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How Your Baggage Hurts Your Dog 11

How your Dogs Behavior Problems mirror your own Emotional Hangups

Up to this point, there hasn’t been an area of my life that I haven’t screwed up in one way or another. I’ve managed to regain my footing in some and walk away with some semblance of dignity during others. In the worse cases I made a major ass of myself. If I was lucky the hard times came with crucial lessons that bolstered my growth and maturation as a person. Others were nothing more than missed opportunities. Situations I got myself into that didn’t turn out well. Only after repeatedly smashing my face into the same wall did it dawn on me that I may possibly be on the wrong path. Life lessons aren’t always obvious, and the most important lessons are rarely without some pain.

There’s no doubt that you’ve found yourself on similar paths. If you answer no to that you’re either too stubborn to admit it or too thickheaded to have picked up on the wisdom of the experiences.

We all have hang-ups and baggage that affect our lives. It’s normal to make strides in one area and bellyflop in another. I’ve never heard of anyone who was successful across the board in everything they did. Nor do I know of a complete failure. Everyone has their strong points and weaknesses. The lamentable part is that for many of us, the low points play out in a neverending loop. We go from shitting situation to an even shittier one.


I fancied myself young, hip, and rebellious but I was nothing more than ignorant, awkward, and whiny.

When I was much younger and in the Navy I often went from one lousy experience to another blaming everyone around me for my problems. When you’re young life can be filled with a good deal of drama. I struggled to get my feet on solid ground. Relationships were extremely challenging. Those were very early days when I was still attempting to sort myself out.

Most psychologists agree that we’re much more inclined to be sabotaged by our own internal inhibitions and limited beliefs (again, baggage) than by external influences. These insecurities serve as barriers and roadblocks that prevent us from making progress in certain areas of life, such as relationships or business. They become cement reinforced walls which we can’t get over. We’re relegated to living out our lives in the most emotionally debilitating ways. Like one crappy ass version of Groundhog Day.

Consider yourself blessed if you’re aware of your shortcomings, many are not. As if it isn’t bad enough that we harm ourselves with our internal complications, we also almost invariably harm those around us with our issues. Our victims are frequently those closest to us. Yes, even our dogs.

Dogs aren’t immune to our toxic energies and self-indulgent melodramas. Humans usually have the option of dodging out of a toxic person’s pathway, dogs can’t. They’re forced to stick it out with the person doing the most harm to them. It’s like they’re living in one horrible Telenovela with no ending.

I’m not suggesting that every person dealing with emotional turmoil and conflict is intentionally inflicting poisonous energy to those around them. Often enough the toxic crap comes from well-meaning, caring, and compassionate folks who only want the best for their family and pets. But when it comes to being strung out bundles of nerves, well, they just can’t help themselves.

Now, before you tune me out, I’ll add that this isn’t a hatchet piece for the baggage-inclined. By now you’ve figured out that this piece isn’t so much a dog training article than it is about individuals struggling with personal issues that spawn dog behavior problems. With that said, I think it’s wise that these people begin to reflect on their internal struggles and its external expressions.

Too often the dog is slammed for its bad behaviors. Neediness, demanding attitudes, obsessiveness, spoiled behaviors, are all traits that we blame the dog for. As if the dog choose these characteristics on its own. It’s high time that we consider that it might, just maybe, be our fault.

Some of these reasons overlap, and they may sound as if they’re all part of the same thing (and maybe they are) but i address them separately because it’s important to highlight each individually as not everyone suffers from the same problem. Let’s take a look at some of our emotional hangups and the ways they can negatively affect our dogs.

1. You’re angry
Angry people aren’t fun to be around. They drag everyone down with the heaviness of their emotions. It’s like they have a black cloud over their heads. They ruin conversations and entire relationships with their angry attitude. These toxic people aren’t necessarily violent, it’s just that their emotions are like a coiled spring ready to jump out at the slightest provocation. There’s very little, if any, impulse control on their part.

