Do We Judge People By Their Dogs?

Yeah, I know we’re not supposed to “judge a book by its cover.” But we all do anyway.

It’s only human.

But in this age of e-books, maybe it’s time to change the saying.

Perhaps we should tell ourselves not to judge a person by her dog.

Honey the golden retriever is beautiful.

Don’t judge me by my looks. I’m much more than just a pretty face.

You have a what…?

If you live in the country and have a hound, you’re a redneck. If you live in the city and have a pit bull,  you’re a thug. If you have a poodle, you’re a snob.

The caricatures of dog people are ridiculous shorthand. But we’ve seen all these images in media for years. They may not be fair. But they certainly have staying power.

Honey the golden retriever sits in a gnome home.

See? I like architecture…

Because of our prejudices and expectations, certain combinations also make us laugh.

  • The big, tattooed guy in leather walking a toy poodle
  • The petite mom with two big brown Newfies
  • The couch potato with a border collie (ok, that one’s not just visually disconcerting; that’s a recipe for disaster)

But if we get past looks, we often find smart reasons for the dogs some people choose to live with.

For instance, a toy poodle is a smart dog who fits easily into a biker’s sidecar. And giant dogs often have gentle temperaments and modest exercise needs that do well in a busy family.

Sorry, I can’t find comfort with a couch potato who has a border collie. Unless perhaps, that border collie is a service animal who gets lots of mental stimulation while doing her job.

Honey the Golden Retriever sits in a kayak smelling toes.

Water sports…

Breed vs Behavior

When I was a newer dog person, I probably judged people more by the breed or mix of breeds of their dogs.

But now, I feel more positive about anyone I see with a dog. And I wonder a little bit about the sanity of people who can walk by a dog without giving it a second glance.

Now I’m much more likely to judge a dog person by behavior. No, not the dog’s behavior. Their person’s.

Honey the golden retriever poses with Only Natural Pet dog food.

Fine dining…

Judging Dogs By Their People

Do we also judge dogs by their people?

When I adopted my first dogs in the early 1990s, the shelter overflowed with German shepherd mixes. That was the scary dog du jour.

Within a few years, pit bull type dogs dominated our city’s shelter population as they became popular with young men who wanted a dog that would look tough and make them look tough for having one.

My husband and I lived in Southwest Philadelphia then, where we found it amusing to irritate the local teenagers by playing with their pitties. Let’s just say no one looks like a bad a$$ when their dog rolls over on his back and grins like a fool over belly rubs.

Now pit bull type dogs face discrimination across North America. I can’t help but wonder how much discrimination is driven by people’s assumption that pittie owners are mostly men of color. And if young inner city men started showing an interest in golden retrievers, how long it would take for fluffy blonde dogs to be demonized too?

Honey the golden retriever has a good vet.

And I’m very athletic.


What’s the takeaway here? The life lesson?

I don’t know.

Our friends at Slim Doggy wrote about judging a dog by his looks and inspired me to think about these things. It was a good reminder of how wrong we can be when we judge a book dog by its cover.

And while I would love to have the detachment of a Buddhist master and never judge again, I don’t think it’s going to happen.

So maybe the point of this post is to remind us that judging is inevitable. And to suggest we take a few minutes to think about out judgements, where they come from, and if they’re based in truth or blind prejudice.

And to be happy that our dogs don’t judge us.

Your Turn: Do you find yourself assuming things about a person based on their dog’s looks? How about by their walk accessories (leashes, clothing, poop bags or lack of them)?



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  1. Thanks for the shout out. I think judging is inevitable, but I think if we can all take a moment and reflect on what we’re doing there might be less of it. It’s the same with gossip – what is it in our nature that enjoys talking about other peoples lives?

    • My husband also questions the human desire to gossip. I think it reflects the human desire to tell stories.

      But I fail to understand why people love stories about divorce, murder, and child abuse. My style of gossip is much more positive. :)

  2. Fabulous post! It is sad that people get judged by their animal or even by their training techniques, however, some of those are justifiable. If I see a pet owner out and they are whacking their dog, I am judging and going to intervene. However as a bully mom, I get judged all the time as well as my boy and it’s sad. When Titan goes for nail trims at the vet, I muzzle him, not because he has a history of biting (cause he does not) but I care about the safety of my boy as well as my beloved techs. One wrong snip of the clippers and it could be all over. Yet, just last night, Titan was judged by another customer at the vet’s office. I couldn’t help but speak up to the woman. Angered me indeed. The world is full of judgers unfortunately.

