You took your dog to a rally run-through at a local training club, and your dog got lunged at as you entered the ring.  Now he’s upset and doesn’t want to go there anymore.

You asked someone to help you teach your dog to retrieve, and the next thing you knew they grabbed your dog by the collar, stuffed the dumbbell in his mouth, and clamped his mouth shut. Now he won’t go near the dumbbell

Why do some teams experience repeated misfortune, and others rarely have these sorts of unfortunate stressors occur?

I remember when my kids were small and I would take them to a park. I would look around.  Are there busy streets nearby? How close? Could I be there safely?  Is there a baseball game going on?  Where do I need to be so that my child won’t get hit by a baseball? Is there an out-of-control bully with no parent in sight running around the playground? Dogs without owners prowling around the grounds?

Maybe this is not the day for that particular park!

Would it be better if there were no busy streets, baseball games, out-of-control bullies or stray dogs? Sure, but we all have a space in the world, and we have to find ways to fit in. By paying attention to what is happening around us we can minimize the risks. Which doesn’t mean that bad things will never happen, but we can certainly make choices that make it less likely.

It’s rare that my dogs get lunged at or that something unexpected or “mean” happens to my dogs.  It can happen but…rarely.  So what is the difference here?

I suspect it’s largely due to my choices.

When I take a dog into a space with unknown dogs, I constantly scan the room. I know which dogs are looking in my direction.  I also know which handlers are paying attention and which ones are not. I consider my routes between spaces carefully…do I have enough space to get by that big dog in that crate? The one that’s been barking at every dog that walks past?  I don’t go that way. I don’t make a fuss about it – but I’m not going to walk by that crate.

I wish we lived in a world where all people were responsible for their dog’s behavior at all times and were paying attention to what was happening around them. But we don’t! People like to socialize and do other stuff, and some people are simply clueless about dogs and dog behavior. So while we are wishing that people would making better decisions for their own dogs, in the meantime it might be a good idea for us to make better decisions for our own.

The next time you have a bad experience, don’t fret about it.  Instead, make it a productive learning opportunity. What happened immediately before the event?  Are there things you could have seen or noticed?  Most important – are there steps you can take to prevent it from happening again?

Don’t get me wrong here; this is not a case of blaming the victim.  One offs?  They happen.  They suck and sometimes they are truly horrific – everyone has a story!  But repeated patterns of unfortunate behavior – directed at your dog – that happen repeatedly?   Something needs to change, and since the only behavior that you can reliably change is your own…start there.

If you think bad things happen to your dogs on a more than average basis, take another look at your own behavior. You cannot control what others do, but you can control yourself. You might find that a few small changes makes a big difference.  Or, after a serious analysis, you might decide that your specific set of circumstances are so unique and high risk that you decide to go in an entirely different direction.   And that’s fine too!