Reasons…and excuses

I was under no illusions at all that I was making excuses for my rubbish parking skills when I told the amused Sainsbury’s assistant ‘My new car – it’s too bloody long!!’ as I mowed down the cone I was supposed to stop in front of, as I reversed into the space so I could collect my ‘click and collect’ shopping. I sometimes joke similarly about my dog’s ‘floppy ears’ when she ignores a verbal cue to do something. I know, really, that it’s my poor judgement about a badly timed or insufficiently trained cue, not her ‘floppy ears’, that are the problem, but joking aside – with our dogs, it can matter.

The dog owner who says ‘My Mongolian Duckhound – they just have to chase ducks! It’s what they’re bred for!’ as an excuse for not having trained or managed the situation well enough to stop their dog pursuing the ducks on the local duck pond. The dog walker who says ‘My dog doesn’t like other dogs – that’s why he barks and lunges at them when other owners let their dogs get too close’. All too often Ignoring the role they had in putting the dog in the position that it felt the need to kick off; blaming other dog owners and their dogs.

The blame game

When do reasons become excuses? That I was having difficulty parking my new car was undoubtedly because it was a much longer vehicle than I was used to. I hadn’t learned how to reverse park it into narrow spaces or judge its length.  But that becomes an excuse when I am clearly laying some kind of responsibility on the car for the problem, or Sainsburys for putting the cone in the wrong place, not my lack of skill if I don’t plan on doing anything about it to change the outcome next time I have to reverse into a narrow space.   

Same as with dog training – blaming the dog for actions, when it’s our management and training skills that are lacking, is very common. It allows people to place the responsibility for unacceptable or ‘wrong’ behaviour on the dog, or on other people. But any experienced dog trainer knows that is silly. If a dog hasn’t learned (yet) to not chase ducks, then as the big-brained human it is our responsibility to aim to manage the dog so it isn’t in a position to chase ducks.  That the dog made a bad decision (as far as the owner and the ducks were concerned – the dog probably had a great time!) to chase ducks is down to handler error. That the Mongolian Duckhound is hard-wired to want to chase ducks may be a reason the dog decided to chase the ducks, but blaming the dog for doing it is making excuses for poor management skills, or lack of training, on the part of the owner. Not liking other dogs might be the reason a dog keeps kicking off at other dogs, but if it keeps happening, then it is just making excuses for not managing walks better. Blaming other dog owners, or the dog’s history, in an effort to seem less culpable is a very understandable human response to making mistakes.

‘Stuff happens’

Human frailty means I am probably as guilty as the next person in sometimes exclaiming “B***** dog!!”, as it legs it over the horizon, but I do know, in my heart of hearts, that my emotional response isn’t the slightest bit helpful, or fair on the dog, and must aim to try harder next time to not let it happen.

Does it matter? Maybe not, but if the owner continues to blame the dog, other dog owners, the ducks for moving too fast, or the rest of the world for just being there (like that pesky cone in the Sainsbury’s car park), without actually doing any training, or changing how things are managed, so things are less likely to go wrong again could lead to disastrous consequences. Avoiding taking responsibility for the dog’s unwanted behaviour rarely does the dog any favours.

Of course we all misjudge things from time to time and management might fail (and random ‘stuff’ happens) – but let’s not blame the dog (or others) when it does. It’s important to try and identify reasons why dogs do or don’t do things. But it’s also important to do something about those reasons if the consequences are unwanted or likely to be potentially harmful.   

So I can see I shall have to spend some time and out some effort onto retraining reverse parking in narrow spaces before I mow down some hapless pedestrian, since should that happen, the excuse that my car is too long probably won’t stand up in a court of law!

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