Don’t Let Anyone Judge You as a Bad Dog Owner – Good for the Dog; Good for You

Honey the Golden Retriever prepares to fetch.

Don’t judge me for looking for a ball that hasn’t been thrown yet. You’re the one who’s too slow.

We’ve all been embarrassed by our dogs.

Some of us know the pain of our dog running off as we impotently call his name. Others suffer dismay from having our courageous canine,with teeth flashing, protecting the house from the UPS driver. Maybe your dog has pulled you across the street to “tell off” the neighbor’s dog for having the audacity to live on your block.

If you’re really lucky, you’ve dealt with all three. And more.

But does having training fails make us bad dog owners? And does anyone have the right to judge?

I Judge Therefore I Am

Polls asking Americans to name their favorite hobbies include the results of reading, watching television, and gardening. But I think our favorite hobby is judging other people.

If it wasn’t true how could we ever explain the Kardashians, bad celebrity dance contests, and road rage?

My judging hat looks like a bike helmet. I don’t even wait for a driver to do something stupid before I assume he’s out to kill me. Things that didn’t faze me when I drove a car freak me out now that I’m a year-round bicyclist.

I judge every driver who rolls through a stop sign, takes my right-of-way, and doesn’t see me signal a right turn to be a homicidal moron instead of someone who is just distracted or innocently misjudging my speed.

Here’s the crazy thing about my judgments: they don’t make me feel better and they don’t do a thing to improve anyone’s driving.

Funny, but it’s also true that no one’s judgments of me has made me better looking or a good dog trainer.

It’s Not Easy Being Judged

When we feel we’re going to be judged, we change our behavior. Instead of seeing the UPS driver as a training opportunity, we shove our dog into the bathroom so at least his barking is muted. And even if it stresses him out enough to chew up a roll of toilet paper in between “let me out” barks, at least we’re less embarrassed.

We get flustered by our dog’s lunging and pulling on leash. All we want is to get away. And we miss out on a teaching moment.

We need to be strong enough for our dogs that we don’t care about the judging that comes. And yes, it will come.

Where do we get the inner strength to stop worrying about other people judging us for our dog’s actions? By remembering two things that everyone should consider before judging:

Some behaviors are perfectly normal for dogs

Barking at a stranger is normal behavior for a dog with strong protective instincts. Yes, we want to teach our dogs they don’t need to go into protective-mode every time a stranger comes to the house. But we’re working against nature.

And don’t forget, context is everything. As embarrassed as I’ve been when Agatha and Christie frothed to get at a delivery person, I was equally thankful for their instincts when we returned from a walk to find two burglars hiding in our dining room.

It takes time to train dogs (and people)

Five years ago my neighbors down the street adopted a dog from the SPCA. He was insane on a leash. He pulled in all directions, tripping people and bringing a sense of mayhem to his every step.

When I see him today, I have to work hard to remember that rude little dog who didn’t know how to walk politely on a leash. His people did a great job with him. But it took years—not just of training but also of him growing up to teach him calmness on a leash.

Honey Teaches Me To Worry Less About Being Judged

Honey the Golden Retriever retrieves her ball from the bushes.

I see you there, Mr. McJudgy. Anyone could lose a ball in the bushes. At least I found it!

I try to make our walks fun for Honey.

She gets to pick the route. I will lengthen a walk if she’s not ready to come in. We explore different settings each day.

But we’re not always in synch.

If we walk to the south, when we get to the intersection one block from our house, Honey will stop. No coaxing will urge her forward.

Of course she’s most likely to do this when there are people walking by and cars driving through the intersection wondering if we’re going to cross the street or not. It’s embarrassing.

Sure, I should be past any humiliation after sixteen years with the devil dogs, Agatha and Christie. But I’m not.

I could pull treats out and bribe her to go forward (and I have when I’m in a hurry which contributes to the problem). But I want to figure this out through communicating better with Honey.

So I’m learning to ignore the people who laugh when they see me trying to coax a dog to move whose paws are glued to the sidewalk. If I have to sit on the sidewalk until she approaches me, I’ll do that too.

Because a stranger walking by might judge my failure for a few seconds. But my relationship with Honey is for life.

And my learning to ignore the judgments of other people is good for Honey and it’s good for me.


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  1. Yep, I’ve had dogs with the running crazies, dogs that ignored my calls, the UPS haters & dogs that poop right in the middle of the neighbor’s lawn. All terrible embarrassments. But you are right – it’s only the scorn of others that prevent me from addressing it in the moment and doing a better job of training. I know I’ve been on the other side of the judgement too – scorn at folks whose dog lunges at mine, or acts aggressively at the dog park or runs laughingly in circles around the owner desperate to catch them. I guess they need some latitude and less judgement from me too! Fair is fair.

