It is well documented that we often do not precieve dangers in proportion to the real risk they present to us – an effect called “risk telescoping.” It is also well documented that there are a lot of things in our lives that are a great deal more dangerous to us than dogs. But mispercieving the risk isn’t the only problem. The real problem is forgetting the other half of the equation all together. In Landshark Week 2013, we touched on the idea of a “risk only analysis.” Generally, when considering our options, we tend to weigh the costs or risks against the benefits or what we stand to gain from making the decision. For some reason though, with dogs we, as a society, have dropped half of this equation. In our litigious culture of fear, we have stopped thinking of dogs in a risk/benefit context and think of them in what I call a “risk only analysis.” We get over-fixated on the things we fear, the potential bad things that can happen, and completely forget all the benefits and good things that come with living with dogs. We make silly decisions, stupid laws and set policies that, no matter how much risk they do or try to eliminate, do more harm than good in the big picture by ignoring the lost benefits.
Getting fixated on risk with dogs is what generates irrational fear and hysteria that leads to breed specific legislation and panic policy making. However, the negative impact of a risk only analysis is not limited to laws and attitudes toward certain breeds or kinds of dogs. It affects many other areas of the human-canine bond. There is a wealth of evidence that is growing steadily about the positive benefits of dogs in our lives in general, and also in healing and therapeutic settings. Dogs are known to stimulate positive physiological responses in people, they can provide stress relief and a morale boost in the work place, make retirement homes more comfortable, bring positive health benefits and happiness to people in a hospital, they help kids learn to read or deal with social difficulties at school, help returning veterans adjust to life at home, and they can help people dealing with physical or emotional challenges. The list goes on and on. But it is still often a great struggle to get organizations and companies to allow these beneficial canine programs because they only think of the potential liability and risks involved and wholly fail to weigh the actual benefits. Out of concern for unlikely negative incidents, countless people do not experience the great many known benefits of interactions with dogs. The paralysis of fear brings down our overall quality of life.
We take risks everyday in our lives and we allow risky things in our communities. We get into cars, we interact with other people, we allow parents to raise children and we do not ban swimming pools. All we need to benefit from the countless ways we can interact with dogs is to take a breath, take a step back and realize how out of balance our fear has made our view of the human-canine bond.