    Very important post. Passing it along.

    • I find it hard to believe anyone could look at Titan and see a threat.

      But any dog in a muzzle will draw fearful glances. A friend of mine started muzzling her cocker spaniel after he ate something on a walk and required thousands of dollars of surgery. It was amazing to see people cross the street at the sight of a 25 pound spaniel.

      And many greyhound people muzzle their dogs because it’s so easy to damage their sensitive skin in play.

      Just yet another example of how lack of knowledge is the base for many fears.

  3. Sadly, it’s human nature to judge. We have learned to never judge people by their looks. That woman at the art show who looks like a bag lady, top designer to the rich.

  4. I don’t tend to judge people by the breed they chose, but I get my judgy pants on when that dog is fat!

    • You remind me of a strange encounter we had once. We were walking around the marina when a somewhat drunk boat owner came out to say Hi to Honey.

      He proceeded to run his hands all over her body like he was searching her for contraband. When he finished, he pronounced she was perfectly fit and not fat at all. His authority for his pronouncement was that his girlfriend was a vet.

      I hope your judgy pants don’t lead you to behave to strangely. You might get arrested. :)

  5. Apparently that makes me a well dressed thug! :-)
    I hate the breed stereotypes that follow around dogs and the people that own them.

    But like Taryn I definitely get judgmental when I see fat dogs, or very ill mannered dogs!

    • Yeah, I bet you really looked like a thug wrapped around a tree on your roller blades. :)

      I do wear judgy pants sometimes. But I witnessed something that I always remember when I start to judge.

      We were watching a movie with our film club which met in a theater in a senior center. In front of us, one woman spent the entire film talking to her neighbor. At the intermission, the man who sat in front of them turned around to lecture them for talking during the movie.

      One of the women replied that her friend was losing her sight and the “talking” was simply explaining the visuals of the film. The man turned around sheepishly without saying another word.

      I also will worry about an unfit or rude dog. But I will at least ask myself if perhaps their person is working with a newly adopted dog before I go too nuts. And I’m really glad I didn’t say something to those older women in the theater. Because I was really tempted to.

  6. I judge walk equipment, I admit it.

    Using a flexi? No thanks.

    In flip flops AND on your phone? Bad news, stop doing that!

    Using an around-your-waist belt kind of leash to walk your dog, so you can read a book? What, really? Oh, and your dog lunges vigorously as passers-by while snarling? Go read someplace else.

    • Yeah, the equipment bugs me too. Less because of the equipment per se and more because of what it says about the person’s relationship with their dog. They’re missing out on so much.

    • Yes, I’ve seen that too, people walking their dog while reading a book. I would end up tripping on something.

  7. Mom says that is just how humans are. Sometimes a real dirtball wants to buy a real expensive house and a realtor won’t work with him, but actually, the dirtball is a millionaire and those realtors miss out. It is a mental thing for humans. I think you all need to sniff more and look less!

  8. I do judge, but not as much as I used to. I’ve been in so many good and not so good situations with our dogs that I tend to become more understanding. Mostly, I just wonder why – why don’t people invest in training and why don’t people pick up their dogs’ poop.

  9. Sorry my head isn’t in the game this morning. I wanted to say something insightful but all I can say is – nice post!

  10. I think the Buddhist still judges…it’s only human, as you say…they just recognize right way that they’re judging. That’s awareness and being in the moment. Then they auto correct.

  11. I shun people that don’t pick up after their dogs. As for the overweight dogs – Blueberry has met a few and the people always look at her and tell me how healthy she looks and then shamefacedly admit that their pudgy dog really needs to trim down. Not sure if they take it any further than that, but at least they acknowledge it. I remember when I fostered an overweight lab mix, I was really self-conscious about how it probably looked: “There goes another clueless owner with an overweight dog. What a moron.”. However, in a couple of months she had lost her overweight appearance and looked so much better and I know she felt better!

  12. I’ve been judged all my life because of “the way I looked” so I try extremely hard not to judge others. I use Harley as my teacher, because he welcomes everybody into his life – un-judged!