Even if they aren’t externally angry it seethes beneath the surface nonetheless. It’s always there, palpable, filling every room and situation with tension. This is only one of the few ways internal rage can manifest. The person can also be passive aggressive.

Dogs sense and feel this tension. We fool ourselves if we think it doesn’t have an affect on their behavior and nervous system. A child growing up in an emotionally unstable environment, or one where there is constant tension, will absorb the daily stresses until they become part of his personality. How many of us continue to wear the scars of our early years? Yet this is common knowledge these days. Why do we assume it’s any different with dogs?

When you live with an angry, volatile person your world can be highly unpredictable. The only predictable thing is the outburst or subtle tension that is sure to occur at some point. Children growing up in similar households where angry tension is ever present, and may even be witness to occasional violence, grow up never knowing what stability is. It really is no different with dogs.

When forced to live in unstable environments they can become fearful, neurotic, tense, rigged, skittish, and reactive. They lose a necessary sense of safety which in turn can make them defensive and quick to react. A reasonable comparison are dogs who spend a good deal of time in unhealthy shelter environments. While many shelters are ideal places others are not and they produce dogs that are untrained, undersocialized, and overstimulated. In both examples what you have are dogs raised in toxic environments and surroundings.

2. You’re too permissive
No doubt you’ve run across these owners. Maybe in the dog park or some dog obedience class. They handle the dog with kid gloves as if they were first time parents to a human infant. Nothing against new parents. I have children and remember well the excitement and newness of a brand new baby. During those times, everything the kid does is adorable and special. That usually wears out after the second or third child.

Not that you love them any less but that you realize that all that special fuzzing about gets you nowhere and only sets you up to be the mark. The sucker that gets taken advantage of again and again. A wise parent soon realizes that these small humans need rules and accountability as much as they need love and affection. It’s the same with smart, and sane, dog owners.


Neglect to create rules and structure and you’ll eventually end up speaking to the hand.

A permissive owner tends to give too much. Sometimes their kindness comes off as sugary sweetness that leaves you feeling nauseous. Or their own neediness compels them to intervene in any small matter the dog gets himself into. As if every situation was life or death.

Some of these people see themselves as their dogs savior and protector during most of the dogs waking hours. With others, it’s a devotion that’s over-the-top. A fear and insecurity that drives them to cater to the dog day and night.

The tactics, approach, and attitude may differ but one thing they all have in common is that these folks have a great deal of trouble saying no to their dogs. Actually, they almost never say no, and that’s the problem. It’s the extreme opposite of being too hard. Its excessiveness in the opposite direction.

The permissive owner can appear lax, easy-going, and too accepting of their dog’s undesirable behaviors. You may even think they intentionally turn a blind eye towards the obnoxious behavior. And often they do.

Judging on external actions, or lack of, you may say this kind of owner can seem lazy. Too lazy to train the dog and too passive to disrupt bad behavior. But this is like judging a book on its cover, because the truth is quite the contrary. Permissive owners can be among the most caring, loving, considerate, compassionate owners around. In fact, If there is such a thing as too caring, too loving, or too considerate then these people are it. Their actions may even be described as overindulgent.

The catch with these owners is that what they do doesn’t so much benefit the dog as it does themselves. Their actions are more a reflection of their own internal emotional needs than those of the dog. Many of these folks are fearful of instilling rules and following through on them.

There’s the belief that rules are too harsh a thing for their sweet dog; the fear that the dog will hate them if they enforce any rules; that it will ruin their relationship; that the dog will fear them, etc. It’s all inner reflections of their own personal self-doubts and insecurities.

These folks have a good deal of neediness within, even if it’s not apparent on the outside. They need to be liked and accepted, maybe even fawned over by their dogs. The idea that their dog may not view them in the best light possible could be emotionally troubling and stressful for them. It’s not that they don’t recognize the problem, they may even acknowledge their contribution to it, it’s just that they lack the inner strength to proactively address and correct it.

