Excuse: to make apology for: to try to remove blame from
Explain: to give the reason for or cause of: to show the logical development or relationships of
(Merriam Webster Dictionary)
Dog behavior in various situations has been an on and off topic on various blogs, message boards and internet groups. I was at a dog show where a handler allowed his dogs to bark, lunge and even grab people as they walked by. Now, the breed he had (Central Asian Shepherd) is supposed to be protective and cautious around strangers. This was part of his excuse for the obnoxious behaviors he permitted. My daughter was one of the dog’s victims and the owner placed his dog right next to the exit: a high stress area for a dog that was intolerant of people and other animals. Next to me was another owner of the same breed. Her dog was well behaved, watching the show but not going after people and animals. Her dog had no issues with the stress level of a dog show. Her explanation was she knew the breed predisposition and was working hard to teach her dog to tolerate anything that could happen at a show. Excuses or explanations, are you as a dog owner confusing the words?
In order to answer this question, we first must look at temperament. Temperament is what nature gives us. It includes breed predispositions and hopeful inherited drives. It is what helps make an Old English Sheepdog an Old English Sheepdog and a Bull Terrier a Bull Terrier. Behavior is what we do with those predispositions. I cringe when I read postings and emails from people looking for a “natural” guardian. Well, all dogs have territorial behaviors to some degree. Some dogs are extreme and some are not. Most dogs fall somewhere in between. Often, the potential owner is looking for a “natural” guardian as a way to absolve the human from any work. A dog with strong “protective” instincts, if not properly raised, trained, maintained and socialized, can be a danger. I do not care how big or small that dog is. Similarly, I love owners with various scent hounds who insist the dog cannot walk with his head up or focus on the human because the type of dog is supposed to smell everything. I probably do not have to mention the owners of herding breeds who tolerate nipping and maniacal chasing. Even with crossbred dogs, nature gives us what we have to work with and we nurture it along. Your Border Collie/Lab cross does not have to be an obnoxious goof because he is high energy. Knowing what a dog can be like can help explain what we have to do in order to meet the dog’s needs. That large hound dog type is going to behave differently and have different drives than the terrier cross in the pen next door.
Then there are owners who excuse horrible manners, jumping, grabbing clothes and dangerously goofy behavior on a dog being “a slow to mature breed,” “puppy/adolescent,” “this breed is supposed to be very active,” “not a dog but my baby,” etc. When we excuse undesired behaviors for any reason, we allow a dog to be an increased risk. A young puppy is very capable of learning and developing good manners when you teach at an age appropriate level. The most recent puppy we had in the house was immediately put in classes, worked with carefully to teach her good mouth manners, no jumping unless invited, good chews from bad chews (kitty is not a good chew), etc. At seven months old, her behaviors are what I wanted. And no, living with a trainer is not an excuse. Yes, I am a trainer but what I do is capable of being done by any puppy owner if they want to learn. You have to remember, at one point, I did not have the skills I now have. I had to learn them. I do not like to excuse undesired behaviors. It just asks for trouble and even complacency. “My dog is a breed that likes to hold things in his mouth and chew, therefore I expect things to be damaged.” No.
Then there is the explanation. This is when an owner knows what he has and uses that to explain why he has to work differently to create the behaviors he needs for home and while out in public. I have seen many breeds known to be highly protective and wary of strangers tolerate many things at dog shows. Does this mean the dog or that bloodline is watered down? Not necessarily; it could mean that the owner has worked to make sure the dog has the training to tolerate various situations that being in public can throw at the dog. A great example of this was a Fila Brasileiro I watched at a rare breed show over a decade ago. A Fila is a breed with little tolerance for strangers. It is highly protective of family and home. The owner of the dog was walking him well away from the show grounds. As I was pointing the dog out to my son and explaining why he could not go up for hugs, I watched a man race to the Fila, throw his arms around the dog’s neck and exclaim what a neat dog it was. The owner was pale and could not stop the foolish human. The human ignored cries to stop and move away. Thank goodness the dog’s training and tolerance building paid off! He obviously was not thrilled with the situation but tolerated it. The owner knew what he had, knew how to work with the breed and tried to prevent a person from doing something stupid. Explanation: I have a Fila, therefore I have to work many times harder because of what the breed is.
I love going to homes where the dog has destroyed the back yard. Excuse: Sparky is a terrier, we cannot expect anything else. Explanation: Sparky is a terrier so we need to give him outlets and redirect the digging to appropriate places so we can preserve the yard.
When we use excuses, we may set our dogs up for failure. When we understand and explain the predispositions of our dog, we can begin to work with the dog in a more productive manner.
And for those who state X types of dog MUST be trained using methods that show you are top dog, Alpha, the boss – that is a big lie. Yes, dogs have different temperaments and drives but no dog needs to be choked, shocked or rolled into listening.