Beware of Dogs

by Glenn Conjurske

Dogs are a strange combination of good and evil. “Man’s best friend” they have been called, for the good that is in them, and many a man has found them so. Many have endured the evils of the dog’s constitution, for the sake of what is noble and useful in them. There is perhaps no better example of loyalty on earth than that of a dog to its master, and yet the same dog that will faithfully serve his master will attack and maim his master’s friend, upon no provocation whatever.

Now when the Bible bids us, in Philippians 3:2, to “Beware of dogs,” this of course means to beware of their evil characteristics, not their good, and it of course assumes that all dogs in general possess the same evil attributes. To beware is to be wary, and we are to beware of specific dangers, which we may easily recognize, if our eyes are open.

But observe, this is only if our eyes are open. Observation has been called every man’s university. Would that this were true! Observation is the university in which every man may enroll, but in which few men do. Most men go through the world with their eyes closed, and learn almost nothing of what they might learn easily enough, with neither time nor effort, if only they had their eyes open. The fact is, most of us see or hear dogs every day—-every night, too—-and if our eyes are open, we may easily learn the nature of a dog, and so learn what it is that Paul bids us beware of. Of course I know that men’s eyes are not literally shut, nor their ears either, but there is a grand difference between seeing and observing. There are many who see all, and observe nothing. An excellent old Italian proverb, which I discovered a few days ago, most truly affirms that “The eye is blind if the mind is absent.” The difficulty is not that men do not see, but that they do not think. What they see goes as it were in one eye and out the other, and never takes root in the mind, or becomes the theme of any thought or meditation.

We must observe to learn, and every man has abundant opportunity of observing dogs. I have observed them for about fifty years, and I may pass on some of my observations to my readers. Ere I do that, however, we must establish one point. When Paul bids us “Beware of dogs,” he of course has no reference to the four-footed kind. He refers solely to dogs of the human variety. It may be that the dog is man’s best friend for the simple reason that the two are so much alike. But however that may be, it is a certain fact that there are a great many human beings who partake largely of the nature of the dog, and these are the dogs Paul advises us to beware of. Yet we can have no idea in the world to whom the apostle refers, unless we know something of the nature of literal dogs. Knowing that, we may easily see a striking correspondence between those of the four-footed variety, and certain creatures which walk upright on two feet, and of these latter we ought to beware.

One of the first and most obvious things we may learn of the nature of dogs is that they are prone to attack. I learned this early, when I was a little boy of about four years. I was at my grandmother’s house. The dog was eating from his dish. I squatted beside him, and gently patted him on the head. In a split second he snarled and snapped, and fastened his teeth on my knee cap. I came away, of course, crying bitterly, with a ring of bloody tooth marks above and below my knee cap. The fault, of course, was all my own—-for dog owners never blame their dogs for anything—-and I was told I should never pet a dog while it was eating. This advice I religiously observed for many years, but I don’t believe my bloody knee had anything to do with the fact that the dog was eating. The fact was, he was a dog. He was prone to attack, prone to return evil for good. I only showed him a little affection, and he must bite me. He was not a wild or vicious dog, but a common house pet, yet he was a dog, and therefore I must feel his teeth. Dogs in their nature are prone to attack, and to inflict injuries all out of proportion to any real or fancied offense offered to them.

Unfortunately, there are human beings who have the same characteristics. I recall years ago talking to a woman who used to belong to our church, trying to moderate her in her dealings with others. I told her that her nature was confrontational. She didn’t know how to deal mildly or gently with people. She was prone to attack. I little dreamed at the time that in a few years she would be attacking me, and leading the pack against me, for she was then as loyal as I could expect anybody to be. Her loyalty put me off my guard, and I failed to be wary where I ought to have been. This same girl often lost her temper at me, but I brushed it off, and loved and trusted her anyway, where the Bible tells me to “Make no friendship with an angry man.” (Prov. 22:24). And if not with an angry man, certainly not with an angry woman. “Beware.” “Make no friendship.” If a wrathy woman, who loves to lose her temper and storm and rage, complains that she has no friends, tell her she doesn’t deserve any, but make no friendship with her. There are reasons why she is wrathy, deep-seated deficiencies in her character—-pride and contentiousness and lack of self-denial—-and you had better “beware” while you can. You may regard the angry bark as harmless enough, but you may one day feel the teeth.

