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Calculated Risks

I apologize (two days in a row, wow!)… this blog entry is really discombobulated and … eh, I don’t like it but at the same time I want to put it out there.  So, pardon the not completely put together and well-thought-out post…. I tried and failed, and tried and failed, and tried and failed… and gave up… it is what it is!

As dog handlers (and as humans in general), we take risks each and every single day–whether that is walking across the street or letting a dog off-leash in the woods.  When you think about it, there are very few, if any, truly risk-free activities–nearly every activity has some thing that could go wrong in some way or another.  I feel like I’m seeing more and more risky behavior without any regard for the dog (or it doesn’t seem like there is any regard for the dog)–off leash dogs with no supervision, under-socialized dogs being brought to large and loud events, dogs being forced into very uncomfortable situations (any number of these), prong collar on a 70lbdog attached to a flexi leash, etc .  Although risk is inherent in many parts of life, what we must do is weigh the risks we encounter and make choices on behalf of our dogs and ourselves–and if we choose to risk-it, we must be willing to accept the consequences of those decisions.  Hopefully most people are making choices that they feel are in the best interest of their dogs and not just convenience or  appearances.

In my everyday life, there are many things that are risky and could easily result in the loss, injury or even death of either of the pups (or myself for that matter).  I used to walk the dogs after midnight when I lived in NY and although the dogs wore blinky lights and I wore a reflective vest, there was still a reasonable chance that we could get hit by a car while walking across the street, could encounter less than savory people on our walk or any number of things could happen while walking in the dark.  But, the benefits of the walk far outweighed the risks of loss, injury or death–we encountered fewer dogs, it was cooler in summer, it was late enough that the dogs wouldn’t need to get up early to potty, fewer cars, fewer people, not as many squirrels (or not as many seen), and no other dogs in my building were out at that point (no getting caught in the hallways together).  It was a risk for sure but one that I mitigated enough with lights, a set path that kept me close to homes and occupied areas, and carried a loud whistle to make it, well, less risky.  I really did have to think about those walks and decide if they were worth it or if a short potty trip would suffice.

I’ve also had to really evaluate the off-leash time my dogs get, especially since bringing a young Rio into the family.  Every time I unhook the dogs and let them race around the farm and the woods, I’m taking a risk.  But, I’ve thought about the benefits, consequences and quality of life for my dogs and deemed off-leash experiences to be low enough risk with ample rewards to make it an easy choice.  I’m also well aware that things could absolutely go wrong (I mean, Shayne is so very injury prone!) and I would have to cope with vet bills or worse.  I do what I can to limit the risks but it is certainly not risk free and I’m aware of that during each off-leash adventure.

The ‘riskier’ behaviors I either engage in, or not, are all, at the least, thought about before going forward.  What frustrates me is seeing dog handlers either not aware of the risks they are exposing themselves and their dogs to or that they actively choose to ignore the known risks (and also refuse to take responsibility if things go wrong).  I know many of the things I do with my dogs have risks… but I do make sure the well-being of my dogs are first and foremost in the decision making process.  I love having Shayne next to me while I drive… but it’s not safe for me and not safe for her… the benefits do not outweigh the risks so I don’t do it.

While, you can’t live in fear of unlikely risks (or shouldn’t), you also need to be aware of the risks involved with various activities and, with the dog’s best interest in mind, make a choice whether or not that activity is worth the risk.  I guess I just wish people would stop and think about the choices they are making for their dog and how they may affect the dog’s well being.

8 Comments
  1. There is a balance. For instance there was a time that Bailey could not ride in the back of the car without being violently ill for the entire ride. When we got him from rescue he threw up from CT to MA the whole ride. So until he finally outgrew that issue when he needed to be in the car he rode belted in in the front. The risks of a car accident vs. the damage to his system from being ill were balanced, evaluated and we took the risk we felt were in his best interests. Thankfully he can ride buckled in the back now. It has never been an issue with Katy.

  2. great post! I’m glad to hear that the benefits of off-leash time outweigh the risks (though i’m sure it depends on the location) for you! I can’t imagine anything more fun for Gwynn than getting to run around in the woods and explore things just off-trail. The campground he’s at right now has a large number of bears, so the risk outweighs the benefits, and he is on-leash except in the off-leash fenced in park they provided. Ontario also has a great many rules that keep dogs on-leash most places, unfortunately. Luckily, on trails and in wooded parks, no-one complains about off-leash time… though getting a fine is a risk that I take into account when letting him off to run around.

    • It most definitely depends on the location…. there are very little benefits and TONS of risk with letting the dogs off-leash say, on the side of the high way.. so I woudln’t do it. But i could never forgive myself if these two nutso dogs didn’t get lots of time off-leash exploring.

      Because i generally TRY to abide by local laws (the only time i break them is when we are doing specific training–frisbee or obedience in parks), most of the places i let the dogs hike off-leash are private spaces (friend’s farm, friend’s acreage w/ pond etc). Getting a fine for off-leash when they shoudlnt’ be is a VERY little worry for me… i’ve been “caught” but since it generally is when i’m playing disc, the cops just watch and smile!

  3. I see the flexi-prong collar thing ALL the time at the kennel and I still* cannot figure out why anyone would do that! It literally makes no logical sense, even when you favor the so-called benefits of a prong collar. Drives me crazy.

    I consider myself a pretty cautious person, but having a dog makes me want to take more risks, for her enjoyment. Because she clearly enjoys it. Elli, like Shayne, is also quite accident-prone, but who can deny dog-joy?!

    • flexi+prong is one of the scariest things i’ve seen… the dog has 25ft to gain speed and momentum before hitting a dead stop… ouch.

      “but who can deny dog-joy?!”–EXACTLY!!! Shayne has a deformed front foot (may have been a result of a broken growth plate or it may be a genetic abnormality) … she already is showing signs of arthritis in that joint in terms of range of motion and calcium build up in the joint. Even w/ the arthritis I still let her do high impact tricks… she never comes up lame, never acts sore, she absorbs the force appropriately and has shown no pain at all… the second she shows any pain in that joint we will alter our frisbee game… but for her, not letting her play would break her spirit… so long as she’s not in pain, she’ll get to keep playing.

  4. I see the flexi-choke chain more often than the prong, and I always let the owners know that it isn’t the way to go (in a polite and friendly fashion). Around here, most people don’t even think about it. They’ve always used a chain, and they like that the flexi minimizes pulling. Instead their dog is in a constant (albeit mild) state of strangulation. Perfect!

    I think the one big thing I’ve given up due to risks is trips to our local dog park. It’s a great location, fabulous space, and terrible dog owners. Owning a dog-friendly pit bull can be tough in this area, as everything is always their fault. So after a few instances of aggression on the part of another dog that was mysteriously “set off” by my pit, I decided that we’d all be better off without the dog park. In the end, it’s really paid off because the park where I hike off leash attracts similar minded people and better trained dogs, and we never looked back!

    http://parkerskye.blogspot.com/

  5. Something I saw at work the other day… flexi with the Halti… I had to stop and think about how that so totally defeats the purpose. >.> And the possibility of a broken neck when the dog takes off at a run.

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