The dog is allowed to get away with everything. We’re talking about demanding behavior, excessive neediness and clinginess, jumping or barking for attention, climbing on furniture and refusing to get off, stealing food from plates on the table, snarling, growling, snapping, etc.. There is no redirecting, correcting, or training of any sort to address the bad behavior.


Sweet children like this one aren’t simply born that way. They’re usually following someone’s leadership, or lack of.

The irony is that the human gets the exact opposite of what they think they’re getting. A dog, and child, whose unruly behavior is tolerated and allowed to continue eventually demonstrates little regard and respect for the human(s) in his or her life.

Humans don’t do well with weak leaders. We don’t hold him in high regards. The political or business leader (even everyday parents) lacking the confidence necessary to take action and rectify a problem quickly loses respect and stature among his or her followers.

Because they lack the boldness to correct a problem and the tenacity to stick to it until it improves they simply don’t convey confidence in those around them. We make a huge error in judgment when we buy into the idea that it’s much different with dogs.

3. You’re too nervous, anxious, stressed, scared, insecure (you get the point).
No man, or woman is an island. That was a poem by John Donne, and it applies to everything mentioned in this article. It’s meaning is that we cannot live our lives in isolation without it affecting others and our environment around us. No, I’m not going off on a weird tangent. This is entirely relevant to how we raise our dogs.

Dogs, in a sense, live off of the emotional states and frame of mind of those around them. Give off confidence and your dog is likely to follow your lead, project any form of insecurities and your dog will behave accordingly. Whether that manifest in a dog that takes advantage of your weakness or creates a dog who is him or herself weak is irrelevant, they’re each symptoms of the same problem.

Surely, we all suffer these issues from time to time. Who doesn’t feel anxious or scared or insecure at some period of their lives? Who among us wouldn’t benefit from a therapy session at least once in our lives? It’s all part of the human experience.

But here we’re referring to humans who deal with these feelings and emotions on an ongoing basis. As if it’s part of the fabric of their being. Think of it as a chronically anxious or stressed individual. You get the idea, and I’m sure you know of someone very similar to this. They’re almost always on edge. They live fearfully and apprehensively as if anticipating some unforeseen catastrophe that never happens.

Overcoming life’s inevitable challenges becomes near impossible. Difficulties in the form of daily, but minor, upset are sources of angst and stress.

To improve in any area of life you must reject these thoughts and emotions that anchor you down. How we see ourselves is often reflected in those around us. Our thoughts and energies manifest in actions. What we think about day and night becomes our personality and the core of who we are. Thoughts and beliefs provide our experiences and encounters.

An anxious person can dissipate his energy so as to make those around him equally anxious, or he can come across those who intentionally or otherwise would take advantage of this vulnerability. people, like dogs, deal with you based on your perceived strengths and weaknesses.

A person dealing with insecurities and is unaware of themselves as such may place blame for their troubles elsewhere. That’s because they lack self-awareness and the ability for introspection. Instead they blame the dog for acting out, or being disobedient.

It’s your own attitudes, thoughts, and emotional makeup that define what is good or bad. If you fail to recognize your contribution to the problem, it never improves. We approach our dogs with the same fear and trepidation that we do everything else. And soon the dogs are taking advantage of this or have become mirror images of us. So in essence, if you fear failure ,you get failure.

Someone said, “Pain is pain, but suffering is optional”. I don’t know how true that is in general but I do believe that it’s true of many of us.

Thank you for reading this far. Hope you got some value out of the article. Remember that sharing isn’t stealing. It’s just a way for you to spread the love.

This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. Hi,

    What a breath of fresh air this is, for the impact of us ‘humans’ on the pup or dog is all too easily brushed aside with a quick one liner.

    That so few trainers ever even take the time to hint at how the owners personailty impacts on their dogs, is a constant source of astonishment to me.

