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NYTimes essay – ‘The Wrong Dog’

I’m not sure if any of you caught the essay “The Wrong Dog” in The New York Times by Erica-Lynn Huberty.

If not, it’s something you should read.

It’s the story of a family adopting a young black Lab mix and the mistakes many of us make as “rescuers,” trainers and adopters.

“The Wrong Dog” is the kind of piece that made me go searching for more work by the writer. It made me question some of my own decisions when it comes to foster dogs and fear aggression. When is a dog adoptable? When is he too dangerous?

Not all dogs can be saved by love, and I promise you that rescue groups, trainers and other “experts” do not always know best.

If you read anything other than my blog today, read this. It takes a good 10 minutes to read and *warning*, it’s sad 🙁

Then, come back and tell me what you think because I’m dying to discuss this with somebody.

From “The Wrong Dog”:

The trainer had seen “these dogs” before, she said — dogs trucked up the East Coast, traumatized by the journey and moved from shelter to shelter. We were told to throw Cesar Millan’s advice out the window: no “calm-assertive” discipline allowed. We had, she said, inadvertently brought out Nina’s aggressiveness. From now on, it would be gentle time-outs, and treats when anyone came to the door.

Even as we followed these instructions, we questioned them. We cringed when we saw pet parents and human parents alike coddling their little monsters despite their bad behavior. Then again, who were we to argue with experts?

My black Lab mix Ace The Wrong Dog

What did you think of The Wrong Dog? Do you have any similar experiences from your own life with dogs?

Related blog posts:

When to euthanize an aggressive dog

Re-homing a pet doesn’t make you a bad pet owner

The story of my foster dog Barkley

Goodnight, sweet Blue (from Love and a Six-Foot Leash)


Tuesday 25th of June 2019

I'm actually waiting for a rescue to take back my adopted pet now - I have to wait until they can take her and I definitely wouldn't want to re-home her myself as I don't want to be responsible for someone else taking her on. She meets as friendly, but in our home she started to target my Dad who is 87 years old and has Parkinsons - he talks funny (and won't be able to give instructions or commands clearly and convincingly to her), walks funny, shakes, and freezes - when she lays into him he can't ward her off or remove himself from the situation. At first we just thought it was a pity she picks on him so much, maybe we could train her. Meanwhile we have to intervene to get her to stop mauling him, at first she would come away and calm down and be angelic again, but after a few more days she lashes out at me and my family when we instruct her or remove her. Then she started to show signs of conflict aggression. She may well settle down completely when removed from living with my Dad, or she may turn out to have issues wherever she goes - but I do know that I can't handle this and neither should my Dad or my family have to continue to be exposed to this physical fighting simply to see if she can be trained. I won't trust her alone with him now even if she showed promise in training. Reading the Wrong Dog made me sad, but also makes me feel that I should listen to my instincts to protect my family, and relieve the stress we all feel, and give the dog a chance to get away from what might be stressful for her too. I just hope that they can take her soon as it really is such an intense situation that is really fraught.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 25th of June 2019

So sorry to hear you're dealing with all this. I hope they're able to take the dog back very soon.


Monday 22nd of August 2016

Yes, it happened... and was almost eerily similar for us. A different breed of dog, true, but so many things in this story are similar.. even the age of the dog when we got her. Our dog, thankfully, didn't go on to kill anything but my chickens.. but she was becoming progressively more dangerous despite my very best efforts. My husband knew something was wrong after two weeks.. but I stubbornly hung on, convinced she would be a great dog if I just kept trying. I finally drew the line when she began growling at my children with absolutely no provocation whatsoever (trust me, I wanted there to be one.. some excuse I could have understood). Like the author of the story, I chose to find another situation for her with full disclosure, rather than to put her down.. and to this day, I don't know if I made the right choice. The hardest part, for me, was accepting that it wasn't my fault.. I'm still not sure if I've entirely accepted that, and dog bite stats, better understanding of her breed, even reading other horror stories has never quite absolved me of my guilt over the failure. We are blessed to have purchased a border collie about six months after the last incident .. and he's had to teach me to trust dogs - and myself - all over again.

Renchan Li

Saturday 24th of January 2015

I greatly appreciate Lindsay's mentioning this article on her Facebook page. I have read the linked "The Wrong Dog" article by Erica-Lyunn Huberty. I guess that everyone might have heard one or two of others' sad stories. I personally feel that it might be a special case: The dog might need a mental evaluation, but I will be carefully optimistic on most dogs. If looking for the murder news closely, one could find the news of people killing people everyday; we don't know how dogs will defend their killing behaviors, but people often can defend themselves in the court.

Lindsay Stordahl

Saturday 24th of January 2015

I'm so glad you read the article.


Saturday 24th of January 2015

I felt crazy emotions after adopting Bruce. IMO, he should never have been pulled, never been adopted out. I should have swallowed my pride and returned him to rescue. Lesson learned, as I now love the big jerk, but must always be careful.

Lindsay Stordahl

Saturday 24th of January 2015

Oh Bruce!


Friday 23rd of January 2015

Just yesterday, a trainer I follow on facebook posted.this encouraging message:

The lady with the Lab had a choice of hiring a different trainer if she didn't trust the advice of the rescue trainer, even if it was free. From the article it doesn't seem the Lab lady followed even Cesar Millan's advice: exercise, discipline, affection. People want to have it easy and like to blame others. "I felt enraged at the rescue woman, foster mother and trainer."

Lindsay Stordahl

Friday 23rd of January 2015

Yes, good points! I am not familiar with that trainer, but he sounds like he knows his stuff, and I just watched the video you linked to.

I felt bad for the essay's writer. I could relate to her, but of course we only hear her side and she makes a lot of mistakes.