Dog Myth Debunked – Abuse

A photo of my beloved Bear, 2009

My first dog was a lab mix named Bear. She was a painfully adorable puppy. I remember taking her to PetSmart once and a stranger asked to pet her. As the stranger lifted his hand up to pet her on top of the head, Bear shyed away. He looked at me with sympathy and said, “Ohhh. Was she abused?” Nope. Just shy.

At first, it seems like a reasonable assumption that fearful dogs have been mistreated. And sometimes (as terrible as it is to think about) dogs ARE abused. However, let’s not forget about the “nature” in nature vs nurture.

All dogs are born with their own personality. (So are humans. You’re different from your sister/brother, right?) You can see proof of this in the service dog world.

The optimum age to test a litter for potential service dog candidates is SEVEN WEEKS OLD. Even at that young age, each pup has his or her own personality. There may be one or two dogs who have good service dog temperaments, a couple who are shy, and a couple who are too rambunctious. Knowing this, it only makes sense that your shy dog who came from the shelter may just have a shy personality.

The situations that a dog experiences can certainly make those fear issues better or worse. But the point is… sometimes they’ve led a perfectly lovely life.

If a pet owner is told that their dog was “probably abused,” sometimes Abuse Excuse Syndrome kicks in. And that IS harmful to your dog.

Abuse Excuse Syndrome leads people to allow bad behavior.

“It’s OK if he jumps. He was abused!”

“I don’t want him on the couch, but it’s mean to tell him ‘no.’ He was tied to a tree!”

“I tried to take her to the park, but she was scared of the men. It must have been a man who beat her!”

You may see where I’m going with this. Abuse Excuse Syndrome is holding your dog back. It’s preventing her from learning manners. It’s preventing her from overcoming her fear. It’s preventing her from exploring how awesome the world can be.

So let’s look at that shy pup and say, “Hey. You have a pretty great life now. Let’s work on manners so your life can be even more awesome. And let’s teach you that strangers aren’t scary.”

My dog Bear grew up to be an amazing companion. She passed away this year at the age of 13. But she taught me so much, including how to expand the world for a shy dog.

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