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Are certain sayings doing dogs more harm than good?

'Nanny dog', 'it's how you raise/treat them', 'no bad dogs, just bad owners', 'all you need is love'. These sayings either completely ignore the importance of training or the importance of genetics. I believe this way of thinking has led to people choosing breeds unsuitable to their lifestyle, rescue dogs ending up in the wrong homes and 'take it or leave it' attitude towards training.

There is no solid evidence that the Staffordshire Bull Terrier was ever used as a 'nanny dog' to look after or mind children. In 1971, Ms. Lilian Rant, president, and magazine editor for the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of America used the term “nursemaid dog” in the present tense, in an article. At this time, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier had just been granted permission to be shown in the American Kennel Club’s miscellaneous class which is the first step to AKC recognition. It was important for the club to show the breed in a good light. It is thought that the 'nanny dog' myth has been perpetuated and pushed to combat the negative image and press the breed has received over the years. Whilst there are thousands of staffie type dogs across the world who live harmoniously with children, and several studies have concluded that they are one of the best breeds for families, you cannot apply that thinking to the entire breed. You cannot place a staffie in a home with children and assume everything will be fine because they are 'a nanny dog'.

Bringing a baby into the home, or children moving in, or a dog moving into a house of children, is going to be stressful for any dog, depending on their experience and exposure. Yet so many dogs of all different breeds are thrown into homes with children or babies and just expected to cope. There's no thought to preparing the dog for the new smells, sounds and erratic behaviour of young children. The dogs are allowed to do what they want, the children are allowed to do what they want, and somehow without any training, structure, or rules, everyone is expected to co-exist without an issue.

There are bad dogs. Dogs who have been poorly bred, dogs with poor genetics. There are good owners who do their best with these dogs, and it's unfortunately not enough. When we look at how we treat a dog being reflected in their behaviour, well that depends on someone's individual definition of treat. To some people, buying a designer lead, collar and bed, buying an expensive branded food, allowing the dog to do what they want, is treating the dog exceptionally well. (There is nothing wrong with a designer lead or collar, but it's not a replacement for time and dedication invested in training and spending time with your dog). To some people, saying 'no' or correcting a dog is treating them badly. For other people, correcting unwanted behaviour is a part of learning, as is praising and rewarding good behaviour. For me, treating a dog well is teaching them what is expected of them in different situations and environments, removing the responsibility from them to try and figure it out, and making the wrong choice. Sadly, there are dogs who are not in very good homes at all, and they never put a foot wrong. So the phrase 'how you you treat them' when it comes down to it, doesn't really hold much meaning.

You cannot ignore genetics of a dog who has been bred to do a specific thing for many many years, whether it's sporting, hunting or guarding etc. How you raise a dog will not change the genetics of their breed. You can manage and channel genetic traits, but you cannot choose a dog and then be upset when they display certain behaviours and you have to put in some extra work in that area. For any dog, correct socialisation is absolutely key and will definitely go a long way. It is why it is so important to see a puppy with their mum, in the breeders home. From what dogs has that puppy been bred and in what conditions has that puppy been born into? What behaviours are they already learning, that you may have to undo? The saying 'how you raise them' also ignores adult rescue dogs who may have not had the best life, but would still make great family dogs.

Loving a dog is a good place to start, whether a puppy or an older rescue, and hopefully, depending on your definition of love, it will lead you to want to do everything you can for your dog and their wellbeing. But when love is just physical affection, treats, allowing a dog to do exactly as they please, it's not enough and it's not all they need. I believe this to be a big problem with rescue dogs. It comes from a good place, but no amount of 'love' is going to improve a dog's confidence, or help with addressing behavioural issues. Instead people end up mollycoddling and fussing their dog, inadvertently adding more confusion and anxiety. If a dog cannot put their trust in you as a confident and trustworthy guardian, capable of looking out for them, then they will feel they have to take matters into their own 'hands.'

As dog owners, and those that are parents, it is your role as the adult in the home to take responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of dogs and children. It is your responsibility to actively seek help with training or behaviour issues, and invest time into your dog. It is also important that you research breeds before getting a dog to make sure they are suited to your lifestyle and you are capable of working with any breed traits. It is important to recognise that dogs are dogs, and to manage expectations when bringing a dog into the home. Love and good intentions alone are not enough.

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