What Is Life Like with a Difficult Dog?

Get insight into what it’s like for people to live with a difficult dog, and how you can help.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #75

A couple of months ago, I did a pair of articles about shy and fearful dogs. A reader wrote me to say that she wished I’d said something about the human experience of living with a dog who has behavior problems. This week, life with a difficult dog, and how you can help..

A Difficult Dog May Not Be the Owner’s Fault

In Dog Land, there are still plenty of people who claim that if a dog has behavior problems, it’s all the guardian’s fault. If only they would do … something, or had done another thing, or would try that thing, their dog would be perfect. It’s hard enough living with a behaviorally troubled dog, even minus the piled-on shame and guilt. So let’s knock that one out right away.

I admit I wince inwardly when a client has ignored or minimized what could have been a relatively small problem until it got much, much worse. But almost all the people I work with have done the best they could with the knowledge they had at the time. They looked for a reputable breeder online and believed the smooth talk that went with the website photos of puppies playing in the grass. A rescue group representative assured them that the timid, lip-curling adolescent they felt sorry for would turn right around if she got plenty of love. A book that trumpeted its author’s expertise prescribed repeated alpha rolls; now their dog has learned that human handling is a cue for self-defense. Each of these things has happened to clients of mine. They all felt guilty, even though they were the ones who’d been taken for a ride.

People with Difficult Dogs Suffer Public Shaming

News flash: if you have dogs in your life, your odds of running into behavioral trouble one day are high.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).

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