When Good Dogs Gone Bad (the real reason opens the door to handling)

The dog misbehaves. Boisterous. Overexcited. Bullying other dogs. Disregarding commands. Destroys property. Painfully nibbles your arm. Jumps up on visitors. Horribile dictu, pees on the settee. This can’t go on anymore. What could be done?

Any dog trainer who is worth his salt would agree that the first question to ask is not what to do with a "bad dog", but WHY the dog acts the way he does.

The right source opens the door to handling. The wrong "why" will make the situation worse.

An unwanted behaviour, such as aggression is not the issue. It is the symptom. The issue is the "why" behind it.

Attempting to treat a symptom without finding out the actual cause behind it is not very smart now, is it.)

It would make sense then, as far as this writer concerns, if each dog trainer had a LIST of possible causes, which they could refer to. And if she does not, at least you should have it at hand.

DID YOU KNOW there are at least twelve possible reasons behind “bad behaviour”?


Wait, there's even more shocking news: out of those twelve, only ONE should be addressed with obedience training.

All the rest have little to do with the realm of dog training.

(Of course, no other trainer will ever tell you that. At the end of the day, we need to pay the bills too...)


From the top of your head, and without scrolling down, how many of those possible reasons of "dog misbehaviour" could you recall right now?

Test your knowledge - give it a go! Take a piece of paper and a pen, and write down a few as fast as you can, within a 30 second time limit. Don't think too much.

How many you got? More than five? Good job then! Tick it off what you already knew when checking our list.

Even if you don't know the first thing about dog training, for future reference, when you hire an "expert", see if (s)he is too quick to tell you why the dog does what it does. The weak point in our profession of dog training is that the more time someone spends with studying the theory of dog behaviour, dog psychology, habits of wolf packs etc, the more he will believe that he knows, and jump to conclusions, without even looking closely at the situation.

Don't make that mistake!

The truth is - nobody knows! But with experience comes a fair chance to guess right.

Before deciding on a strategy, always carefully examine what's really going on there.

And do your best to locate the correct reason for the behaviour.

(See if you can pinpoint the most likely one relating to your case.)


1. ​Lack of basic training, or lack of early socialisation

Okay, this is the obvious one.

Never expect something from your dog that you had not previously taught her.

2. Absence of rules, boundaries and limitations.

Just like with the one above, a dog will have a hard time to abide your rules if he had not been "enlightened" what is expected from him.

3. Insufficient exercise

​Uh, that's a big one!

In fact, we, at Dog Training For Humans believe that over 80% of common "behavioural problems" could be rapidly sorted out with introducing regular exercise into a dog's life.

(BTW, your daily stroll down the street is great, but it does not count as an exercise. Sorry!)

4. Boredom.

​It's kind of self-explanatory.​ Dogs are like children: when there is not enough toy, they tend to destroy.

5. A domination issue

This one, most often than not, is the result of an absence of proper structure in the “pack”. It is not so much about "who's the boss?", but about the fact that the dog is uncertain of what his role really is in the pack. In sever cases, the dog begins to antagonise other dogs, or even people. Just like with a kid who bullies other kids at school - he will keep acting that way, until someone comes along who says to him "No! That's enough, buddyboy", and puts him "in place", so-to-say.

(FYI, spoiling the dog as it was Louis the 14th also belongs here.)

6. A trauma, or history of bad treatment

Dogs follow learned behaviour. Vesta, a rescued sheep dog from Mongolia, is tend

to be snappy with certain dogs.

In a London suburb, this behaviour is frowned upon, and rightfully so. But in the steppes near Ulaanbataar of Mongolia, it was part of survival: a defense mechanism to keep other dogs from attacking, or stealing her food. She is not "bad". She had simply learned to act that way.

We see this phenomenon all too often with dogs rescued from Romania, Cyprus or Portugal.

It is also possible that something went wrong during the imprinting period, and the current (mis)behaviour or disfunction origins in the early weeks of puppyhood. (If you wish to learn about this in detail, see our other post on The Imprinting Period.)

7. Fear and anxiety

You would be surprised to know how common this case is among dogs, and especially pet dogs. In fact, as strange as it sounds, the more a dog is being spoiled and "protected", the more likely it will have fear issues.

(This is so common that we will dedicate a full post to explain the reason behind this.)

Man is a dangerous animal. Unpredictable. Impatient. Emotional. Frankly, if I were a dog, I would be in constant alert when being among people. Especially, if those men, or my breeders were not aware to introduce me to the word in those precious weeks when I was a puppy.

(For those who wish to know, it is called the "imprinting period". If you never heard of it, you should Google it. Really.)

