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Are you a responsible dog owner?

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I'm teaching a college course on Compassion Fatigue and we are discussing how one's locus of control affects feelings of power. This relates to dog ownership because I see a trend toward an external locus of control among dog owners and support for this on social networking sites.

Allow me to explain. When bad things (or good things for that matter) happen to us we want to know if we have the power to make those things happen or not. If you are late to work, how much of that was due to strange traffic patterns that you could not have predicted and how much due to your own planning enough time to your destination? Most people are accurate in assessing the external and internal influences. But some people lean toward one or the other regardless of the facts. These people can be labeled as having an internal or external "locus of control". Those with an external locus of control are more likely to suffer from character disorders and those with an internal locus of control, more likely to suffer from neurosis.

When you see a facebook post about a dog shot by police, the most frequent reaction is the police are bad. Every individual case has it's own outcome, obviously, but this trend toward all dogs shot by police are victims is putting us on the course toward character disorder, or lack of responsibility on the part of dog owners. Don't forget to consider whether the dog was on the owner's property, confined to the owner's property and whether the dog's behavior was out of control before you place blame. Same goes for dogs shot by anyone, anywhere. A loose dog is at risk. Owners will usually have some control over the location of their dogs.

Another story that gets unequivocal support is the dog hit by a car. The motorist is not only blamed but feels responsible. Same story here. Owners must keep dogs safe to the best of their ability. While a driver must use caution operating a car, a loose dog, even a stray, is not always avoidable. Drivers and their passengers can be badly injured in any car accident, including those involving dogs or avoiding dogs.

Before I expose myself as a neurotic with an overly zealous internal locus of control (always the owner's fault), I'll make it clear that's not backed up by facts. There are cases in which completely responsible dog owners end up blamed for tragedies that could not have been predicted. Just as many dogs find ways to injure themselves safely confined in a dog pen as those who get hurt while running at large.

There is no way to foresee all accidents and prevent everything. Yet owners are vilified for every mishap from dogs caught by a collar and tag (responsible choice) and suffering injury to puppies who escape elaborate safety systems.

But there's more. A recent article on studying a dog's understanding of object permanence in which a person makes a treat disappear and a dog's reaction is gauged to explore the dog's understanding, resulted in comments about the cruelty of confusing a dog on purpose. Wow.

But the latest story is a shocking one. A tragedy befalls two families. A small child wanders into a yard where a dog is living. The child takes a bone. The dog bites the child in the face and pulls. The child is seriously hurt and needs surgery. Why was no one watching the dog in his yard? Why was no one watching the child OUT of his house? I do not know. But this is what happened. Dog gets more financial support for legal expenses to save his life than child's parents receive to pay for medical bills.

Leaving out that none of us knows what actually happened, including the dog owners and parents of the child, we will still jump to conclusions on the reporting available and our own opinions about who had control. But in doing so we expose our own character disorders and neuroses. How is it that a dog who when provoked however legitimately, will bite and when he bites will do harm get more dollars from strangers than a child who made a mistake that meant no harm? Something to think about.

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