Mean Dogs

My Grandfather used to say that if you wanted to take the measure of a man, look at his dog.

A person’s personality gets expressed in their interactions with their dogs, which in turn shows up in the dog’s behavior. Someone with mean dogs is probably mean themselves even if they wear a great big smile. Someone with cowardly dogs is most likely a bully. Someone with uncontrollable dogs, is probably undisciplined themselves. 

Like a lot of folk wisdom, it works better in small communities where people get to watch an individual deal with a lot of dogs over time. It’s harder to make the judgment with just one meeting but even so I’ve found the advice a good rough rule of thumb for evaluating people I’ve just met. My initial impressions from their dogs seem to prove true more often than not. I even query people about their dog’s history so I can judge just how much influence they had on it. If they got it from the pound as an adult, then the animal’s behavior probably doesn’t reflect their own. If they raised the dog as a puppy, then it probably does.  

Unfortunately, this goofy little study doesn’t demonstrate what the article’s title claims. The study doesn’t actually seek to correlate training with behavior but merely correlates owners’ responses to their behavior. The study doesn’t take into account the very real possibility that dogs with genetic aggression or aggression induced by the previous owner evoke an aggressive form of training in response. 

7 thoughts on “Mean Dogs”

  1. Almost all the dogs I had as a child were waifs who took up with one or other member of our roving family, got patted and whistled at, came home, bedded down, ate up and stayed on as long as the grub held out. In towns and small cities in West Texas in the 50’s dogs weren’t fenced in or taken out on leashes for walks, they just roamed around (unless they were hunting dogs trained and held for use). Dogs were like Walt Whitman, democratic and making themselves at their ease everywhere. I had many dogs before I left home, and my dogs were always getting run over or picking up poison (laid for rats) or just disappearing or maybe even taking off with a more prestigious owner. I loved each of these dogs in its turn, and had to get used to having my heart broken over and over, as each died or disappeared. You thought you’d never do it again, but you always did. I don’t think that was the worst of lessons to learn about life. The idea of training a dog has never appealed to me, nor keeping it cooped up or walking it on a leash. Free and dangerous and ultimately tragic is the only life to lead.

  2. Cats, too, can be a measure. By and large, if there is a cat or cats in a home, the owner of the residence is fairly well-balanced. In the presence of violent temper or cruelty, the cat’s instinct is to take a hike. Not being pack animals, and being perfectly content to walk on their lone, they are only ever in a house of their own free will.

  3. Cats are definitely a civilizing influence. They live dignified and die dignified. They’re free spirits with some style. You’ve got to raise your own game a little in their presence or risk being snubbed.

  4. K J Webb – You know where you are with cats. They twine around your legs and lie up on the pillow regarding you with their beautiful eyes, purring, but one thing you know for sure is, in an emergency, the cat is in the next county.

  5. Verity, as that old possum Tom Eliot knew, there’s no end to the subject of cats. We had an outdoor one who wouldn’t back down on anything or anyone. If a filthy feckless dog came sniffing around our place, this erstwhile lethargic slug of a cat would transform into warrior mode and dispatch the presumptuous hound. It would be nice to think of him as our loyal servant defending us his keepers, but I reckon it was only his own honour.

  6. As a long-time dog owner, heavily involved in “the Fancy”, as it’s called, I think that dogs are aspirational as much as actual. It’s not just that somebody with a mean dog is mean him- or herself. It’s that they’d like to be mean.

    My breed is Samoyeds, BTW.

Comments are closed.