No Bad Dogs

I have recently written Play All Day’s policy and procedure on play group management. One of the first lines addresses my belief that there are no bad dogs. Dogs may exhibit undesirable behaviors or behaviors that are not compatible with a play group setting, but this does not earn the dog a label of “bad”. Bad, and good for that matter, can unfairly categorize a dog. When we think in terms of good and bad, the lure of assigning ulterior motives is very strong.

How often have you said or thought, “he did that just to get even with me?” Come on, admit it…you’ve done it…even though you know your dog is not out to get even with you. The big problem with this type of thinking is that it stirs negative emotions.

If a dog is labeled as bad, he walks in with one strike against him and it is very hard to keep an open mind and perspective about the behaviors that he is exhibiting right there and then. That is what needs to be addressed when one is managing a group of dogs. What is happening right now with each dog? Is it appropriate for the group or is it inappropriate? Why is the dog doing it? What will help the dog to exhibit a more appropriate behavior? The same is true for the label of “good”. If we think of a dog as a good dog, it is even more vexing when they display inappropriate behaviors. Or we may let inappropriate behaviors slide because he’s such a “good boy” the rest of the time.

I encourage my staff (and myself) to think not in terms of good and bad, but to view each interaction and categorize it as appropriate or inappropriate for the setting. A great example of this is the act of one dog mounting another dog. This is a perfectly normal behavior, but in a play group setting, it can lead to very intense and anxious play, so it is inappropriate. But when my two dogs play at home, and exhibit this behavior, I classify it as appropriate (as long as it doesn’t get out of control).

All of this said, one of my commitments to my families is to always be honest regarding behaviors that are witnessed during the play day. When I discuss these behaviors with Mom or Dad, I encourage them to not think of the behavior as good or bad. They are just facts. If some of the behaviors are inappropriate, here is what we are doing to manage it and here is what you can do to help at home. And if one of the behaviors is so inappropriate that the daycare setting is not in the best interest of the dog, then that does not make the dog bad. It just means that this is not the best option for that dog. In my mind, we are a team, trying to create a great experience for our four legged kiddos.

So, my challenge to you over the next several weeks is to throw away the terms of good and bad when it comes to describing your dog. Take that 10,000 foot view and look at the big picture. What is going on when an inappropriate behavior appears? Take all ulterior motives out of it. What is your dog hoping to achieve with his behavior? That is step one in turning the inappropriate behavior into an appropriate one.