Can a good dog save a bad dog from sin?

By Bill Hall

There should be a law that people can't own dogs unless they are able certify in some way that they are smarter than the dog they intend to acquire.

Granted, that is asking a lot in many cases. Several breeds of dog can be pretty bright as animals go. Many of our kind have trouble measuring up.

That is why I have switched entirely to cats for pets in recent years (with a few thousand lady bugs on the side). Cats are street smart. They are savvy. They are even sly in some cases. But in truth, the average cat is slower than all but about 5 percent of the members of the human race. It's not so difficult to keep ahead of them as it is a few of the sharper breeds of dog.

On the other hand, it is more the measure of how slow some humans are that a consumer newsletter I read was actually advising people against buying a good dog to set a bad dog straight. The newsletter said that if you have a dog that chases cars, tips over garbage and digs up the lawn, it is not a wise idea to get a second dog, thinking they keep each other company and the bad dog won't get into so much trouble. The newsletter says it is more likely the good dog will learn bad habits from the bad dog.

What a revelation. Of course, the bad dog will teach the good dog bad habits -- the same way two small boys are three times the work of one small boy by himself. That is not to say that it isn't a good thing to have two small boys or girls racing around the house. Or two puppies or two kittens. The risk to the furniture is tripled but so is the fun for spectators.

But two dogs -- especially two grown dogs -- are going to join each other in trouble as well as in fun.

Do people who get a second dog to correct the first one actually believe that is the way it works? Do they believe that the good dog comes along and, through some overt act of disapproval, persuades the bad dog to clean up its act?

Does a good dog find the bad dog rummaging through the contents of an overturned garbage can and resist joining in the fun in favor of driving the bad dog away from trouble?

Does a good dog teach a bad dog how great it feels to know that no holes have been dug in the yard today?

And if the bad dog barks too much, what does a good dog do to reprimand and silence the bad dog? Does it bark at the bad dog?

That process works somewhat better with children than with pets. Sometimes with a couple of small children, one of the two -- almost invariably the older child -- can be conned into believing he or she is the good one with a moral duty to keep order. The assignment usually goes to the child's head and turns him into an enforcer.

This is a parental con that threatens to wreck both kids. It turns the good kid into a holier-than-thou little Puritan who is always pointing out other people's flaws. Such children become preachers, leaders of the environmental movement, newspaper editorial writers and House managers in impeachment proceedings against American presidents.

The bad kids stay bad overly long because they have been told so often how rotten they are that they give up on self control and try to live up to their clippings. They finally grow up and stop breaking the furniture and teasing the cat but they wouldn't go so far overboard in the first place if they hadn't been declared the bad one.

Meanwhile, there are human beings who have to be told that the answer to an ill-behaved dog isn't getting another dog to set the example. That is like believing you can restore a barrel of rotten apples by throwing a good apple into it.

On the other hand, sometimes our older, female cat just sits and stares, almost in amazement, as our younger female cat races around the room, leaping and tumbling and clowning. But if the younger cat gets too close, the older cat reaches out and cuffs her, stopping the roughhousing. You know what she is saying in that instance:

"Bad kitty."



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