Is There Such a Thing as a Bad Dog?

As told by Oliver, the Bearded Collie

by Carolyn Light Bell

You wouldn’t know me as Scottish since I don’t have red hair, a tam, or a kilt. But my cousins, who look just like me, drive sheep up and down the moors of Scotland, rounding up the woolly ones, barking, gathering strays together and bunching them up to move from pasture to pasture. Since you don’t have sheep, I try to make you proud of me in other ways. You picked me out from all my brothers and sisters and brought me home four years ago, when I was only two months old, so we could work as a therapy team.

Today’s lesson is that all dogs, even therapy dogs, can do bad things. It depends on what they learn from people like you.

This is a very weighty subject, even for a 47-pound dog like me. There are three paws of goodness and badness, according to me, Oliver. They are intent, behavior, and influence. I can be very organized, despite my hair, which is shaggy, and my personality, which is very excitable. For example, when I’m on the job, I am a sight to behold, heeling next to you and watching you for cues, smiling at everyone who needs therapy. But before I get carried away telling you how wonderful I am, I promised to explain my three-pawed philosophy on the moral virtues of dogs. There are only three instead of four paws because I like to leave room for learning. I’m only four years old, so I think I will learn more before I leave you. I follow each paw with a little treat for you: my (Oliver’s) advice.

* * *

Paw One: Intent? Take me, for example. I almost always intend to be good. I’m a good dog who can do bad things. When I’m bad, it is not necessarily my intent to be bad, just to get what I want, and sometimes, I believe, what you want too. I say necessarily  because sometimes, I admit, I know I’m being bad and I think it will make you laugh. I say I believe because when I steal your shoe and run away, sometimes you laugh. I can’t hold both of your shoes in my mouth at the same time, but what I really intend is to ask you to put on both of your shoes and take me for a walk. Me, me, me. I know you don’t like my mouth on your shoe, but when you laugh once in a while, I want to steal your shoes over and over. If I don’t know when you’re going to laugh or not, I keep trying. I love your laugh. It makes my tail stand up higher. When you say Drop it! I do. Eventually.

When I was a very small puppy, we were playing on the icy lake, and I snatched a poop bag with my teeth right out of your pocket. Full! I was just trying to be funny. You chased me and chased me and I ate it! You were very angry and took me to the vet, and she gave me an emetic to make me throw up. You laughed and laughed, and then you cried when she came out to tell you I was going to live, but that the poop smelled bad! Now you zip up your pocket with the poop bags all tied up in a knot inside. You learned that one fast!

I am still bad when I find an old chicken bone in the park. First I smell it, then I find it. Then I gobble it up as fast as I can. If you try to snatch it away, I growl. When you have tried to take it away, I have bitten you on the hand. Yes, that is very, very bad. I don’t intend to hurt you. But the taste of the chicken and the feel of chicken bones between my chompers, combined with the sound of crunch, crunch! in my ears, is absolutely too exciting for me, and if you take away all three sensations at once, I am a different Oliver from the dog you know and love. I turn to look at the dog I have become and I barely recognize him. He shows his teeth at you and snaps and growls. He is very, very bad.

Oliver’s advice: Put your shoes and poop bags away where I can’t get them. Yes, put away all of my temptations. Don’t laugh at me when you think I’m naughty. I get mixed up about what you want.

* * *

Paw Two: Behavior? I try to be very, very good to you and to everyone we love. My behavior is best when I am supposed to perform and make other people happy. Then I am happy too, like when we are on the job as a therapy dog team…you and me. We both like to make people happy. When I get too hot or restless, all I have to do is lie down, face the door, or stop walking next to you. You catch on immediately. You are very smart. I am proud of you.

When it’s time to do our work, you start to walk in and out of your bedroom faster, almost running, like you mean business. I follow you around because I know we might be going to work together. Then you put on fresh pants and a clean shirt and strap your special little purse over your shoulder, the one full of treats and Baggies and keys. That is the clincher. If you don’t put on that little purse, we probably aren’t going anywhere together. You might be leaving me and that makes me very sad, but I usually have several hours to sleep it off. If we are going together, you tie your shoes and march downstairs, grabbing my special blue leash and harness. That is your behavior. It is outstanding.

