What is a good dog?

A dog sits quietly next to its owner. While she chats in an animated fashion to a friend. They are in a park and it’s a lovely spring day – plenty of sounds and pleasant dramas fill the air.

The dog is a golden retriever – it stares off into the distance. The dog doesn’t look in the owner’s direction. Nor for that matter, the owners friends’.

A couple of young children come around the corner followed by their mother, without checking with the owner first they run up to the dog and start squealing and patting the dog. Giggling and chatting at the same time, the dog just burrows its head and is tolerant. As the mother walks away she say “What a good dog”.


Observing this reaction and series of events started me wondering. What is a good dog in the eyes of an average pet owner?

  • One that never asks for engagement or interaction from its owner and will never chose to great a friendly stranger
  • One that never turns its head to identify that unusual sound; squealing children or a verbal greeting
  • Never strains at the lead or runs off to investigate the smells at the dog park
  • A dog that silently endures children
  • Doesn’t bark at strangers approaching
  • Quiet acceptance of anything and everything around them

When it was time to leave, he quietly plodded along next to his owner on a loose lead. An accessory of a perfectly behaved companion – I am often intrigued by owners and their expectations of daily life with a pet dog. What starts in the form of an ‘idea’ can rapidly turn into an unbelievable struggle to contain the chaos that an addition of a canine companion adds to everyday family life.

Dogs have needs that go way beyond the simple need for food, water and shelter. Different breeds with specific genetic traits have different requirements for activity and mental stimulation. Sometimes owners become overwhelmed rather than content when their new pet cannot just behave and meet the criteria of a good dog or an ideal pet.


A Tool

Some owners get a dog for a specific purpose. They think that they are just being practical, here are a few reasons;

  • To be a companion for an existing dog in the household
  • To guard the house
  • As a playmate for the children
  • To help motivate and increase physical activity

While these are all valid reasons – dogs don’t arrive in any household understanding what their ‘job; is. Deciding to get a dog to address something in your life or perhaps to be a catalyst for change isn’t a bad thing but it is important that owners are prepared for the reality of owning a dog and the journey they are beginning. Own a dog can bring plenty of benefits but it will come at a cost in terms of time, energy and money.



The Problem

Unfortunately there could very well be some problems to solve along the way. Dog ownership is never plain sailing – and I can tell you from experience that a great deal of my working day is made up of helping owners who have discovered that owning a dog is different and more challenging than they realised. Perhaps the expected a calm, quiet buddy instead they have a happy, focused play driven dog. Whatever the situation, the end result can be matched to the owners intention for their new companion.


The Answer??

We need to redefine what we believe to be a ‘good dog’ means. The traditional view that dogs should remain quietly out of our sight until we want them to do something is outdated and certain demands of what our dogs are capable of can be unrealistic. Instead we need to think of a ‘good dog’ in terms of what they can be taught and how much value an appropriate relationship with a dog can bring.

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