Marginal vs Modern Dogs

There is a term within the dog sheltering and dog training circles, called a “marginal” dog. Marginal dogs are dogs that don’t fit the public’s definition of a “good” dog. The problem here is that we have set an unfair standard for all dogs and this leads to a death sentence for dogs that fall into the marginal category.

It starts by asking ourselves if a dog is a product. What a harsh thing to consider if you are a dog lover, but in reality dogs have a lot in common with products. A dog is “something you get”. You “buy” them in one way or another. Even an adoption is an act of acquisition of a foreign “object”. The dog at the shelter you know for 15-20 minutes, and in that time you draw a picture in your head of what your relationship will look like without any input from the dog. If this were a human it would be the equivalent of imagining your wedding day in the first 15 minutes of a first date. This is a form of objectification.


Marginal dogs are dogs that don’t fit the perfect existence dreamt by that adopter/purchaser. They are dogs that don’t want to be hugged and kissed, dogs that don’t want to play with every dog they meet, dogs that are fearful in public, anxious around men, terrified of children, fall apart when left alone, etc. No one is meeting a dog for the first time and gleefully imagining this. Instead we place this dog on a pedestal that they may never be able to live up to.

The modern American/European dog must accept every human, accept every dog, be quiet, playful, forgiving, passive, and obedient with little to no training. If the dog does not comply perfectly, a stern voice should be all you need to remedy the solution. Dogs like Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Hachiko, and Balto come to mind. Selfless, devoted companions. But there is a reason we put of statues of these dogs. They are not the baseline. They are not the default. They are an unfair standard to hold our dogs up to. And now dogs die when they can’t meet this standard.

80% of the world’s dogs don’t live like the dogs in our modern communities. These dogs would also never be held to the same requirements of the dogs in our lives. 80% of the worlds dogs live free or semi free lives coexisting with humans, in village, free-roaming, street, and primitive dog populations. So should being like the rest of the world mean a possible death sentence or overall misery in a “modern” country?

Now that the world is getting smaller, many compassionate American/European dog lovers want to “save” dogs from this life. Is the ethical? Is that truly kind? And is there even a place in modern households for these very “marginal” dogs. I argue we shouldn’t bring them here if we don’t have a place for them. And trying to change who that dog is, rarely turns out successfully and is questionable as well.


I do not envy the work of an animal shelter worker. They have to try their best to match a dog with a prospective adopter and try their best to make sure that dog will meet the expectations of the adopter and be safe for them, their friends, their family, the strangers they meet, and any animal that comes into contact with them. That is a TALL order. And a mighty unfair one as well. And what about those of us who don’t need or want the world’s most gregarious dog? Who instead wants a free spirit who acts like a dog and not a living stuffed animal? As anyone who owns a primitive dog knows, it can be exhausting to advocate for our dog’s needs and comfort.

So how do we chisel out a place for our “marginal” dogs? How do we shift a cultural wave that demands animals be seen but not heard? I don’t have an answer yet but we will only find one with compassion and communication, so let the dialog begin.