    I absorbed but did not understand when I was very young, that somehow the calmest, (at the time I thought the most boring) people usually had the best mannered dogs & most highly trained horses, but it was not until I began to work with horses years later that I realised why, for it was the people who had a quiet confidence & manner that had the most success with animals. Often these people had started their lifelong relationship with animals after having learned how to teach the most basic commands, & this opened their minds to what could be achieved, somewhere way down the line they had learned that being calm had a direct impact on animals.

    I am no expert, but I live in a town which is almost over-run with dog owners, but almost none of them have any idea as to how to treat a dog, they are rarely cruel, but their naivety & lack of basic knowledge is shocking.

    I watch dog owners & I cringe watching them talk or scold pups as you would an unruly child, watch them castigate an adult dog as if it understood reason, or play with it as if it were almost human, then these same people can not understand why they have no control over their dogs, they then find it inconceivable that my huge 7 month old billy/staff pup, is not in the least aggressive, adores people, & miracles upon miracles, will sit when asked 🙂

    I wonder, that how, with the huge wealth of information on the web, easily within reach of the the fingertips of any dog owner, how can it be that so few know how to behave correctly towards their pets & know so little regards basic training?

    1. Samantha.
      Thank you for your response. My experience falls directly in line with yours. We like to think of ourselves as rational and logical beings that on occasion behave emotionally, but the truth is quite the opposite. We’re extremely emotional creatures that will on occasion use our thinking abilities to rationalize and logically analyze a problem. Within this context, it isn’t too difficult to understand why so many dog people have such trouble achieving a calm state of mind around their dogs, despite the abundance of material out there suggesting that very same thing.

  2. Hear, hear!
    I wish my phone had an audible sound of hands clapping for this article!
    Nothing pleases me more and let’s me know I’m on the right training track with my dog as when I watch his eyes dart back and forth between me and someone/something else to determine what the situation is.
    Be it playing, fetching, tracking or even relaxing, he trusts me to give him direction from my body language, verbally or at times, simply making eye contact.
    There is definitely a language being spoken between us and our dogs and many people unfortunately, remain ignorant of it.
    Thank you again for such great info!

    1. You’re welcomed. I’m happy that you’re among the group of people who are able to communicate so well with their dogs. Great job!

  3. You are a blessing! Your knowledge and insight is a wonderful gift you share. Your expressive writing skills are top notch. At present I am not a dog owner, but I read your blog faithfully for insight for myself. My last dog, Fitz, a golden doodle was my best companion ever. I trained him with the help of a trainer to be my service dog. I have MS was falling frequently. Fitz has helped me out of many difficult situations, even out of a fall in the bathtub. By the time he was two I had become stronger with less need for his help. Fitz is an active, highly social boy., loved playdates. Unfortunately I was unable to meet his needs not only for exercise, but he had very costly medical needs. Although I loved him dearly I felt my situation and home-life was not the best for him. I found a lovely family who had a golden doodle a few months younger who also had the same costly allergy problems. They have two awesome teen children, the son was mildly autistic., and their dog did not bond with the boy. Fitz being very layed back and sensed the boys needs immediately. Fitz gets to play, gets walked 2 miles a-day, swims, hikes, and loved so much. All while not the continued training and respect he deserves. He has been with them a year. I waited a month before visiting him, continued to 1 day a week, then 1 day every 2 weeks, finally to once a month for 7 months. My heart broke everytime a would leave him. I decided not to see again, emotionally I could not handle it and I knew he was so happy. My problem is the pain and heartbreak has not eased up. Unconsciously I still reach for him in bed at night ( he slept with me because of my medical needs at night). I have never commented on a internet site before but your talented insights made me reach out to you. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Again, thank you for sharing your inspiring blog.

    1. Thank you for your kind words Darlene. Another dog might be in your future since it appears you’re a caring and wonderful dog parent. Good luck.

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