Can You Trust a Dog?

“I don’t like one of your ownership rules,” writes an offended website visitor. “‘Never leave a dog alone with a child’?? My dog is totally trustworthy around my kids!”

Trust can be difficult to define. But, in essence, if you trust a dog, you have a feeling of certainty that the dog will not fail your expectations.

What do you expect from your dog? Dogs live in the moment. They do not have morals. Dogs react to instinctual drives; they do not think about how their actions will affect them or others. Only through a great deal of training and effort can we give our dogs a very rudimentary understanding of cause-and-effect. Dogs cannot think at the level that people do.

Some owners expect their dogs to think logically, to have morals, and to behave like people. Such expectations are unrealistic. You can trust that a dog will think and act like a dog. You can also trust that a dog will not behave like a person.

You can expect (or trust) a dog to:

  • Jump up on people
  • Bark
  • Bite
  • Chase moving objects
  • Fight
  • Lick
  • Whine
  • Scratch and paw
  • Run around

If you own a dog, he will not let you down if you expect these behaviors.

You cannot expect (or trust) a dog to:

  • Distinguish “good guys” from “bad guys”
  • Suppress predatory instinct when faced with shrill noises and small, fast-moving objects
  • Lie down and accept a painful or frightening situation
  • Stay in the yard when the gate is wide open
  • Do something just because you said so
  • Be a “good dog” without any guidance or training
  • Understand human morals, virtues, and expectations

So, what is it that you expect from your dog? Are your expectations realistic?

If you… Then you… Because
leave your dog alone with your children or your other pets are trusting your dog to behave like a human you expect the dog won’t be upset by loud noises, painful events (child jamming pencil into dog’s ear), or fast-moving objects (cat running around)
take your dog on off-leash walks in your neighborhood are trusting your dog to behave like a human you expect the dog will “know better” than to chase small animals or run into traffic
let your dog “guard” the yard are trusting your dog to behave like a human you expect your dog to know the difference between a mail carrier, a Girl Scout, a meter reader, the garbage collector, and an actual thief


If you… Then you… Because
always watch your dog when he interacts with children or other pets are trusting your dog to behave like a dog you expect the dog might be upset or overstimulated by rough play
keep your dog on leash whenever you take the dog off your property are trusting your dog to behave like a dog you acknowledge your dog’s predatory instincts, and you want to keep your dog out of trouble
keep your dog as an indoor companion and family member are trusting your dog to behave like a dog dogs crave companionship, affection, attention, and inclusion; the human is the decision-maker and leader, not the dog

Some people trust dogs to act and think the way people do. These people are offended by responsible ownership rules because the rules do not trust dogs to behave like people. Some people think that when an owner follows the rules of responsible ownership, it is because that owner does not trust his or her dog to behave—that the dog is “bad.”

Responsible dog ownership rules are based on trust—a different definition of trust! The rules trust that dogs will behave like dogs, and the rules help dog owners to maintain that trust. Don’t be offended by responsible dog ownership rules, and don’t be ashamed to follow them! In order to be a responsible dog owner, you can and should trust your dog—to be a dog.

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