The Good Samaritan Law

painting of a good samaritanI spent 3 days at a workshop with Suzanne Clothier focusing on the treatment and handling of fearful and reactive dogs. The fabulous Deborah Flick of the The Boulder Dog Blog came out and joined me and I can’t imagine a better time.

One of the questions asked of Suzanne was- when was it appropriate to ‘correct’ or ‘punish’ a dog. Her response made me think of the ‘Good Samaritan Law‘ which applies to people who volunteer to help someone who is sick or injured and prevents them from being held liable for their actions. In practice this means that should you stop to help someone at the scene of a car accident, you cannot be sued if the victim chooses to claim that your actions caused them harm. The purpose of the law is to ensure that people continue to assist others in need without worrying about being sued for it. However, if you are a professional, an emergency room doctor let’s say, the same law may not apply. You will be held to higher standard for your actions.

Suzanne’s response regarding when it was appropriate to ‘correct’ a dog was based on whether or not she could be completely sure that the dog not only knew the behavior being asked of them, but that their skill level also met the challenges of the situation (were they an emergency room doctor or lay person?). A dog without the skills for the situation would not be punished for noncompliance. The punishment does not teach them the skills they need nor does it make it easier for them to learn. A dog without the skills to sit quietly when other dogs approach or when people come to the door needs to learn those skills, not be punished for not having them.

As with the good Samaritan we don’t punish a dog for trying to the best of their ability and making choices based on that ability. We want to teach them the skills they need to be successful. At the same time we want to cut the emergency room doctor some slack if they are unable to perform up to their skill level on the side of the road.

I have tried to give my fearful dog the skills to be successful in as many different situations as possible, but should he need to he can defer to my greater expertise. He may think a tourniquet is necessary when I suspect a bandaid will do the trick. It’s been a long time since he’s argued with my decisions.

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11 comments so far

  1. Rick on

    Great analogy! Working with fearful dogs does take patience and skill, as does working with an injured person.

  2. Sue on

    What a brilliant post and definitely food for thought. I will definitely think about it next time Molly reacts to something.
    I need to decide if I have prepared her well enough to deal with situations that make her uneasy and make her bark like crazy. I think that most of the time, I will be able to answer ‘no’!
    Although I don’t punish her, I know that it sometimes gets me uptight.
    Your posts are helping me (and my 2 rescue dogs) in a way only a fellow fearful dog owner could. Thank you once again.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I think you are right that the easy answer will be that if she’s reacting negatively to something she was not prepared sufficiently for the situation and we, as handlers, should never have let it get that far.

      The cool thing about working with our dogs is that the more skills we give them, the more skills we gain and our own anxiety lowers. So when we encounter the ‘scary thing’ we both know what to do.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and your dogs are lucky to have landed with you.

  3. Amy@GoPetFriendly on

    I completely agree with Sue, and couldn’t have said it better myself. I will simply leave a “ditto” comment. =)

  4. George on

    I totally agree, you don’t punish a kid when he doesn’t follow printed instructions if you haven’t taught him to read.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Perfect analogy George! I may ‘steal’ it from you when I talk to people about their dogs. Thanks!

  5. Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart on

    Terrific post. Makes so much sense to me. I’ve interviewed Suzanne before. We had a lovely talk about Lilly years ago.

  6. Deborah Flick on

    Hey Debbie. Thanks so much for asking me to join you! Spending time with you and processing everything we were learning was awesome!

    I love your post (You always draw the most evocative analogies 😉 ) and would add only one thing I think I remember Suzanne saying when she was talking about this very topic. “It’s NOT ethical!” to punish a dog if they don’t know HOW to do what you are asking or are over their head due to extenuating circumstances. Not ethical. Indeed.

    Have a great fall New England weekend. It’s too damn hot in Boulder–80 degrees! Enough already!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Ugh. I know you’d like some cloud cover but there’s been thick ice on the dogs’ outside waterbowl for days now.

      Imagine applying ethics to dog training 😉 It might be a novel concept for many!

  7. melfr99 on

    What a wonderful analogy! I so agree with you Deb. I have worked hard to help Daisy, but when her ability or skill level is not where it needs to be I give her some slack. She’s actually pretty amazing. She is curious and smart and wants to learn more all of the time, but I never push or correct unless I think she is ready or that I have taken those small baby steps to help lead her to it.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Mel. We often seem to expect far more from our dogs than we ever would from a person, and our dogs have to figure out what the heck we’re talking about. We’re lucky they’re so forgiving aren’t we? 😉


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