Good Dog? Bad Dog?

When we applied to adopt Ray, the Oakville & Milton Humane Society expressed reservations. They were concerned about me because not only did Ray have an unknown history, and they knew that he was going to be challenging, but he would be my first dog. To complicate matters further, I had been bitten a long time ago by a German Shepherd, and Ray was certainly a product of a German Shepherd and another breed. (More details are in his book “Who Said I was up for Adoption?”).

In retrospect, I think my biggest asset with Ray was my inexperience, simply because I had no prior expectations from him! People with a history of dog ownership have got those experiences to draw from which would seem to generally be an advantage, but could be a disadvantage when a “Ray” comes along! As Carol succinctly stated on a number of occasions “I’ve never known a dog quite like Ray before!”

Given the circumstances that I was putting myself in, and drawing from many years of assorted life experiences, one basic and immediate need was to try and see the world from his perspective. The Humane Society trainers where an incredible help with this as they explained certain behavioral characteristics to me.Β  If I could have some grasp on “why” Ray was doing certain things, then change should be no more than removing the “why” in some manner. It seemed logical!

Ray used to bark at everybody and every dog he saw. It was explained to us that he was uncertain about them and was giving them cause to go away using his deep “voice”!Β  The solution was to get him to learn that other people and dogs are not necessarily a threat to him. We were successful and Ray sees no need to bark at people and dogs anymore.

There are many examples of this and yet, while it all makes perfect sense to me, it consistently amazes me how many people have not considered a dog’s perspective. I can accept that people who have never lived with a dog would have no way of relating, but it is frustrating when I see dog owners giving no consideration to their dog’s view of the world. While I believe that I will like most people that I meet, there will occasionally be somebody who gives me a “problem”! I see no reason to think that Ray is any different. He will, occasionally, undoubtedly meet a person or a dog who he is intuitively wary of.

People in general are about 2 to 3 times Ray’s weight and roughly 4 times his height. If I saw a total stranger over 20 feet tall and weighing well over 300lbs coming towards me, I would probably be cautious. If that person stood directly in front of me; bent over; reached out a huge hand , and then it disappeared behind my head…. I would probably quickly move out of the way and verify what was happening but then…… I am not leashed! I have that option! It is easy to understand a more aggressive reaction by a leashed dog!

It is very annoying, and very sad, to hear a dog being labeled “Bad dog” simply because it is doing what it’s view of the world dictates is necessary. Ray has done a number of alarming things as a result of him not trusting the world around him, but all can be explained and, if they can be explained, then they can be addressed.

When Ray grabbed our neighbor’s arm (which was coming in my direction to give me a piece of paper), was he a “good dog” for protecting me, or a “bad dog” for misreading the body language? Is he a “good dog” for alerting us to people on our property, or a “bad dog” for barking at people delivering flyers? Is he a “good dog” for letting us cuddle him, or a “bad dog” for not allowing others to do the same?

It really all comes down to our perspective on the behavior however, what is much more important than our perspective… is Ray’s perspective because, if we do not understand that, then nothing is likely to change.

Ray is probably more like every other dog than we give him credit for! His life experiences have just been a little unusual and, in order to try and understand him, we must focus on his perspectiveΒ  because, in the end, it really is his perspective that counts!


38 thoughts on “Good Dog? Bad Dog?

    • Hi Michelle… and thank you, but it really is so much better than a negative attitude isn’t it? Ultimately it is my choice (with life and all that entails) as I can choose to focus on negatives, and I have lots of those in my life, or I can choose to focus on the positives. It really was an easy decision to make! Hope to “see” you again! πŸ™‚


  1. This post is fantastic. The essential element to all dog training comes down to understanding their perspective, the why, and then how. Nowhere near enough dog owners understand this, especially those who end up “out-dogged.” The Humane society was right – you absolutely could have out-dogged yourself, but you had this understanding, this perspective, and so you didn’t. Ray is so lucky πŸ™‚

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  2. Ray certainly landed in the right home with you! And I agree that seeing things from the dog’s point of view is essential to understanding their behavior, and in managing it when necessary. So many behaviors that seem normal for humans (greeting someone with a direct look, a smile, and an outstretched hand) can be seen as very threatening behavior to dogs. And it takes time and patience for dogs and humans to understand one another, I think. Great post!

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  3. Every one of the many dogs who have ever lived with me has been unique – β€œI’ve never known a dog quite like” any one of them, even though they’ve all been purebred Shih Tzus, due to my allergies to most other breeds.