8. An imminent or chronic health issue

We have recently met a case of a Dalmatian boy that became aggressive for no apparent reason. No training could "cure" him. Later turned out he had a serious gum infection in his jaw that made him go into this “Cujo mode”. Once he was treated by a good vet, the bad behaviour disappeared within hours.

Dogs have headaches, tooth-aces, fever or suffer from an undiagnosed sickness. And when they do, they can go mental, just like us.

9. Bad diet

Dogs can also have serious mood swings, especially when they are fed with junk food, or they are kept on a boring diet that lacks the six basic nutrients (water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins), or when any of these is blown out of proportion.

Again, as the right dog diet is such a vital issue, a full post is to come on this one.

10. Faulty breeding

Yes, dogs have "mental health issues" too. They can be nervous or anxious from puppyhood, even if loved-to-bits by all. The condition can origin in overbreeding. Unfortunately, when breeding is done for the sole purpose of money, which happens more and more often, things can go wrong.

(What do you get when you combine a collie + a Lhasa Apso? A Collapso! - a dog that folds up for easy transport. :) Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

11. Aging Then there are age-related behaviour issues. (For the terminology geeks, this is associated with cognitive dysfunction syndrome or CDS). With aging, memory, learning, perception, and awareness start to decline, similar to the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in humans. This can lead to nervousness, and mild or significant change in basic personality.

A lady called me up, asking for my advice what to do about her mini-yorkie that recently "became grouchy in the mornings". Then I found out she was 15. (The dog, not the lady.)

That's like... 105 years in human terms! Duuuh! She had all the reasons to be grouchy.

12. When a dog is breaking bad, always look for the man behind

Now this is a big one, and I left it last for a reason.

We all know the people who should never have a dog, not in a million years. We meet them in the streets, in the parks, on the beaches. I am not talking about those who openly abuse or abandon their dogs, but who simply have NO IDEA how to handle or keep dogs, but refuse

to accept his incapacity, and make an effort to learn how to become a better dog owner.

And then you have those who struggle with mental health issues, or jump from one personality disorder to another - depression, paranoia, narcissism, BPD, just to name a few. According to recent surveys, four out of ten people have been on anti-depressants or psychiatric drugs for years.

One of the most fundamental principles in dog training (or in training any other animal, for that matter): a dog’s energy always stems from the energy of the people in his vicinity, and the environment that surrounds him. If the owner has major issues with functioning in life, or if he is an angry, crusty, ill-tempered person, full of resentment and hate, and no matter where we look, we find that his life is a complete mess, his dog will certainly inherit similar attributes.

You can train that dog 'till the cows come home. Even if you manage to produce some results, the chance of re-lapse is almost certain, as most likely the training will not be followed up consistently by the owners.  

I recall the case of this beautiful Labrador boy I was called about, which almost pathologically insisted on toileting only inside the house. No matter how long the owners took him for a walk, he took a dump only when they arrived home. As I found out, the father was alcoholic, the mother was on Prozac, grandma was the Queen of OCD, and both teenagers were drug users.

A dysfunctional environment creates a dysfunctional dog.

The solution is to sort out the owners' personal issues, or re-home the dog. There is no other way.

I don't wish to end this on a dark note, but I feel the subject cannot be swept under the rug, even if it makes some people cringe. And in today's climate of "politically correct", everyone is so afraid to ruffle some feathers that we seldom call a spade a spade.

We must remember, it is one thing to say “I have problems with my dog, and I want to resolve it, because it generates constant tension in my life…”  However, most signs of misbehaviour also means that your dog experiences significant stress in HIS/HER life.

The right reason to turn to a trainer or dog behaviourist is not to make your life easier by having a well-behaved pet, but to help your friend to become a cheerful, well-balanced dog.

It is a whole different viewpoint. Something to think about.

As I said it elsewhere, in my experience, most dog owners are cool, decent, reasonable people. 80% of all "dog "issues" (meaning = dogs that are out of control) are caused by 20% of all dog owners. In a town with, let's say, 20.000 dogs, this means 4,000 dogs unreliable, which is still a massive number. Dog trainers tend to focus on reaching and teaching those 20%, as "clearly" they are the ones who need training. But not me. l want to focus on the remaining 80%, for two reasons:

1. they are a lot more likely to be open for training, as most people with "dog issues" simply do not want to accept they have an issue. As weird as it sounds, it is just what it is.

2. If we enlighten the 80%, they are our only chance to make a positive effect on the remaining people, who are unable or unwilling to control and train their dogs, and thus change the dog world for the better. No dog trainer, council or TV-show or will change the dog culture - only the community itself can.

I hope I can count on you in making this grand mission a priority.

Thanks for your care.


The team of Dog Training For Humans