The Curse of Having a “Good” Dog

Honey posing with turkey bacon treats

I’m told that none of the dogs who lived here before me would have sat so pretty without tearing into this turkey bacon.
Does that make me good? Or really dumb?

Since Honey was a puppy, we’ve done regular training in busy, outdoor settings. Dozens of people have stopped to compliment me on what a good dog she is.

But having a “good” dog carries a curse.

Breedism Rears Its Ugly Head

Honey and I were practicing calm behavior near children at the local playground.

If Honey could keep all four paws on the ground, we’d get closer to the kids and solicit some lovies. But if she started jumping like a fish on the end of a line, we’d take a few steps back.

One of the moms came up to tell me what a “good” dog Honey was. I thanked her and said we were working hard to teach her polite manners. I don’t think the woman heard me because she immediately started complaining about her dogs at home.

“I have two mixed dogs from the SPCA. I should have gotten a Golden Retriever. Yours is so good. Mine are rotten.”

No, she didn’t enroll either of her dogs in the discounted training classes at the SPCA. And no, she didn’t take them for walks every day. And she certainly wasn’t practicing life skills with them at the park.

Although she had watched me working with Honey for 30 minutes, nothing could persuade her that anything caused Honey to be “good” except her breed. Palm. To. Face.

We’re All Different at Home

Did you see how nicely Honey followed the cue “go to bed” on my FreshPet turkey bacon treat video review on Thursday? Pretty impressive, huh?

She didn’t do nearly so well when I asked her to sit (three times) from her position lying on the carpet.

And that loud demanding bark letting us know she’s ready for bed and she’d like us to go with her—at eight o’clock—is eardrum-shattering.

Not  one of us is as good in private as in public. Except maybe the Dalai Lama and the former American Dalai Lama, Fred Rogers.

Bad Behavior is All My Fault

When the breed description for your dog includes phrases like intelligent, trainable, and eager-to-please, it’s a message from the gods that anything she does wrong is all your fault. It’s a heavy burden to bear. Especially for someone who does not need one more reason to feel bad about herself.

Lets Me Be Lazy

Honey is a gentle and easy-going girl. She’s not a big barker (most of the time). She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body.

She’s never even counter-surfed.

If I never did a second of training with Honey, she’d pull more on leash, especially if she saw an interesting person, dog, or squirrel passing by. And she’d jump on people a lot more. But she’d still be a pretty easy dog compared to many. It’s just her nature.

It’s tempting to get lazy and not work as hard training Honey to do new things. She doesn’t need much training and management to go places in public. But if I get lazy, I’m not allowing her to fulfill her potential. And I’d probably be more hesitant to take her places where her exuberant friendliness could be a problem.

Honey at the SPCA March for the Animals

I understand the other dogs who lived with my folks would never have walked so comfortably with strangers and other dogs.
Umm, but it’s wet and cold out here. Am I good? Or am I dumb?

A Good Dog or a Good Furry Person?

I’ve never taken a poll but I suspect that 80% of the people who compliment me on Honey’s being a good dog don’t really like dogs all that much. They praise her when she’s acting less like a dog than ever.

A good dog sniffs things that smell interesting, even if it’s embarrassing to humans. A good dog roughhouses with other dogs. A good dog drools when snacks are nearby. A good dog jumps to show excitement. A good dog chooses who he wants to be friends with. A good dog shies away from things that are frightening.

When Honey sits quietly by my side while I talk to someone, she’s not being a good dog. But she is doing an excellent impression of an adult human.

A Good Dog with Issues

For years I’ve had dogs with issues.

My childhood dog bit someone severely. Agatha and Christie’s mildest traits were their separation anxiety and a diet of furniture and toiletries. At least those habits felt mild when compared to their fights which led to bloodshed.

Since Shadow was an only dog, the only blood shed when she was with us was mine—from her extreme pulling on leash. Oh, and that horrible tumor in her jaw that left bloody saliva drooling from her mouth.

In comparison, Honey is an easy dog. You could even call her a good dog. And many people do.

I love Honey. Her affability allows me to do something I’ve always wanted to do: welcome other dogs into our home. Agatha, Christie, and Shadow could never have handled foster dogs visiting.

But I miss so many things about my “not so good” dogs.

I loved the intense attachment Agatha had to me, the flip side of her severe separation anxiety. I enjoyed Christie’s intense curiosity which was also a major part of why she pulled severely enough to cause herself harm. Shadow’s stubborn unwillingness to be trained away from joining us in bed early every morning became one of her most-loved traits.

