"My dog has never..." "My dog always..."
I have never shot anyone named Jason who has entered my home. However, if someone named Jason enters uninvited while wearing a hockey mask and brandishing a large knife, my behavior is likely to change.
Behavior is not static, it is constantly changing depending on the dog's health, level of stress, and learning history.
Just because a dog has never exhibited aggressive behavior does not mean that he never will. I remember reading a story years ago about a dog that bit the family toddler "out of the blue," with no prior history of aggressive behavior. The family took the dog to the vet to be euthanized, but the vet asked them to consider allowing a physical exam first. What the vet found was a broken pencil in the dog's ear canal, courtesy of the toddler.
There is no such thing as ALWAYS or NEVER in behavior. A big part of my job when working with dogs is to assess risk. Is that dog simply reacting to other dogs on walks because of frustration caused by lack of training and restraint, or could he pose a risk to other dogs?
Maybe he's been going to the dog park for the last 6 months and never got into a dog fight. However, if his body language and social skills (or lack of) increase his risk for picking or inadvertently starting a dog fight, I'm going to recommend he stop going to the dog park.
I think the idea of ALWAYS or NEVER comes from our bad habit of mistaking behavior for personality. We are too focused on what a dog IS and not what the dog DOES. We say a dog IS aggressive, not that he exhibits aggressive behavior in specific situations. I've been told that a dog IS very dominant with other dogs, not that the dog goes tense when meeting dogs before trying to mount them. When we start to mix up behavior and personality, we tend to think in terms of absolutes - the dog is ALWAYS or NEVER because that's who he is.
Sometimes I cry. But that does not mean I am always sad. Sometimes I laugh. But that does not mean I am never sad.
Behavior is just information about our dogs in that moment. How they handle certain situations, where we are in our training or behavior program, what steps we need to take to avoid future problems, and what we still need to work on.
And can we PLEASE stop saying that X breed is always this or never that? I've worked with over 150 breeds (and well over 4,000 dogs), and I can say that the one thing dogs ALWAYS do is defy stereotypes - whether that stereotype is the great family dog or the great menace to society. As the owner of a lazy Border Collie who failed herding school, there is no such thing as always or never.
By By Lisa Mullinax 4PAWS University