If we observe the dog, to attempt to learn why he is so prone to attack, we may make some very interesting discoveries. I would be reluctant to attribute pride to a beast, but I think I may safely call it extreme self-importance. He thinks he is the king of his master’s domain, and he treats all others as intruders. He never gives the benefit of the doubt, but treats every man who sets foot near the place as an enemy, and supposes it his prerogative to attack them all. Nothing shall infringe upon his sovereign sphere. He nothing considers that he is but a low quadruped, nor that those whom he attacks bear the image of God. His supreme self-importance sets him above them all. Neither does he consider that those who walk by his fancied domain have done him no wrong, nor ever intended to. He must treat them as enemies, and forth in an instant to molest or attack them!

When I lived in Grand Junction, Colorado, during my early married life, my wife and I used often to walk to the grocery store or other places, but I was obliged always to carry a large club, to ward off the dogs which would invariably attack us. I suppose most everybody alive has had similar experiences. About twenty years ago I was knocking on doors to try to preach the gospel, in a small town in Kansas. I observed a large red dog sitting on the porch at one house, and so of course determined to pass by that house. Knowing something of the nature of dogs, I determined not only to pass by the house, but to give it a wide berth. I chose, therefore, to “pass by on the other side,” and accordingly walked to the other side of the street. This was not good enough for the dog. He came across the street to attack me, and followed me snarling and growling, with his great teeth dangerously close to my person. Now experience has taught me that in spite of all their propensity to attack, dogs are very cowardly, and in spite of all their threats, will virtually never attack a man to his face. I therefore turned and faced him, and walked slowly backwards, looking him in the eye. Meanwhile his owner, no doubt hearing his vicious barking, came out to rescue her poor baby from my relentless stare. We think the owners who permit their dogs to threaten every man who sets his foot near their property are much more guilty than the dogs. If such dogs were whipped every time they threatened a stranger, they would soon learn to leave them in peace. But this woman had no idea of that, and it apparently never entered her mind to call off the dog—-perhaps she knew she was powerless to do so—-and leaving the dog to threaten as he pleased, she began to admonish me to “just turn around and walk away,” assuring me that the dog would not bother me! I had more sense than to take her advice, and replied, without taking my eyes off the dog, “Lady, he is bothering me,” but she seemed to have no ability to comprehend that. By walking backwards and looking the dog in the eye till I was beyond his fancied domain, I managed to escape without feeling his teeth.

Many such experiences have I had. When I was a boy of twelve, I was riding my bicycle on a country road. Upon coming near a farm house, I saw a large German Shepherd in the yard, but as the driveway was a very long one, I had no doubt I could be long past it ere the dog could reach the road, and I began to pedal harder. This dog, however, was an intelligent one, and as soon as he saw me he started out on a run diagonally across the field, so that he met me at the corner of the lot. I was riding as fast as I could, and managed to outrun him.

Dog lovers will of course defend the animals, and tell us they are only “guarding their turf,” but the defense is very lame. Suppose they are guarding their turf. Must they therefore be vicious and irritable? Who gave the dog the right to threaten or injure every man who comes to do business with his master? Must they deny every man his rights, in order to maintain fictitious rights of their own? “Guarding their turf” or not, this is ridiculous. But no. I have been attacked by stray dogs, who had no turf to guard. I was riding my bicycle early one morning, before the rest of the world was out of bed, passing by the parking lot of a large public building. I saw lying in the lot what looked like a large crumpled over-coat, but when I came near, the coat got up and came over to attack me. I was nearly past him ere he discovered my presence, and so easily outran him. But I must come back by him on my return home, so I stopped and cut myself a large maple stick. The dog was ready for me when I returned—-wide awake this time—-and came out as I expected for the attack. But I was ready for him also, and stopped him in his tracks with one blow of my maple club. But whose turf was this animal guarding? He was only a stray, and this was certainly not his home, but he was full of self-importance, and fancied himself king wherever he lay his carcass. Supposed also that he had some right to attack a man who had never done him any wrong, nor ever would have. He must merely assert his supremacy, and I have known dogs enough in human shape, who are apparently possessed with the same compelling need.

When I was a small boy, we had spent the day at my grandmother’s house. When we returned home, we were met by a large and vicious stray dog, stationed in the middle of the driveway, and determined to attack us as intruders. My father (much braver than I!) made us all stay in the car, while he got out and beat the dog off the property. It was our property, not his, but such is the self-importance of the dog that he imagines himself the emperor wherever he may set his foot, and he can bear no rival there.