Most of all, I never had anyone come up to me when I was walking Agatha, Christie, or Shadow to tell me what good dogs they were.

Which made it our little secret.

I know you have a good dog. What makes it a blessing? And what makes it a curse?

Announcing a New Bacon Poet

Annette Carricato won the Bacon Poet Magnetic Poetry Kit in our FreshPet Turkey Bacon giveaway. Congratulations, Annette!

I hope you’ll post one of your first bacon poems on the Something Wagging Facebook page.

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  1. Quick note to Star Trek: TNG fans – You must click the Palm. To. Face. link in the post above.

    I’d like to figure out how to use it as a punctuation mark. :)

  2. The One Called Donna has a lot of peoples come up to her to say how good I am, and she is quick to point out that I am nine…and that it is a lot of work…and I still don’t always behave.

    This post makes lots of sense to me, because at my house, the girls may be the ones with “issues” but as for behaviors that make them compatible to living with peoples, I think My peoples both agree that they are better behaved than ME. :-)

  3. Very interesting points. It amazes me that some people assume certain dog breeds just come that way. It takes a lot of work to give the impression that my dogs are always well-behaved. We’ve had our not-so-glorious moments. Sephi was often called a good dog but she could be very dog aggressive. People fall in love with my hyper Aussie-mix Pierson but have no idea what a handful he can be. Maya can be a very good dog, but like Honey takes a lot of work to keep her from “jumping like a fish on the end of a line” when someone approaches to pet her. I love that analogy! 😀 All my dogs have been great dogs but they aren’t always good dogs.

  4. I am grateful every day to the prior owner of Bogie, who was 4 when we adopted him. Although it seemed obvious that they allowed him to jump on the bed, one day of saying down, and he doesn’t even try any more. Although I’m pretty sure that they must have fed him from their plates, he will sit beside me on the sofa and never once try to get the food on my plate. There are lots of examples of his good behavior, which help make up for his compulsion to lick people (which we’re working on) and the fact that he doesn’t like to play with ANYTHING! And here I thought all dogs liked balls!

  5. I saw the same thing with my two boys. My recently departed Milo was a yellow lab mixed with husky. He was generally well behaved, but he really only loved me and ignored everyone else. Any time I was walking both of my boys at the same time people always stopped to tell me how wonderful he was and what a great influence he must be on my other dog (Kodi) I was walking. Everyone assumes Kodi is a Rotty and therefore he frequently is subjected to breed biases. I have started to take this opportunity to educate people that although Rotties make amazing pets, like all breeds can, Kodi is not even remotely a Rotty. He is a black lab and black and tan coonhound mix, and he is amazingly well behaved through much work on both of our parts. I think it helps remind people that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover :)

  6. Though Shiva has a lot of “problem” behaviours we have been praised many times by others who are walking younger dogs with less training, or older dogs with no training at all. Every single time I try to tell them how hard we have worked together and I always recommend classes with our favourite dog trainers (we’ve had more than four)but I don’t know if it really gets through. At one point I used to carry their business cards around in a coat pocket. I don’t know if any of them ever made a phone call. Shiva is a mutt from the SPCA and I still think most believe she was just born “well-behaved”.

    But Shiva ain’t perfect. So often she will choose the moment someone is praising her heeling skills to burst in front of me and lunge at their dog. While I appreciate their compliments after years of hearing only screams of terror, sometimes I just wish they’d keep their thoughts to themselves. 😛

  7. Oh, this post hits home for me. Silas is not a good “adult human” at all. He barks at things that scare him. His leash manners are okay at best. We have elaborate plans for never having a stranger in the house. But, you know, how else could it be the highlight of my day to walk out the back door and in the front? He gives me a lot of excuses to celebrate, and to look around.

    Our mixed blessing is cuteness. He’s cute, so people cut him slack about jumping on them or barking. But he’s cute, so people want to pet him and love him and he just DOES NOT WANT that from 70% of people.

  8. Elka is good enough that I can brag about her, frequently (she’s also never counter surfed). But, the fact that she’s SO. GOOD. makes me feel bad about talking about what she’s less good about. Like other dogs.

  9. Oh you stated it so perfectly. I love the enthusiasm my dogs have for other dogs and other people. I just wish people would accept they are dogs and that is how dogs behave, instead of me having to rein them in all the time. I wish we could all learn to embrace life the way dogs do.

