There are no bad dogs, just untrained or neglected ones

A boarding kennel is an excellent way to meet a variety of dogs. Big dogs, little dogs; friendly dogs, shy dogs; aggressive dogs, submissive dogs — we meet them all.

Our kennel adds lost dogs and strays to this mix.

Dog personalities and intelligence run the complete spectrum, from the dog that seems to read your mind to the one that can’t seem to find his own water dish. The one thing they have in common, besides legs and ears, is that they are all good dogs.

Mark Twain once said, “if you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.”

That sounds really good and is kind of catchy, but it is obvious to me that Mark Twain never dealt with many dogs. I have handled quite a number of starving strays and rescue dogs, and you can feed them fat for a year and they may still bite if some sudden action triggers a stored memory of abuse.

That said, I would still contend there are no “bad dogs.” Just untrained dogs.

There is no real excuse for having an untrained dog in the house. An ill-mannered dog is a hazard to the owner, the owner’s friends and the dog itself. The owner might trip over the dog if the dog is not taught basic manners. Or worse, step in an unwanted mess from an animal that isn’t house-trained.


Your friends will avoid coming over if your dog insists on jumping on them or humping their leg. Your dog will not be destined for a long life if it chases animals, fights with the neighbor dogs or runs helter-skelter into the street when you open the front door.

There seems to be little data on how long dogs live. We know that most sled dogs go beyond 14 years. Purebred dogs, especially larger breeds, don’t go quite as long. Small breeds and Australian shepherds commonly live 16 years or more.

However, these statistics are compiled from dogs that are physically and mentally cared for. For a house pet that is untrained and hence receiving nominal attention and care, the lifespan is likely closer to five years — that’s my personal opinion, based on close associations with a great number of dogs through my life.

Most of the dogs we see at the boarding kennel are untrained. They come when called — if they choose. These are the dogs that run off chasing moose when let out of the house unattended and destroy items in the house and car when left alone. It’s common for people to send dogs to the animal shelter when they become too difficult to control.

Teach your dog. This article is far too short to be a definitive guide to obedience training, but two great training books are “Good Dog, Bad Dog” by Mordecai Siegal and Matthew Margolis and “Expert Obedience Training for Dogs” by Winifred Strickland.

Here are some tips to get you on track:

A household pet must mind everyone in the house, including the baby sitter, but one person should do the training. That person can then show everyone else, one at a time, the commands and signals used.

Dogs respond to your voice inflection and body language much better than words, so be sure you are sending the right messages. Commands are given in a direct, confident tone; corrections (which should be very seldom), are given in a slightly more firm voice; praise is higher pitched.

Dogs have diverse personalities. Training fits the dog, not the other way around. I am most familiar with German shepherds. They are intelligent and can almost seem to read your mind at times. My view is that beagles are on the other end of the spectrum. But both breeds, plus all in between, are trainable. Sometimes dogs that aren’t quite as smart are easier to train, because they don’t challenge the trainer.

Training a dog to come is best done in the house or a fenced yard. I’m not a big fan of training with treats. Your animal needs to come to you because you call him, not because he likes candy bars. If your dog doesn’t come when you call, turn your back on him and walk into another room, out of sight. When the dog follows say, “Come Roscoe!” and praise him.

The “sit” command is best taught on leash (no choke collars, please). You can either push gently down on the hips or reach your foot behind the dog and collapse his hindquarters. Some dogs respond better by just backing them up until they come up against the wall. No matter how it is accomplished, praise is key. Most dogs will sit on leash in a single 10-minute lesson.

Heeling is another 10-minute lesson, although heeling off leash may take up to a week with a headstrong animal. The heel command is taught from the sit position. A nice, loose-fitting collar is the key. Walk the dog by your side on a slack leash. Give a little jerk when the dog gets ahead or behind your knee.

With any command training, you must speak the animal’s name prior to the command. I like to do all of these basic commands in the house or an enclosed yard until the dog has them down perfectly.

Be patient. Don’t hurry. You have lots of time; these are COVID days. Many of you are working from home or not working at all. Now is the time to spend time with a best buddy who requires no social distancing. Your friends will be amazed when they are finally able to socialize with you again.

“Wow,” they will say, “where did you get such a good dog?”

John Schandelmeier

Outdoor opinion columnist John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.