necessarily agree.” Without the tact filter, that meant I disagreed with every fibre of my body.

Dog training rant

“Dogs are complex beings. They can suffer from mood and cognition disorders that are jack-all to do with their owners. Some of them are ticking time-bombs before they even set foot in their new owners’ door: under-socialized and pre-traumatized. And dogs come in a whole spectrum of temperaments, each with their predisposition to particular quirks and sensitivities. ”

Because some problems can't be solved by the charismatic TV 'experts'

Because some problems can’t be solved by the charismatic TV ‘experts’.

“By the time they come to me,” I continued, “the owners have exhausted every resource. I see dogs with complex and profound behaviour problems. Not obedience things that can be fixed with the latest clichés from Google university or the self-appointed TV expert du jour. This self-taught approach can do more harm than good.

Fair enough, some people some break every sound education principle. But these aren’t the people I see. People who contact me for help have tried all the commonsense measures, and then some. They have jumped through every hoop. They are exhausted and vulnerable from countless people putting them through the It’s the owner’s fault stereotype.”

Dog training and psychiatry

My friend had inadvertently hit a nerve, poor thing. She thought she was making small talk and she got the mother of rants instead. So I pushed myself off of my soapbox and tried for a soft(ish) landing: “It’s just that this kind of assumption is unkind to the owner, and doesn’t reflect what I see. I see them stand by their dog through thick and thin. I would sooner erect a statue to their competence and dedication than lay blame on them.” So much for bringing it down a notch… Note to self: work on the intensity thing.

A cloud of uncomfortable silence hung above our heads, so I tried to move to safer conversational waters. “So,” I light-heartedly asked: “what have you been up to the last few years?”

And guess what she replied…

Let's move on to a breezy topic: psychiatry

… “Psychiatry”

Okaaaaaay then, so much for safer conversational waters.

Illustration credits

No changes were made to any of the illustrations.

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