  2. goldenrescue says:

    As someone who has had many foster dogs, I tend to be so focused on the dog, whether it needs help or not, and what it’s reacting to, that what others are thinking is pretty far from my mind. I have even asked strangers with a well-behaved dog of their own if they have time, if they would stay for a minute or two while I trained my foster and taught him there was nothing to fear, that he could walk by on a loose leash instead of being a raving maniac.
    I’m sure I have judged others, but mostly in terms of what would help that particular dog. I helped a neighbor catch his dog once, as he ran circles around his owner, who was getting more and more frustrated. When he was able to catch the dog, I quietly suggested that he reward the dog, rather than punish him, and explained why. I could tell by the expression on his face that he had never thought about it that way before.

    • I’ve known for years that the dog has to be the center of everything I do. But it’s a head lesson that I, hopefully, improve in putting at the core of my heart.

      It sounds like you have dogs first in your heart. Thank you for sharing a good example with us as well as the neighbor with the zooming dog. :)

  3. Here’s the honest truth. I could care less of what people think of how I interact with my dog. For me, it’s about me and my dog and I really don’t give it a second thought.

    I admit to judging others about their relationships with their dogs from the same perspective that goldenrescue does, in how can they have a better relationship with their dog. I went to the training center to pick up treats on Friday and a man came in with a young dog. That dog’s tail was tucked so far between his legs and he was shaking like a leaf. I said, “What’s the matter buddy, what are you so afraid of?” thinking maybe his owner didn’t recognize the signs and his owner said, “he’s afraid of other dogs.” And yet he was bringing him to a place filled with dogs. I felt so bad for that little guy that I cried when I left.

    I will admit that how people judge me personally bothers me, but when it comes to my dogs I’m focused on them.

  4. That’s great advice!

  5. SUCH great advice! I am definitely someone who worries about how others are judging me. Even though I know it’s wasted effort, it’s a hard habit to break. When it comes to the dogs, though, I’m usually too focused on them to even notice if I’m being judged! Although, one incident comes to mind: When I walk my reactive dog Lucas, I never leave home without my can of Easy Cheese! A woman on a bike slowed down, “Is that whipped cream?” She sounded incredulous. “No, Easy Cheese!” And she rolled her eyes as she rolled on. But if it keeps him from trying to eat another dog, I’m all for it, judgment or not!

  6. Being at the “tail end” of raising my daughter and the “front end” of being a dog mom again, I will admit to both judging and being judged. I think it’s just human nature. I can remember worrying about what other moms would think when my daughter misbehaved (because it’s all about moms judging how they or their kids are doing against other moms/kids). Now it’s how other dog parents see me or Zora. We’re so far behind on this because Zora is approximately 10 years old with virtually no training, and I can hear those judgemental dog parents in my head saying, “What the hell, lady. Get your dog under control!”

  7. Normally I don’t really focus on what other folks are thinking about me and my dogs, but lately it’s been a hard habit to shake. Especially when I have a lady in our dog walking group making comments to me about Penny being “an annoying dog” due to her barking. She even shared with me a story about how her neighbors had a “horrible” dachshund that was out of control. I ended up stopping her mid story and told her that Penny was not a horrible dog (knowing she was making an implication there) and that she was just happy to be walking with the other dogs. I think about leaving this group all of the time, but I have to remind myself that I can’t let one person affect my feelings like this when everyone else in the group could really care less about Penny’s boisterous behavior.

  8. Max's Ma says:

    Live and let live right!!? 😉

  9. Good for you. Silas’s refusals to walk any further are usually more dramatic. (That is, he will flatten completely to the sidewalk or the trail, legs splayed.)

    I have to work hard against a tendency to be judgy, too. A few things still get me irritated despite my better self–people who ignore their dog’s stress and people who use flexi-leashes badly are the top two.

  10. What a great post today! I admit, being judged is one of my sensitive areas, although I try to hide that.

  11. Wonderful post! Being a mom to a bully, we are constantly judged, given rude comments to, and looked at with glaring eyes. I can’t help but judge those people who are ignorantly judging me and my furson. The UPS guy is not allowed in my neighborhood anymore. Titan doesn’t want him there, however, when Titan isn’t looking “brown” does make deliveries (although not to my house anymore – they get sent to my job). My dog has been trained to be protective of our home, our property, and my hubs and I. Some people don’t appreciate a good “guard” dog. Titan will not take treats from anyone either than the hubs or I AND he won’t take a treat anywhere else than the confines of our property. Odd? Possibly….. go ahead and judge :)

  12. I’m sure we get the judge-y scornful looks from neighbors when Rita goes nuts on leash (we’re working on it and she’s better, but certain dogs/situations still really set her off), but I’m so busy being focused on her that I don’t even see the judge-y looks. Of course, I still assume they’re there!
    Folks are always so quick to judge others – I do *try* to do the “walk a mile in their shoes” thing before jumping to a quick judgement, but sometimes I have to remind myself to not assume I know the whole situation. Thanks for the reminder!

