The Curse of the Perfect Dog

Honey the Golden Retriever plays at Ithaca High School.

Well, I don’t know if I’d say I’m perfect. Let’s just settle for stupendous!

I know of three Golden Retrievers who live much of their lives in backyards within one block of my house.


They’re victims of the Perfect Dog Curse.

It’s About the Dog, Not the Breed

We all know that some breeds (notably pit bulls and pit mixes) pay a terrible price because people expect bad behavior from them at the outset. They are outlawed and even killed because of breed bans.

But pitties aren’t the only dogs prejudged by their breed.

Golden Retrievers are known as perfect family dogs. I’ve never seen a list of best dogs for families that didn’t include them.

And, if Honey is a fair representation, they are amazing dogs—smart, responsive, easy-to-train, and loving.

Then why, of the five Goldens who live within sight of my house, do three of them spend most of their time outdoors?

I think their families were suckered by the breed hype.

Real Life with a Golden Retriever

Yes, every dog has a unique personality. If you put ten Poodles in a room together, you’ll have ten very different characters.

But breeders do select for certain characteristics and other traits come along for the ride.

So, if you live with a Golden Retriever, look for the following traits:

  • an irresistible attraction to carrying things in her mouth, even especially dirty socks and underwear
  • fur that grows at a phenomenal rate between the pads and requires constant grooming to keep him from slipping and sliding all over the floor
  • a table-clearing tail that will make a mess anytime you call her name
  • a mind and body that, if not exercised, will invent games more amusing to him than to you
  • an intense need to make eye contact, even if it means jumping up or sitting on your lap

I’ve heard my neighbors express frustration with just this list of Golden Retriever traits.

And after tripping over their exuberant pup one time too many, they banish him to the backyard for much of the day.

Oh, and they also flourish all kinds of lovies on Honey while lamenting their dog isn’t good just like her.

Hey people, Honey isn’t perfect either. She’s just tired.

Real Life with Honey

I can’t take credit for Honey’s sweet personality. She just came that way.

But I know Honey’s life is much different from these other outdoor Goldens:

  • Every day she is fed in a challenging food toy that works her mind
  • She gets at least one long walk every day, often two
  • We’ve done extensive training together, including time spent with a professional trainer
  • Her day is broken up by impromptu games of tug, fetch, and find the treat

It’s not that I’m a great dog person. It’s pure self-preservation.

If we didn’t do all these things with Honey, she’d be barking at us for attention and otherwise making us nuts.

Honey the Golden Retriever sniffs a tree.

I wish those other Golden Retriever people would let their dogs join us on a walk. I’d like to show off my sniffing abilities to someone able to appreciate them.

Not a Rant; a Lament

I believe most people do the best they can at the time. My neighbors love their pups even if they were surprised by their normal dog behaviors.

I also know that not being a parent gives me far more time and freedom than my neighbors who have children.

I don’t even believe that spending time outdoors is bad for every dog.

But I’m sad.

I believe the dogs are missing out. And I know the people are missing out.

Because if they didn’t have the backyard as an option, they’d be forced to figure out how to live with their rambunctious, intelligent, curious, loving dogs.

And they’d probably enjoy some amazing walks, fun games of tug, and the joy of a tired (if not perfect) dog.

Has your dog’s behavior “forced” you into different management solutions? What has worked? What hasn’t?

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  1. You know, Pamela, I agree with everything you said. My Golden Ret. was a saint…I’ve documented it in my blog! LOL However, he didn’t get that way over night. Lots of training, lots of exercise and lots of love. I do believe that every dog needs those things to be happy, healthy and contented…with happy, healthy, contented humans! Good post!

  2. Such an important topic Pamela. Many people acquire a dog with realizing how much work is involved. A tired dog is a good dog. A bored dog is a bad dog. I had forgotten how much work it takes to care for a dog until our four-legged house guest came for a visit. Truthfully, it reminds me a lot of when my daughter was a baby – it’s a 24/7 job!

    • The sad thing is that there are many animals that provide great companionship and love without the barking or exercise needs of a dog, as you well know.

      It’s not that the care of a small animal is easy but it can be a better fit for many families. My sister love guinea pigs and finds they fit her busy schedule much better than a dog would.

      So your four legged house guest hasn’t convinced you to go out looking for a dog to bring home?

  3. I feel so bad for dogs that are stuck outside all the time. Especially the ones on a chain.
    Dogs are like kids, you have to train them, and socialize them, or they will behave badly. And who is to blame for that?

  4. I have history with Labrador and Flat-coated Retrievers…I always swore I’d never have a Terrier because they were all “yappy little lapdogs” and not “real” dogs…then Gizmo & I met and fell in love at first sight at the shelter and there I was a Terrier owner. Hmmm…
    So I read up on Terriers for a bit and formulated my plan: 1. Puppy School for basic manners and then 2. Treat him like a big dog…By that I mean taking him on the same kinds of hikes and adventures I would have taken a Retriever…and teaching him the same rules I would have taught a larger dog and then once he knew them expecting him to follow them…
    Result? I have a well-behaved, fun-loving Terrier that is at home wherever we go and is a joy to all who meet him
    It goes back to researching the breed and making sure there’s enough room in your life to acomodate that breed’s basic needs…if a golden doesn’t fit into your lifestyle then likely there’s another breed out there that will

    • I think small terriers have it rough in this world. So many people are attracted to the small size but don’t realize what a terrier needs to live a good life.

      Gizmo is lucky to have found his home with someone who knows how to go on adventures. :)

  5. It makes me sad too, Pamela. My dog changed my life because her behaviour forced me to not only get outside and work with her, but it forced me to learn and read and pay attention which opened me to a whole new world. If Shiva had been an easy dog, I probably wouldn’t have the deep relationship with her I do now. If I’d had a fenced yard as an option, I bet she’d still be barking at garden gnomes.

