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When are labels necessary? Our dog came from a shelter but that quickly became a footnote

Ingredients in a can of soup. Radioactive material. Overnight delivery. These are labels we need. They are important and in the case of one, can have a material impact on our life. But what about shelter dog? Is that a necessary label?

When we adopted our dog from a local shelter she was labeled a pleaser. I think she was just throwing out open body language, and any behavior she thought would get her welcomed. Being in a chaotic and unfamiliar environment her actions could have been labeled needy or anxious, even possessive. 

After we brought her home I stripped her of labels giving her the freedom to show us how she wanted to be known in her new family. We even tried to offer her the chance at a different name than the one she came with but she didn’t care and liked the one she already had well enough. As you might guess, I don’t like labels. Yes, in many cases they are important and helpful, but I feel that in today’s world they are used to divide — in a negative way. 

Sure, our dog came from a shelter but that became a footnote, very quickly. 


Within hours of adopting our dog, she showed us that she was a trusting girl. She became our fluffy dinosaur who loved to lean heavily against you. Our dog inspired the creation of Grouchy Puppy thanks to misperceptions from people. People who were quick to mislabel her an aggressive boy wolf. 

I have been with dogs labeled leash reactive. More often than not, the dog is with a person who has heard of the term leash reactive, don’t really know what it means, but decide to use it to label a dog they do not know how to walk on a leash. The person used the label to give themselves an excuse for their laziness about not learning the proper ways to walk a dog. I recently saw the label used as an excuse to return a dog two weeks after their adoption. 


Using labels to divide is lazy — we’re better than that.

People know what they are doing too, when they apply a label, just look at breed specific legislation. Landlords and community groups will apply pit bull to any number of blended breeds to exclude and divide. Ask most animal advocates and you’ll find someone with a story about a dog labeled pit mix to place blame on their canine shoulders for anything negative that happens when they are around.

I like using the word blend instead of mix for describing a dog. I first heard blend used by Mike Arms, president of the Helen Woodward Animal Center. He preferred using it, similar to his preference for calling their facility an animal center rather than a shelter or rescue. Both blend and animal center have a soft sound and I believe as a label, are less negative for first impressions.

With what has been happening in our world, more than ever, I believe it’s important to be aware of what labels we use, and which ones we choose for dogs. Are these labels meant to separate and divide? Did I grab the easiest label to give myself an out? 

How do you feel about the use of labels? Why is it so hard to let a dog have a chance to define themself before we jump in? 

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