    Perhaps one of the problems people have when they can’t see things from their dog’s point of view is that they have some generic “DOG” in mind – like expecting to understand a particular person by thinking about composite of all human traits and generalizing from there? I also wonder about their people skills when I hear comments that we dog-folks “anthropomorphize” when we are able to see the various personality traits in each particular dog – and especially when we are willing and able to accommodate them!

    IMHO, you are a walking zombie NOT to be able to see what your dog loves/likes/hates to eat, loves/likes/hates to do – etc. – even when your dog is unusually well-behaved and eager to please (like Tink). And why wouldn’t we be eager to accommodate their preferences? Are they suggesting we do NOT?

    I do want to acknowledge YOU, however, for an unusual level of doggie insight, especially as a first-timer.

    Tink has the “grandchild” benefit, thanks to all of my former furry teachers. Looking back, I wish I could have do-overs, but I console myself that they all got a ton of love and attention, they never went hungry or were treated harshly, and that all I can do at this point is make sure that Tink reaps the benefits to the best of my ability. Some days, as he waits patiently for my attention to move from screen to pooch, I wonder how well I am doing with that goal still. Ray chose well.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”

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    • Thank Madelyn. I just simply applied my experiences with people… to Ray! People often comment how well behaved and friendly he is, and then mention that they would really like a dog like him. Therein is an inherent problem because they have no idea what has been involved. They only see the end result. I always mention his history and that he has been a “work in progress” now for 3-1/2 years, and there are still issues that need to be addressed… hoping that will give them a reality check!

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      • Rescue dogs don’t always respond like Ray, but with continued kindness and care, they do come around, and are amazingly loving and grateful for kindness once they do.

        People need to realize that the “answer” to rehabilitating a dog to be as well behaved and friendly as Ray is not unlike the Sultan’s response to the visitor from the village in the fable of the Ten Camel Wife, “If you want a ten camel wife, you have to pay ten camels!”

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            • Personally, I don’t believe in luck. I do believe that circumstances can dictate unforeseen outcomes. I also believe that life is a matter of making choices and, if some choices do not produce the desired outcomes, then perhaps other choices should be made next time. Perhaps to do nothing can, at times, be an appropriate choice. To accept “luck” opens the door to not accepting responsibility for ones own actions. If you have ever read “Inside the Criminal Mind” (1970s/80s era), you will recall that considerable emphasis is placed on the mind-set that everything that goes wrong is somebody else’s fault! A bank robber serving jail time will probably blame his getaway car; his associate; an informant (or whatever), for his jail time. He will not blame himself (take responsibility) for attempting to rob a bank. It’s a very interesting mindset!

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              • WOW, I hit a hot button with my choice of words – sorry. “Fortunate” might have been a better choice.

                I support a great many people with mental health issues, chronic pain, PTSD, TBI, etc. – practically none of whom adopt a “victim” mentality and ALL of whom take responsibility for doing the best they can with the cards they were dealt (most days anyway, which is all any of us can claim to do if we are totally truthful). Their histories are always in the back of my mind and prompted my comment.

                My own hot button is the sad reality that far too many people seem to believe that it’s a level playing field, and if everybody’d only “think right” they’d find it possible to climb out of holes that TRULY are not of their own making.

                Sometimes, at least in the case of the many I have supported, much of what goes wrong IS somebody else’s fault. Their healing begins when they STOP taking responsibility for it, actually.

                AS ALWAYS, perspective is all. I see yours, and I hope you can see mine.


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  4. Ray is so lucky to have you for a Dad! YOU could teach dog owners! Interesting how he is your first and you had no expectations. That makes so much sense! You two are very fortunate to have found each other. ❀

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      • Great Analysis, Colin! I always tell people’s kids simply not to play with my dog because in the long run what usually happens is they simply get too comfortable with the dog and start sitting on him and/or hitting him like he’s some kind of toy. When that happens you’re asking for something bad to happen and the words “bad dog” to be shouted…

        /Adam – The Doggy Institute

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        • Hi Adam, and welcome. Sadly (for Ray) he looks so friendly and cuddly that we always have to (like you) monitor interactions carefully. Unfortunately, it is the dog that invariably pays for human carelessness and/or stupidity.

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  5. I don’t believe in bad dogs per se, just bad owners. As you say, sometimes inexperience and thus no expectations can work in your favour. I have had the same breed several times, but no two dogs have ever been the same. Like people, they are individuals and if you don’t put in an effort to work with them, then you can’t expect them to behave or understand.
    Ray is a credit to you (and you him) and the Humane Society for pairing you two up. I love success stories, as all too often it is the owners at fault not the poor animal that finds itself in a shelter, pound, or worse. πŸ™‚

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