Do your dogs play fetch?   Do you walk them off leash?   Do they play together unsupervised? What do they eat or get for toys?    Are they crated when you’re not home?

You know there is a one in a thousand chance that your dog will get a given disease or get hurt doing a given activity. What do you choose to do?

Each individual weighs cost-benefit and societal responses to misfortune  differently.  It’s not a matter of being responsible or irresponsible or loving one’s dogs more or less than the next person.  In the above examples, how many people have actual statistics for which of those activities is most risky? Almost no one.  Instead, you are heavily influenced by what happened to your neighbor, or your sister’s cousin living four states over or what a professional told you might happen or the dog you read about who died when he jumped up, caught a ball, and suffocated when it got lodged in his windpipe.   Never mind it was a one in a million event.  It happened.

When you consider cost-benefit analysis, ask yourself, Can you live with the guilt you will place on yourself if you are the unlucky one – regardless of the benefits you perceive? Can you live with the judgement that others will bestow with the luxury of hindsight?

When I hear someone say “if that happened to me I could never forgive myself” I take note. That person is making good use of their knowledge of their own temperament.

When you take the safe and “known” road no one blames you, even if your choices sacrifice quality of life or if freak accidents happen in the pursuit of doing the right thing. You are being responsible! Following the rules of those who know important things!   Keep your dog on leash, safely crated when you are not available to supervise, fully vaccinated and protected from all parasites on a regular basis and for God sakes, don’t use a Flexi!

And when you take the riskier path?  Make decisions that feel “safe enough” to you but go against the common wisdom of risk?  Someone has to be the one in a million. Or one in a thousand.  Or one in a hundred, depending on your initial “rational” cost-benefit analysis.

If you took a risk that went against common knowledge of what is safe and you were the unlucky one, can you remember why you made that decision in the first place?   Because if your dog dies eating his contaminated commercial kibble or chew, the societal response will be quite different than if your dog dies while eating a raw bone – all reasonably unlikely events with no evidence about the relative cost/benefits of each possibility.

Cost-benefit analysis. Rather than projecting the odds forward, I would suggest you look at it completely differently. Project the odds backward, not as a function of true risk but as a function of society’s perceived risk and your own tendency towards guilt – because that is what will fuel your misery if you get unlucky.  If you walked your dog off leash and heaven forbid there was an accident that you did not predict, can you live with that?   Can you live with the shame that others will heap upon you?  Can you remember the hundreds of other walks where you took joy in your dog’s joy and freedom?

I am not prone to guilt, and for that aspect of my temperament I am most grateful because it means that I can make a cost benefit analysis that is as rational as possible, and I can live with unfortunate consequences if I’m the unlucky one who goes against the common wisdom.  But I know that other people have a different temperament, and if anything ever went wrong with their unconventional choice then they would be unable to forgive themselves, no matter how minute the risk might’ve been when they made the decision in the first place.  In that case I would suggest that they take the safer road, even if the odds of being the unlucky one are one in a million.

A cost-benefit analysis only matters if you can accept that an individual rather than a statistic bears the burden of being the one – and that is a function of human temperament and society’s perception of risk, not a real cost-benefit analysis.