I’m not a psychic or an amateur dog whisperer by any means, and I’ve never claimed to understand exactly what’s going through my dog’s head at any given moment. I often wonder, though… is he a good judge of character? Some of my friends’ dogs happily accept almost anyone into their homes with a wagging tail and a wet tongue, but my Min Pin Herschel is different. He scrutinizes and judges. He shuns and plots. If he likes you then he is your friend for life, but if he doesn’t like you there’s no chance of you two spending some quality time on the couch in front of an episode of Ask this Old House. I want to give you 2 examples of the way Herschel reacts to strangers and discuss the concept of “character judgment” as it pertains to dogs.
Let’s talk first about my neighbor. He flips houses for a living and purchased the home next door to ours. He was fairly friendly to me and his truck was absolutely covered in ‘peace’ and ‘coexist’ stickers of every type, so it would seem to me that he was an amiable gentleman. One day, a friend of mine came over and Herschel ran out the front door. Usually that’s not a big deal, he just likes to explore the neighborhood, sniff around and bark at squirrels (he sometimes follows the female Min Pin that lives across the street around as well. Their complex relationship could fill four of these articles!) before coming back home. He immediately started barking at this man until I retrieved him a minute later. One of my housemates accidentally let Herschel get out and the same thing happened again. This time the man threatened to shoot Herschel (who is tiny and mostly harmless, if a bit loud) if he ever barked at him again.
The second example comes in the form of my friend’s uncle. Uncle Z is about fifteen years older than my friend and I are. He had never been to my house before he came over one evening to have a beer and watch a movie with us. Herschel usually doesn’t take well to males at first—it usually takes him at least half an hour to warm up to them. Herschel immediately jumped into Uncle Z’s lap and settled down there for the entire documentary. I’d never seen him do that before, and my friend agreed that it was strange as well.
So, is a dog a good judge of character? This answer is a bit anti-climactic, but I am going to have to conclude with a resounding “most of the time.” Herschel somehow knew that the man next door was a guy who’d threaten to shoot a tiny dog for barking, despite the copious amount of hippie stickers on his truck. He knew that Uncle Z was a nice guy as well. There are many times, however, when Herschel takes a day or more to warm up to some of the best people I’ve ever known. My only real conclusion here is that dogs are just like people in this regard in that even the best judge of character is wrong once in a while I don’t trust him unconditionally, but he’s probably a better judge of character than I am—and that’s good enough for me.
Stephen Burroughs is a writer, blogger and Humane Society volunteer. He enjoys blogging about everything pertaining to dogs and responsible pet ownership. Stephen writes for All-Dog-Houses, a site that specializes in dog houses of all shapes and sizes.