Oh, dog! I am excited. We both know what fun we’re about to have. You are already smiling at me. I make you happy. Up! you say, pointing to the grooming table. I pretend I don’t hear you until I get a treat first. When you hold it out for me, I jump up. You spray wonderful lavender all over me and comb me and brush me and pick the thistles out of my paws and kiss the top of my head. Then you strap on my harness under my belly and across my chest, tie my scarf around my neck, and attach my blue leash, and I know we’re going on the job.

So my behavior has to match yours. I mean business too. I hop into the car and lie down and wait patiently until our car comes to a complete stop. I meditate on how I am supposed to act. You drive to a place where we are going to show other people how cute we are. Especially me. We go to a special spot where sometimes there are other therapy teams. Dogs are not supposed to talk to each other when they’re on the job. People pet me and talk about me and ask you questions about me, and I am very, very good! Sometimes all the attention makes me restless, but I concentrate on how good they are feeling, and I wait until each person is finished. Every once in a while, I stand up and look at the other therapy dogs to see if they’re having as much fun as I am. I notice that a lot of dog people talk constantly. I like that you don’t talk a lot. When we’re both tired, you reach into your little purse and find me a big venison and sweet potato treat. Then I know it’s time to go home.

Oliver’s advice: When you act important, that makes me feel important too. Sometimes one of us isn’t having as much fun as the other team member. We are good about matching each other’s behavior. If one of us is ready to go home, the other one must cooperate. Always remember to reward my good behavior! You reward me with a treat because I’m a dog, and I reward you with all of me, the best treat of all.

* * *

Paw Three: Influence? When we go to Occidental College, the students like my hairdo so much they try to imitate it. You tell them my man bun is to keep the hair out of my eyes so I can look at you and you can look at me and we can smell love. They think it’s to make me look cute. No way. It’s only to let us see each other, eye to eye, so we can both be good. At Carlson School of Management, grown men in suits get down on the floor in the atrium to stroke my hair. They have stress, but petting me is what counts at that very moment. I get into a special dreamy spot in my brain that makes me lie down and be petted because it feels so good. I meditate on the state of being a peaceful therapy dog. A yogi man named Ram Dass wrote a book called Be Here Now. I saw you reading this book for many days, over and over, and I put a paw on your arm to ask why you weren’t walking me, and you told me all about Ram Dass. You know I can’t read, so you told me he is a writer and a deep thinker like I am.

On the job, when we do our therapy, some people don’t speak at all. They just sit down next to me, close their eyes, and run their fingers through my long black and white hair. I like that the best.

When we’re out walking, if I regress into my natural, ancestral self and want to chase and herd, you need to remind me, We must be mindful. Slow down!  You say Dont pull!  because sometimes you break if you fall down, like when you broke your leg, and another time, your elbow, and another time, your foot, and each time you break, you have to be on those terrible metal crutches.

We both are learning to be more mindful. I have to slow down, but so do you. I know you want to run and chase too, but you are getting too old. So we work on it. I like it when you play the piano for me. Chopin, Gershwin, Bach. You told me your first Beardie rested his chin on your foot pedal. I rest my foot on the rung of the dining room table. When you light a candle at dawn and put it in the bay window, I settle down on the window seat and we both close our eyes.

I think about someone petting me, slowly and gently. I try not to think about racing around after chicken bones and delicious-smelling shoes. Maybe you think about where you and I are going next. When we are finished, the sun has risen over the lake. Our quiet time together is better than any book. And it’s free! Except for the candle.

Oliver’s advice: Now you know as much about goodness and badness as I know—three paws. I kept one paw out for balance. Relax and pet me a lot. Keep me away from temptation. Think about our minds. If I mind you and you mind me, together we are mindful. It’s the best kind of meditation. We are both good. No one can get hurt. If you follow my advice, I will be as good a dog as I know how to be. We will feel wonderful.


Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, Tips and Advice