Your Bad Dog is Also Your Good Dog


Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

Stella is a delight to be around. She is affectionate. She moves a bit slowly now at 13, but she’s still playful. Occasionally she’ll roll her ball to me while she stretches out on the cool tile. Stella is a good dog.

Stella was also bad. It seems like a long time ago, but Stella refused to pee in the rain when she was a puppy. She’s the only retriever I’ve ever met who didn’t know how stay upright in water. We had to teach her how to swim. She growled at me all the time, guarding this or that.

Stella was both good and bad, same dog, different behaviors.

We humans tend to notice and focus on bad things. We are hardwired that way. It literally is for our own good, our safety. For that reason, we tend to zero in on our dog’s bad behavior, the barking, the growling, the biting. We notice and complain about the digging, and the chewing, and the pooping and peeing. It’s normal. It’s also okay. Noticing where we struggle with our dogs helps us identify where we need to work. Ideally, it leads us to a plan to help our dog and alleviate our suffering at the same time. Our dog’s undesirable behavior always has a cause (oops, sometimes we are the cause) and that means it can be changed. That’s the beautiful thing about behavior, it’s always changing.

Let’s not overlook the good stuff, though. In short, it’s good for us to notice that our dog is not all bad. Most of my clients tell me “ninety-percent of the time he’s great.” They need help with the other ten-percent. One way I can help is to encourage you to look intently at all that is good about your dog. One reason is that your dog’s good behavior exists, plain and simple. We should take some solace in that. We like our dogs and there’s a reason for that even though they are sometimes awful. The other reason is that your dog’s good behavior also has a cause (yes, you are sometimes that cause). How did our dog get so good in certain ways? The answers can help us resolve the problem behaviors. What we are doing right with our dogs can help us where things are going wrong.

We notice where things are tough, often very easily. We can also sometimes see the path that lead us to these behavior problems with our dog. That’s a good start.

We can also notice where things are easy with our dog. Let’s look at the path that led to all that good stuff, too.

Behavior, by definition, is how your dog is acting in and interacting with his environment. There’s behavior we like. There are also things he does that we don’t like. He’s the same dog, though, all the way through. We can all relate to this, I think. Some day’s I’m at my best, so proud of the things I do. Other days, I’d rather not mention, not my target behavior, not my greatest moment. And yet, I am the same person in both instances.

Good dog. Bad dog. Same dog. On our best days we can see both. It’s the good human, the smart and patient versions of ourselves who can help our dogs tip the balance (yes, us). We can help them change the conversation with their environment, help them change their behavior. He’s great ninety-percent of the time, and now just a little bit more. It turns out that finding a good dog isn’t so hard because, after all, it’s about finding the good in the dog we already have, right here in front of us.

Michael Baugh specializes in fearful and aggressive dog training in Houston TX