Now there are people enough who display the same supreme self-importance. The rights of others are nothing. They will attack their betters upon any little provocation, or no provocation at all. And such is their exaggerated opinion of themselves, that they always suppose themselves competent to attack their betters. Like the merest little handful of noise and dog fur, which will attack without misgiving an Angus bull or a half-ton pick-up truck, so do these puffed up creatures attack their betters over anything or nothing, and tread the rights of all men under their feet. One of these who attacked me once, claimed it as a doctrine, which he thought to prove from the Bible, that I ought to give up my human dignity, and so allow him to attack me freely, and walk upon me as he pleased. We ought to beware of such two-footed dogs, steer clear of them, and give them a wide berth. It would be well for us all if such dogs were to be found in the world only, but some are usually found in the church also. They freely oppose others, but if any man dares to question them, this is attributed to pride. Their supreme self-importance can no more bear a rival than the dog can bear that a stranger should set foot near his own fancied domain. All position and prestige belongs to them by right, and if they do not receive their due, somebody will feel their teeth for it.

The next thing we observe in dogs is that they are very cowardly. I learned as a boy never to turn my back to a dog, unless I meant to outrun him. I observed that a dog which would threaten to the face would move around behind for the actual attack, and bite the calf or the ankle. Dogs will rarely attack face to face, but always bite from behind. They are the true original of the “back-biter.” Of the two-footed sort of such dogs we ought by all means to beware. But how are we to know them? They will speak fair to our face, and how are we to know that they are biting us behind our back? The confrontational woman, whom I mentioned above, once complained bitterly to me because I had spoken something to her disadvantage to a third party in another state. Meanwhile I learned from the third party that these two had been running up “astronomical telephone bills” talking about me!—-while I knew nothing of it. Those who are bitten by the back-biter are usually the last to know it, and how then are they to beware?

I have but one suggestion. When one comes to me to assassinate the character of another, I may suspect at any rate that she will do the same to me behind my back. Dogs are cowardly, and so are back-biters. They will constantly speak behind the back what they would never dream of speaking to the face. Even if they intend a face-to-face attack, they will first work behind your back, to raise a pack of sympathizers. One of the pack which once attacked me loved to rehearse the list of names which were on his side, always including some names to which he had no right, and others of which he ought to have been ashamed. But so they proceed to the attack, their confidence bolstered not by the goodness of their cause, but by the strength of their numbers. This is the anatomy of church splits, most of which would never occur but for the tongues of the back-biters.

Another characteristic of dogs is that they love to raise clamors. They are utterly destitute of the faculty by which we distinguish the weighty from the frivolous, or by which we distinguish something from nothing, but must raise a great hue and cry over every little occurrence which would be altogether beneath the notice of sounder minds. If the cows are in the corn, or the stable door left open, the dog will speak never a word, but what clamors he will raise over nothing! A chipmunk venturing out of his hole, or an invasion by a hostile army, is all one to a dog, and he will bark as though the sky were falling over both the one and the other. The shining of the moon, an automobile stopped too long at the corner stop sign, the neighbors shutting a car door, a siren or train whistle in the distance, a loon calling, or a fox barking—-all these are the signals to bound up in his self-important dignity and raise a great clamor, and as often as not every dog within hearing will join in the general yapping, not one in a dozen of them having any idea why they are barking.

And so do the human dogs also. What clamors have I seen raised over the most frivolous nothings! What divisions of families and churches and nations have ensued from such clamors! And like the barking of all the dogs in the neighborhood, some cry one thing, and some another, and the more part know not wherefore they are come together. A great faction is raised, to depose the king, or to oust the preacher, though it would be hard to find any three in the crowd who could agree together as to why he should be ousted. One is unhappy because she cannot find a husband, another because his crops have failed, another because his paycheck is too small, another because bootleg liquor is against the law, but all are agreed the king must be deposed.

I once had such a pack of hounds—-or sheep acting like hounds—-barking and howling at me, all determined to condemn me, all agreeing that my offenses were very grievous, but none of them knowing exactly what they were. The original charges against me were that I tease people, that I don’t communicate well with people, and that I always think I am right. I told them that the first charge was true—-and bent over backwards to mend anything that might be offensive in my teasing, but found that nothing would satisfy them but an unqualified admission that I deliberately trampled on people’s feelings. The second charge was ridiculously false—-
and I proved their proofs to be a tissue of mistakes—-but even if true, it was my misfortune, not my sin. The third was also ridiculously (not to say maliciously) false, and I proved it false by numerous examples. Ah! but the clamor was raised already, and the three charges soon grew to a hundred. Indeed, they changed every day. When I told them their charges were frivolous, this was soon made out to be the greatest sin of all—-for who can convince a dog that the sporting of the chipmunks in the yard is not as serious a matter as the invasion of a foreign army? The dog raises his clamors purely on the basis of his own self-important dignity. He must have something to bark at, some occasion to make himself heard, some occasion to assert his superiority, and it really matters but little what it is. Reason has not the remotest connection with the matter. He will bark at the burglar or the moon, and it is all one to him. He is supremely self-important, easily stirred up, and determined to be heard. Therefore he will raise clamors over anything or nothing. And I have seen the two-footed variety do so also.