  13. Great advice! You hit the nail on the head at the very end of the article – learn to ignore what judgmental people say or do…whether it’s about your dog, your kids or you. It’s an attempt at control on their part – why should you give it to them? I usually don’t have problems with people judging me – or I just don’t notice it! If I do perceive judgment I ignore it and it defuses the situation.

  14. Thank you for this. Pierson really embarrassed me a few weeks ago. I joined a new dog walking group where people with leash-reactive dogs get together to work on our dog’s behavior. Well, Pierson got away from me and went after another dog. I was mortified!!! Luckily, he didn’t do anything other than chase. I apologized profusely, fully expecting to get yelled at and kicked out of the group. Thankfully, the other dog’s mom was very understanding. I try to return the same courtesy to others should mishaps with our dogs occur.

  15. Mike Webster says:

    From the Husband (aka Mr. McJudgy):

    Gee, after years of being married to both at the same time, you’d think that my wife could tell the difference between a moron and a distracted driver.

    (I will not, however, admit to “homicidal.” Or, at least, not until proven in a court of law.)

  16. This describes Dakota and I to a tee!!! “I could pull treats out and bribe her to go forward (and I have when I’m in a hurry which contributes to the problem). But I want to figure this out through communicating better with Honey.

    So I’m learning to ignore the people who laugh when they see me trying to coax a dog to move whose paws are glued to the sidewalk. If I have to sit on the sidewalk until she approaches me, I’ll do that too.

    Because a stranger walking by might judge my failure for a few seconds. But my relationship with Honey is for life.

    And my learning to ignore the judgments of other people is good for Honey and it’s good for me”

    I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have gone through this. I also let Dakota pick his route, if I don’t…forget it, he won’t walk. Even when he DOES pick the route when he decides he has had enough, he has had ENOUGH!
    I have done the coaxing with treats MANY times and felt so embarrassed with people watching me.
    THANK YOU for this post and I CANNOT WAIT TO MEET HONEY! (and of course, YOU!)

  17. When BJ digs in to refuse to go toward the house, I laugh at him before people can laugh. Then people laugh with me and I give a quick explanation – “He doesn’t want to go home.” People relate to that.

  18. Wow, what great advice Pamela. As you articulate so well, for me the biggest reason not to judge is that it feels better, lighter, happier and more relaxing not to. Sometimes I just can’t help it though–the woman I saw over the weekend, walking her friendly, happy pit mix on a prong collar which she yanked viciously every time the dog showed curiosity about something, and snapping “She’s a therapy dog” at everyone who wanted to pet this cutie, comes to mind. But even in a situation like that, not judging opens the door to possibilities–if I could have found the right way to communicate with this person, who can say that I might not have found a way to change the way she worked with this dog?

    As for my own dogs, I am definitely sensitive to judgement when they behave in all the embarrassing ways they behave. Fortunately the things that make me look better (?–or at least like a wingnut with a plan, rather than a hapless, weak, overwhelmed dog owner and failed dog trainer), like whipping out the hot dogs and loudly, happily praising any calm behavior, are also the things that are good for my dogs.

  19. Such good advice for life in general. Totally agree – I think most people’s favorite hobby is judging other people. I’m guilty of it, too, but trying to be more aware of my own judgey pants. Now, if I could just convince Jeffie that that Brown truck and the FedEx guy are not out to kill us all…

  20. Stellar post Pamela. It never hurts to walk a mile in the other person’s (or dog’s) shoes/paws.

  21. Thank you so much for this post. I always feel like I’m being judged when my dog starts barking like crazy at other people, pulls, jumps up to greet friends, etc. This post makes me feel better about it and that I’m NOT a bad dog owner!

  22. The older I get, the more I try not to be judgmental of others….but I do worry about others judging me. It’s humane nature, I think, and it’s a hard to not worry about it. At least, if you’re a worrier by nature. :-) Maybe I need to take lessons from you and Honey…

    I’d also love to hear more about you coming home to two burglars hiding in the house….!

  23. i’m so glad i just read this post–though i wish had read it sooner. yesterday, i got into an argument on the street with a man twice my age. he came from around a corner with two dogs, and we didn’t have enough time for anything other than desmond to go right over threshold and start freaking out. it’s not easy for me, physically, to pull him away from a scene like that but it’s my only real option, as he’s unreachable once he’s over threshold. now, this man, instead of being at all helpful by simply walking away or standing still, starts yelling at me that desmond should be on a choke chain instead of a harness; that it’s the harness that’s the problem–all while walking him and his dogs toward us. i’ve been living on the edge of sanity for months now, and this was the first time i took desmond on a walk by myself in a very long time (but desmond has had some improvement in recent weeks, so i felt like giving it a whirl). needless to say, i lost my cool, and there i was, standing on a busy street at 6:30 in the morning screaming at a stranger.