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My Mean Dog

A few weeks ago I was working with Regis (my recovering reactive beagle mix) when we were bum-rushed by an off leash doodle. I know this doodle, she's a lovely dog, but is pretty dense about dog social signals if it's anything other then "let's play", and comes on a bit strong. Regis reacted as I would expect him to: loudly, and in a pretty scary looking way, clearly telling the doodle to "back off". As a result of that reaction the owner of the doodle said "Oh, is he a mean dog?" as she attempted to wrangle her dog back to her.

 

Is Regis a mean dog? This woman did not mean to offend me. She didn't intentionally hurt my feelings, and despite her lack of control over her dog she really is a very well meaning, good hearted dog owner. But that question has stuck with me for about two weeks now, turning over in my head, that single question: "Is he a mean dog?"

 

 ^The mean dog in question^

 

The thing about that question, "is he a mean dog", is that our dogs are so much more than just one label, just like us. If I swear at someone while driving on the highway, am I a "mean person"? If someone bumps into me and doesn't apologize, and I say "excuse you!", am I a mean person? Or maybe I'm just having a rough day? Like us, our companion animals aren't simple enough to just slap a label on them: "friendly", "mean", "aggressive", "bad". And when we reduce them to a single label we do SUCH a disservice to them. 

 

My "mean dog" has taught me more about dogs, behavior, training, patience, love, a