When Doing the Wrong Thing Feels So Right

Photo Credit: Susannah Kay

Have you ever made the mistake of doing the wrong thing with your dog because, in the heat of the moment, it felt like exactly the right thing to do? Here’s an example of what I’m describing.

A few months ago, my husband and I went horseback riding in Pisgah National Forest, located in western North Carolina. The day was crisp and cold, and the ground was covered with slushy snow. As we chugged along trying to stay warm, the sound of a man’s shouting interrupted our conversation. We turned to look and saw the man’s dog, a large Husky or Malamute mix, making a beeline towards us.

The man issued forth a vehement litany of progressively louder recall commands, none of which produced a change in his dog’s trajectory:

“Scout, come!”

“Scout, you better get over here!”

“Right now!!”

“Scout, come, right now!!”

“Get over here right now!!!”

My husband and I provided some help by turning our horses around and slowly advancing towards the dog who responded in a predictable fashion. Scout turned tail and ran towards what he thought would be safety. Although he was now heading in the right direction, the man continued his angry ranting, so much so that I was surprised to see Scout venture back into capture range.

I had a sense of what Scout was in store for, and I attempted to salvage the situation by shouting, “You should praise him for coming back to you. Tell him he’s a good boy.” My words were either not heard or ignored. The man was intent on doing what he believed was the right thing- making sure his dog knew that he did a very, very, very bad thing. As soon as Scout was in range, the man grabbed him by the nape of the neck and lifted him off the ground, all the while yelling, “Bad dog!” Scout screamed in alarm as only a Malamute or Husky can do. I cringed and turned my horse back in the opposite direction. I didn’t want to watch any more and believed that any attempt on my part to educate would end badly.

Do I think that Scout’s dad shouldn’t be caring for a dog? Heck no. Sure, he acted inappropriately, but this does not negate the facts that he brought his dog along on an outdoor adventure, and he didn’t want him hassling our horses or potentially getting injured by them. Like so many of us have done, this man simply made the rookie mistake of doing the wrong thing because, in the heat of the moment, it felt like exactly the right thing to do. One can only hope that his experience with Scout that day convinced him to consult with a professional dog/human trainer.

When working with your dog, have you ever done the wrong thing because at the time it felt like exactly the right thing to do?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.


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3 Comments on “When Doing the Wrong Thing Feels So Right

  1. Heck, I’ve even done that with my children- When my daughter was about 4, she dove off the sofa and I berated her with “you could have broken your neck- don’t you ever do that again” and such. Ever the girl with the answers, through her tears, she said “you would think, sob, you would be glad I’m not hurt instead of being Mad”. Ouch!
    While I am very careful not to punish a returning dog, (now at least- there was a time when I didn’t know any better), that is certainly what the emotions can feel like doing. I try to stay in thinking mode when things don’t go as I would like. But I have been guilty of reacting first and only afterward, being sorry I wasn’t better prepared to do the right thing.

  2. I know better than to chase after a running dog. I know it turns into a really fun game for the dog, but…what if she runs out of my sight? What if she runs into the street? I know she easily runs faster than I do-but still…

  3. The man should have had his dog on a leash! He got angry at the dog but he was not being a responsible dog owner. Someone could have got hurt, say, if you’re horses had spooked.