    • I too am thankful that my first dogs were “difficult.” I would never have learned all I now know if Agatha and Christie weren’t absolutely insane.

      I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that, though. At times it would have been nice to know.

  6. So so true.

    Every time a golden retriever (or a mixed breed who LOOKS like a golden retriever) comes into our rescue, we’re inundated with adoption applications from many states away. Meanwhile, other dogs with wonderful family-dog personalities — even including littermates of the puppy that’s in such hot demand! — get overlooked because they don’t match that Hallmark card image.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had adopters say that they want Dog X because “she’s a golden retriever and I want a good family dog” or “he’s a Lab and I know those are the nice ones.” It happens almost every single day and it makes me want to pull out my hair.

    • Our local Golden Retriever rescue has a waiting list for dogs. They’re only working to adopt “special needs” dogs.

      Goldens are great dogs. But their PR is amazing!

  7. Very good point about peoples’ expectations. I regularly have people compare my dog to theirs, bewailing the fact that their dog isn’t as good/obedient/calm as mine. Well… Gwynn is obedient because we practice. he’s calm, because he gets daily walks. He’s good, because, well… he just is. But getting a dog of the same breed as him won’t guarantee that aspect.

  8. I do think you make an interesting point about what it means to not have a yard as one of your options. I kind of wish we hadn’t even had our little patio, because then Silas wouldn’t be so scared of the street. We gave up too early on getting him over his fear of being on the sidewalk, because we could just put him on the patio to do his business. By the time we realized that all puppies are a little nervous about the street, he was a grown dog.

    If we had a real yard, I would never take him anywhere at all. Period. He wouldn’t live out there, but he would get all of his exercise from playing in the yard. He would almost never see another person. As it is, I drive him to the park at least once or twice a week, which does him a world of good. (I desperately need to get in the habit of taking him more often, in fact.)

    • Glad to hear the trips to the park are helping Silas. Guess the little patio that probably seemed like a limitation has been a blessing.

  9. Oh my word, yes. We gave a golden to friends years ago – it was wandering our neighborhood and they wanted a dog for their boy. We regretted it, as she wound up being an outdoor dog. :( Even our dogs don’t go places often, except for rides in the car. They play with our chickens in the backyard, but not for long. Having a dog is definitely work.

  10. As a beagle, I can be willful, I’m nosy and I need a lot of attention and exercise. I have trained my human well and we too have longs walks, I have toys that work my mind, and we play hide the treat…I also have her talk to me all the time so that I know I am included and not ignored. This made me grow into a very social happy beagle. I get so upset when people say to me… Oh, I had a beagle once,…what a nightmare, so I left it outside, or even worse got rid of it!
    People need to know first what lifestyle they want to live before they choose a breed.

    • Beagles are so adorable they’re one of the most popular family dogs. But yes, the Beagle nose needs to be kept busy. Sounds like you and your person know all the best ways to have fun together.

      I wish every Beagle had it so good.

  11. Excellent post and I agree with everything you said. We’ve had Goldens before and now Jeffie. He’s a Golden / Border Collie mix. He has all the Golden traits you listed. Add to that the energy and need for challenging work of a BC. (I’m biased, but he’s also extra sweet and devoted :-) ) We try to keep him busy and tired!

  12. Sounds a lot like when I got Toby. I was never interested in trainers until I got him (mostly because of bad experiences in the past) but he sure opened my eyes to new things. Even now at nine, if we don’t do some sort of activity with him every day, whether it’s interactive playtime, or a walk, or a class – he is a major pain in the rear. (but much cuter than say a hemorrhoid.)

    • Bwa ha ha! My husband and I like brainstorming dog-themed t-shirts. But in a million years we would never have come up with “Dog – Much cuter than a hemorrhoid.”

  13. I wouldn’t say that Larry’s behavior caused us to change our behavior, but more that when we got him, we knew we would have to change. Having a Smooth Fox/JRt type terrier is very different from having a senior Pit/Lab mix. And even though we also had Junebug, Larry’s needs were also very different from a young Beagle.
    Trying to take them on a walk together really requires two people, and they can’t expect to walk very close together. Larry is all about going and what he sees in front of him. June is all about that smell, right there, and it leads off to the side and under those bushes… That’s actually why we’re such fans of the dog park. Both dogs can run and play according to their nature. (The only problem with Seattle is that in the winter we all go a little stir crazy.)
    We also knew that Larry would need us to be more firm on the rules (like our Aussie had needed and we’d gotten lax about) and who was boss, which is hard for me, but necessary for him to be a happy dog.
    It’s not always an easy or smooth road, but I wouldn’t trade my little Punk Terrier for the world.

  14. Well….a little….no pun intended :) I didn’t know what having a dog was going to mean when I inherited Chester. I would basically treat him like a cat – come and go as I please and not pay much attention to him. He would cause all kids of trouble and chew stuff a lot. He was always following me around staring at me so one day I had a genius idea. What if I have him some devoted one-on-one time? I started doing that every day and almost all of the problems went away. Now I dote on him (admittedly, also no kids) all of the time and he is a really good dog :( Some say I spoil him. I do but it is also self-preservation.


  1. […] Over at Something Wagging This Way Comes, Pamela reminds us that all dogs come with breed stereotypes, and that high expectations can still lead to not so great outcomes for dogs in The Curse of the Perfect Dog. […]

  2. […] Over at Something Wagging This Way Comes, Pamela reminds us that all dogs come with breed stereotypes, and that high expectations can still lead to not so great outcomes for dogs in The Curse of the Perfect Dog. […]