We have had many dogs in our lives. Stupid dogs, destructive dogs, hysterically energetic dogs. But we have only had two really Good Dogs. Now I love dogs, love their personalities, their loyalty, their simplicity. But I also am pragmatic. This is a dog, not a person. As the famous dog trainer Cesar Millan has said "When people say a dog is a human they insult the dog". Dogs have the potential to be all the good that we humans aspire to. They can be heroically selfless, brave, loyal, kind, loving, and simple. And for all their love and self sacrifice they only ask for food and kindness in return.
Growing up my dad always had black lab hunting dogs. We kids loved them of course. They were our playmates, our guardians, an understanding furry shoulder to sob out your woes to. But my dad constantly pounded into our heads that these were DOGS, not people. He taught us the pack mentality, he taught us about the instinctive dominance hierarchy that all dogs operate under. We learned how to be higher in that hierarchy and the dogs always loved us for it. They were secure in the knowledge of their "place" in the pack. But as my dad said "If a big dog thinks its dominant over a child bad things are going to happen". We never had to beat our dogs or treat them mean to accomplish this. And all my dads dogs were Good Dogs.
We all know what a bad dog looks like. It never obeys its owner, or only when it wants too. It barks all the time, jumps on people, is aggressive, destructive, and in the worst case it is dangerous to humans.
But what is a Good Dog? Well that does depend on who you talk to but I think most Good Dogs share common traits. They are obedient, they are loyal, they are loving. They are not destructive or aggressive with humans unless the human threatens them or their "pack". Most dogs can become this way if the human owner trains them properly with an understanding of what makes up a dog. But some dogs are just Good for no other reason than that is what they are. You can see it in their eyes, these special dogs. Those eyes say that there is nothing but love and loyalty in the dog.
We have had two dogs like that. Both golden retrievers, a breed known for its outstanding personalities. The first was our dog Ginger. We found her at a rescue agency. She had been starved and abused and abandoned but still she gave off this calm love for everyone she saw, especially children. I knew I had to take her home. She turned out to be one of the best dogs I have ever owned. She was gentle, loving, obedient, and non destructive. We could trust her even with babies (which is saying something because I do not trust any dog no matter how good with a baby) and no matter what the child did to her she wouldn't even growl.
Gingers only flaw, if you could call it that, is that she was a real "people" dog. She hated to be left alone for any amount of time. She didn't do anything bad, you could just tell she hated it. I remember one time we went on a day trip and left her at home for 18 hours. When we got home we found her laying in her corner ringed by our daughter stuffed animals. No she hadn't been chewing on them or destroying them. They wernt wet from licking or gnawing. We were mystified as she had never done this before, never even shown interest in our daughters stuffed animals before. But she did it twice more when we left her for extended time alone. We would come home and find a carefully arranged ring of animals around her. Finally it dawned on me that she was lonely! And that these animals was her way of comforting herself. Talk about a heartbreak moment!
After six years with our family where Ginger gave her love and devotion she died suddenly of a tumor. We didn't even know she was sick until it was too late. She was so stoic I only noticed a slight change in her eating. It was a very sad time and our children still talk of her. Is there any friend to a child quite like a big friendly dog? They are like no other friend. They are always understanding, never want your toys, and are happy with any plan for play you have. My best friends from childhood were two dogs. My dads dog Lance, who although a very nice black lab was also a complete goofball. He would follows us on our many explores along creeks and streams, wallowing, as all labs love to do, in the water. He would eat and roll in the most repulsive stuff, he would fetch rocks from the bottom of the stream, but for all that he was a great playmate and we always felt safe with him beside us.
The second friend I had was my great grandmothers black lab Bremmer. He and I had an interesting relationship and we both knew who was in charge of our explores on my grandmas farm. HE was! My great grandmother let me play in the fields by myself only if I took Bremmer with me. She told me he would protect me and that was true. Bremmer was a farm dog and if he didn't recognize you he let you know that you were only on HIS farm by permission. As I ran around the farm pastures Bremmer would follow watching me play, but then there would come a point when he decided we had had enough outside time and it was prudent to head back to the farmhouse. No matter how much I would call him he would just trot along and I would have to follow because if I was caught playing without him I would get in big trouble.
Samson with the kittens
Now comes to our current dog Samson. He too is a golden retriever which I think is one of the best breeds for having with kids. He's big enough to take all the "love" four children plus assorted friends can dish out, but has the typical golden disposition. He is sweet, loving, obedient and very easily trained. We have never had to spank him, only a firm NO is what he needs, and even that makes him act like you just beat him. About six months after Ginger died we decided it was time to get a new dog, but we knew we wanted another golden. So I posted on Craigslist looking for a Golden Retriever, not a puppy! I got six calls from people needing find a good home for their dogs for one reason or another. All were fixed, shotted, and pure bred and free. I decided on one and went up to meet him and the owner. The moment Samson came out I knew he was one of those special dogs that was just GOOD. I could see it in his eyes. I had Viking boy with me who was two at the time. Viking boy had been missing Ginger and when he saw Samson he ran over and threw himself on the dog before I could grab him. The dog didn't even flinch and gave Viking boy a big kiss as a thank you for the "love". I knew right then he would be perfect.
My mind hasn't changed since then. Samson is a good dog. He doesn't dig, chew, act aggressive, or mess in the house. He loves to be petted, walked, and play fetch. While I put Viking boy down for nap Samson lays next to the bed, and when I leave to go downstairs he lays outside the door "guarding" the little pup sleeping. When our kids go out so does Samson and he posts guard over them, following them around as they play. If a stranger goes by he goes on alert and growls until they leave although I don't know what he would do if they came up to him as he just falls all over himself with strangers to be petted. In the house if strangers he doesn't recognize go by on the street or come to the door he barks to let me know, just the kind of alert dog I want as that's the only time he barks. He doesn't bother the chickens except to try and steal the scraps we toss to them. And he tries to groom the kittens and rabbits as if they were puppies. When I was so sick over the summer Samson stayed near me at all times knowing something was wrong. We have had several people tell us that if we don't want him anymore to please give him to them. Fat chance we know when we've struck gold!
Recently we took Samson on his first trip to the mountains to go fishing. The people who owned him before never took him anywhere, not even on walks. And the only place I have taken him in the car is the Vet. So Samson does not like car rides since they always end in shots. When we let him out in the Blue Mountains I saw a magical change come over him. You could almost hear his thoughts. "What is this place Heaven?" I was a little worried because from previous experience dogs can get a little overexcited in the woods and take off, especially hunting dog breeds which Golden's are part of. But here again Samson's sterling qualities shone through. He did explore but never out of eyesight of us. He loved the river, the smells, he even loved to sniff the fish we caught, but he stuck close to us and the kids. Now whenever I go to get in the van he comes up with a hopeful look in his eyes as if to say "Can we go again?".
So what is the worth of a good dog?