Enjoying a short stroll with two of my dogs yesterday, pleasantly warm for the time of year and unexpectedly dry. As we made the turn towards the carpark an unknown dog and owner came into view. Whenever, I am in this situation I automatically recall my dogs, clip their leads on and give myself time to assess. On this occasion the owner also stopped and clipped his lead back onto his dog, then turned onto our path which meant the dogs needed to pass each other. His dog was of the friendly 'oodle' variety and it wasn't a surprise when he asked if the dogs could say hello. As Rocket seemed equally keen to meet this new dog, I replied that he could interact, but I would keep Mist at a distance, to which the man replied 'Ah, so you've got a bad one there?'. How interesting, this is a dog owner, demonstrating thoughtfulness by putting his dog on a lead, being polite and asking permission for the dogs to meet, suddenly labelling one of my dogs as 'bad'. If I was invested in his social approval of my dogs, as many people are, then this could have been devastating, instead it became a reflection on the walk back to the van.
The label of 'badness' seems to have been earned by being unwilling to 'say hello' and interact with a strange dog, which if applied to people means that I, and a lot of you reading this, are also 'bad'. But, what was more interesting was the unconscious de-valuing of the connection between my dog and I. A connection evidenced by the ability to respond to cues in the presence of an unknown dog, the ability to stay close when moving without a lead and the ability to match her arousal to mine. Indeed these are behaviours that are often labelled as 'good' dog behaviour. If you train a dog then you know that this type of connection takes some time to mature and requires some work. Walking back to the van I felt a sense of pride in my dog and what we have achieved together so far. I have some questions for you: 1. Why do we group dogs into 'good' or 'bad'? 2. What is the evidence that a dog is 'good' or 'bad'? 3. Can the labels of 'good' or 'bad' help us decide what to teach a dog? 4. Has your dog ever been labelled 'good' or 'bad' by a stranger? I would love to hear your story.