Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Dog

Or should you?
By Karen B. London PhD, January 2019

Is the grass always greener?

I say with only a little shame that I am guilty of the “sin” of coveting my neighbor’s dog many times over. It’s so easy to do, and yet I advise against it because it’s unlikely that anything good will come of it. Sure, once in a while you want a dog who the neighbor can’t keep because of failing health or some other extreme situation. In other cases, the dog that is a perfect match for you just wasn’t right for the original guardian, and a change is positive for all.

These win-win situations are not the norm, though. It’s far more probable that you end up pining for a dog who can never be yours even though that dog might make you very happy. Another possibility is that the dog you long for would not, in actual fact, be a wonderful addition to your family and to your life.

Over the years, there have been several dogs who I loved very much and would gladly have adopted if they were available. Sometimes I knew these dogs well and had good reason to want them for my own. Other times, I may not have been thoroughly knowledgeable about all of their behavioral and medical issues. In those cases, I may have been in for a rude awakening if any of those dogs had become mine.

One dog who I always adored and wished was my own had many fantastic qualities. She loved to train and loved to run, and she was a great agility dog. Unfortunately, she also had severe thunderstorm phobia and kept the entire family up many nights in her terror each rainy season in Wisconsin. I never happened to be with her during a thunderstorm so for years I was fabulously unaware of this serious issue that had a negative impact on her well-being and on the rest of the family.

In another case, a dog with an incredible personality—friendly and playful but able to calm down, lots of fun, never reckless, always affectionate—had frequent bouts of severe diarrhea which I did not know about until years after I wished she were mine. Needless to say, I would have dealt with that issue if she were my dog, but I no longer had any regrets that she had not become mine.

The grass is always greener where the neighbor’s dog lives, but when you see a dog with wonderful qualities, you may only be seeing the highlight reel. You may be blissfully unaware of the dog’s less-than-stellar qualities. If you have you ever seriously coveted your neighbor’s (or friend’s or co-worker’s or relative’s) dog, what was the outcome?

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.

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