Dog’s Eye View: Hope for a ‘bad dog’
January 2, 2014
A few weeks ago, I met three young men from the United Kingdown who were bicycling around the world. Yes, you read that correctly, around the world. They were sitting outside of McDonalds working on their bikes after eating "double orders" of food. I was fascinated by their journey and asked them many questions.
When I told them I was working with some families and their dogs in Steamboat Springs, and so then they had many questions to ask me about dogs. Cyclists often are chased by loose dogs, but their questions were more of a personal nature. I was a little surprised at this, thinking, "You're cycling around the world and you want to know about your dog's behavior?"
I suppose you always go back home to family, and dogs are a big part of that. They also might have been a little homesick for their pets. One young man asked me a question that caused me to take pause. He said, "Is there any hope for a bad dog?" The look on his face made me realize that this question reflected great personal pain.
When I begin training with a new family, I ask them to list the behaviors they want to work on. They're usually very specific, listing pulling on leash or jumping up for example. I've seldom hear someone refer to their dog as an "overall bad dog.”
I explained to this young cyclist that when a behavior is performed, if we look carefully, we will see that there are specific environments that set the occasion for that behavior. There also are consequences that will predictably increase or decrease the frequency of that behavior.
An example might be: A person walks through your front door and reaches his hand toward your dog. Your dog snaps at his hand and the person withdraws his hand. We could predict that the person won't try to reach for your dog again. We also could predict that your dog will try this again at the front door because it worked for him to prevent the person from reaching into his space.
This same dog might play fetch in your backyard. He might lay on the floor with your teenage son. He might walk quietly on a loose leash. There usually are very good parts to every dog's behavior. There also might be some very specific situations in his life where he's uncomfortable and perhaps hasn't been taught what to do. These are the spots that we can start some training.
It's good to take a close look at the whole picture before using the label "bad dog".
There's usually more to the story.
Sandra Kruczek is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer at Total Teamwork Training with over 25 years of experience.