But suppose it to be a flock of sheep which attack their shepherd—-or fight among themselves—-and not a pack of dogs. Can a sheep be called a dog? We hardly think so, and yet Paul’s warning is surely practical, not technical. We do not judge every man who sometimes shows the nature of a dog to be nothing but a dog, any more than we judge every man a hypocrite who is guilty of hypocrisy. Brethren may be overtaken in faults. Some of whom I have written were apparently true sheep, yet they displayed much of the nature of the dog, and I saw them join forces in their vicious biting with some who were dogs indeed, against my solemn admonitions that they ought to be ashamed of their allies. But they were governed by pride and passion, and would not hear. Paul writes, “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” Biting and devouring are certainly the behavior of dogs, not sheep, and yet it is to the churches of Galatia that he writes such things. It would seem that a true sheep may retain something of the nature of the dog, or fall back into it, and so far as he does, we ought to beware of him.

To all the above I may add that dogs do not forget injuries. They hold grudges. They are as vengeful as they are vicious. If the dog once attacked the mail man, and the man, in self defence, gave the pooch a kick, he will be his mortal enemy for ever. No matter that the whole thing was the dog’s fault. The fact is, this man kicked him, and he will not forget it. His hair will bristle, and he will set himself for another attack, whenever he smells the approach of the same man. In the great clamor which was raised against me some years ago, the woman who led the pack began her attack by bringing up a matter which was five years old, and a matter, too, in which I was as innocent as an angel. She felt injured by it, but in reality she was wronging me to feel so. And many such ancient matters did she throw in my face, in most of which she knew nothing of the facts. She had treasured up fancied injuries until they burst the dam. One of her allies brought a matter against me which was ten years old, and of which I had never heard a word in those ten years—-a very frivolous matter, too. He had mentioned some trial of his own, and I responded with, “I know what you feel. I have been there myself.” And this was treasured up against me for ten years, and then solemnly brought forth as the grand proof of my pride! What I had spoken in sympathy was taken as an assertion of equality, and this was a great offence. Now this displays the nature of the dog, who stands supreme in his own self-importance, and can bear no challenger. Of such dogs we ought to beware, if we can but find them out.

So much for the nature of the dog. I may have overlooked some things, for I have had but one short life in which to observe the creatures. But I must extract another nugget or two from the text. There are certain silly notions which prevail in modern Evangelicalism on the subject of judging. Some hold that it is wrong, and others that it is impossible, to judge another man’s character. Such notions are silly, for they set common sense at defiance, affirming it to be impossible to judge, when in fact it is impossible not to. And not silly only, but dangerous also. Shall a woman marry a man without judging his character, because it is wrong to judge? Shall a church receive a man into its membership, or put him into office or into the pulpit, without judging his character, because it is wrong to judge? This is silly, and these notions are directly against the Bible also. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Yea, “Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.” His doings are seen, and by these his character is known.

But modern Evangelicalism has made judging out to be the greatest of sins, and by this means it shields and covers all other sins. We know that there is a certain judging which the Bible disallows, but for all that we must judge men’s characters. How can we “Beware of dogs,” if it is wrong—-if it is impossible—-to tell who or what a dog is? Some, by misunderstanding Paul’s admonition in I Corinthians 5:12 & 13, have made it illegitimate to judge the character of anybody outside the church, but this is a great mistake. The advice of our text assumes that we are capable of distinguishing the nature of the dog in men, and that it is right to do so. The Lord judged Herod a fox, and judged some others to be wolves, and yet others to be wolves in sheep’s clothing, and this was not merely the pronouncement of omniscience. No, he judged their character by their deeds, and we may do the same. “By their fruits ye shall know them,” and when we see the nature of the dog in a man, we had better beware of him. Put no confidence in him. Keep our distance from him. This is wisdom.

Glenn Conjurske