    Delilah is a counter surfer, and I’d like to say she makes me a better housekeeper but that would be a lie. :-)

  10. Loved the Palm to Face link. Made me laugh when I saw Captain Picard put his head in his hands. That’s exactly how I felt when I read about the woman at the park. Ugh!

    I wish people realized that having a dog that can be well-behaved around people is part the dog and part the owner and a lot about the time they put into that “well-behaved” behavior. I am like you, I think some of the behaviors people compliment are human behaviors, not dog behaviors. I work on things with my dogs, but I don’t expect them not to be dogs.

    Great post Pamela.

  11. My bipeds are often told how “lucky” they are to have such a well behaved dog, when they are out with me. They are usually very patient about trying to explain that it has nothing to do with luck, but generally have the feeling that the words are wasted.
    They are also frequently told that very large dogs are always good. The evidence for this? The person saying it has never seen a very large dog misbehaving when out and about. At this point my male biped sometimes tells the person to go and visit their local rescue centre and see just how many adolescent dogs of large breeds are there because they haven’t been trained.

  12. I’m still snickering over the double face palm! 😛

    I am always surprised by people when they compliment our dogs on their good behavior, too. Not because I’m surprised they can be good in public, but because I don’t think it’s a mystery how they got that way. It’s called basic obedience and work. All of our dogs have been through at least basic obedience class, except Lilac (because we foolishly thought she was too old when we first got her and she wouldn’t live long enough to need it) and we reinforce it in regular daily living. And no, they aren’t nearly as good at home as they are in public! lol

  13. Gracie the Bull Terrier has learned so much in four years – but ‘outsiders’ don’t appreciate it because she still loves to sometimes bounce up to get a better look in their face. Jennie the Collie is 7, a senior – she gets told she’s a good girl by strangers who don’t know she pretends to be deaf whenever she doesn’t care to hear what is being said :-) A lot of people don’t realize what goes into a well behaved dog…or what counts as well behaved for some dogs 😉

  14. I love your distinctn between a good dog and an easy dog.

    No stranger will ever call Bella a good dog. But despite all her issues, she is smart, sweet, easily trained, she doesn’t counter surf, she doesn’t get in the garbage or jump on people… Like your Agatha, Christie and Shadow, most people will never see that side of her and also like you, it will remain our treasured little secret.

  15. This is so funny, because people tell us all the time how good our dogs are, especially when we’re posing them for photos and asking them to stay put for the shot. Little do they know how much time we’ve spent working with the boys to get to these moments. If only those people were still around when Buster sees another dog walk by and starts barking like a nut – or when Ty decides that standing on the dinette table give him a better view out the window! And, though they have their issues, they’re still good dogs and I adore them.

  16. What a beautiful thought about your pets short comings being part of what made them so endearing. Kolchak’s over exuberance and tendency to leap into my lap unexpectedly does make him “bad” to some, but that’s why I love him best. Felix’s intense separation was really hard to work through, but it’s bonded him and I closer than I ever would have imagined. Lu’s leash pulling is OBNOXIOUS, but it makes me laugh to see how distracted he gets by every new and exciting thing.

  17. When someone comments about one of our dogs being a “good” dog (or not being a good dog- perhaps that happens more frequently), I often comment back that they are very good at being dogs, but that does not always translate into what humans think of as “good”.
    We work on behaviors that will make them safer (like recall, leave it and loose leash walking), but don’t focus so much on what I consider convenience behaviors. Junebug is always going to jump in a stranger’s lap at the dog park. Could I train her out of it? probably, but I’m not going to. Most people love having a Beagle in their lap, and for those that don’t, she responds perfectly well to being pushed away.
    But in my mind, it doesn’t matter what a breed standard says (though I do use June’s Beagleness as a mild excuse) the truth is, every bad behavior my dogs have is my fault. I could train them out of it, but often times, I choose not to. And that is on me, not the dog.
    Perhaps the comment shouldn’t be about how “good” a dog is, but about how “good” a human the owner/pet parent is?

  18. Louise is a fearful dog. People always comment on how good both my dogs are because they are trained to sit and be quiet when people or other dogs are passing by. But don’t get to close to Louise. She does not like that and she can lunge. So, if my dogs are sitting, and I do not invite you to come close. Don’t. I do not seem to be able to get that point across to people. Please ask if you can approach my dogs. You are exactly right, it is less to do with breed and more to do with training. A good training human can help a dog be calmer and be, a you call it ‘good.’ But, I can not change who she is, I can just help her to cope politely in this very over whelming world. – DogDaz


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