The Puppiness Project – Handle Bad Behavior Like a Bitch

Gretchen Rubin wrote in The Happiness Project about the year she spent “test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happy.” The Puppiness Project is my attempt to learn the same from Honey, my Golden Retriever.

Golden Retriever and Black Lab at the dog park

You're just a little intimidating to me. I think I'll look for someone else to play with.

Occasionally I encounter someone whose behavior is the equivalent of inappropriate humping at the dog park. How should I respond?

How dogs handle bad behavior 

When you’re hanging out with responsible people at the dog park, you’ll see two reactions to a dog who is acting bossy or inappropriately toward another one.

  • Someone redirects the attention of the offending dog away from the dog they’re bullying.
  • Someone tells the dog being bullied to let the other dog know they’re misbehaving.

People who understand dogs and spend time around them find it perfectly reasonable for one dog to tell another one it’s time to move on.

If you’re observant, you’ll find a series of escalating warnings starting with a head turned aside and ending with (hopefully) a snap or growl. Most dogs respond to correction from another dog long before things get dangerous.

Handling bad human behavior

Someone in my life has the manners of a poorly socialized dog at the park.

  • He doesn’t respect other people’s boundaries.
  • He’s rude.
  • He treats everyone else as if they’re inferiors.

In other words, he’s the dog at the dog park running around humping everyone else.

My typical coping skill for dealing with difficult people is to appeal to their better nature. I assume they want to do the right thing and I talk to them as if I know they’re trying to do the right thing.

Some people call it flattery.

I choose to think most people will rise to the expectations set for them.

But that approach wouldn’t work in the dog park. And it doesn’t always work in life.

Handle bad behavior like a female dog

Last month I read a provocative article, Why Being a Jerk at Work Pays. The writer, Amy Reiter, wrote about how she realized that people at her job who didn’t observe social niceties got more respect. And as Reiter adapted her email style to be more direct without all the “thank yous” and “pleases,” she got more respect too.

I found another take on the same information while Stumbling last night. Adam Dachis on Lifehacker wrote, Being the Better Person will Teach People to Treat You Like Crap.

Both articles brought the same person to my mind.

But I don’t want to be a bitch

Golden Retriever and mixed black dog at the park

C'mon, Gracie. Let's play!

My reaction to the first article was that I didn’t want to be the kind of person who was curt—who didn’t have time for a kind word or little kindnesses that make the day more pleasant.

But something in the Lifehacker article made sense. It said that when you treat people who are jerks with kindness, you’re setting up a reward system for bad behavior.

It’s sort of like clicking and treating a dog every time he snaps at someone for no reason.

Positive reinforcement outside the dog park

From now on, I’m going to treat the rude and obnoxious people in my life a little differently.

I’m not going to be rude back. That would be unpleasant for me and everyone else around us. But I will work harder not to reward bad behavior.

And I’ll save my kindnesses for the people who deserve them. Just like Honey does.

Welcome to Monday Mischief – The pet blog hop that wraps up the weekend! This Blog Hop is brought to you by Alfie’s Blog, Snoopy’s Dog Blog, My Brown Newfies and Luna, A Dog’s Life

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  1. I like your blogpost a lot – and so does my human! I met one dog in the park today who didn’t respect my boundaries (and I’m a pretty happy go lucky guy so that’s a hard thing to do) so I had to resort to growling to get him off me. I never growl at other dogs unless I absolutely have to. There is like you say, thousands of other signals you can give out before it has to come to that but what can you do when they’re not listening/looking?
    My human says she will take your advice onboard too – no more rewards for bad behaviour! Thank you! *waggy tail*

  2. There is one woman I work with who treats my niceness with rudeness and my rudeness with niceness. I spend a lot of time and energy trying to ignore her, but I wish there were a better way of dealing with her. I have thought of going for her throat, but that probably isn’t a good solution.

  3. Normally when I encounter rudeness, I just try to ignore it. Sometimes the worst thing for someone being obnoxious is to be denied any attention at all. Perhaps I worked too long in the service industry, but I don’t tolerate that kind of behaviour. If I am yelled at on the phone, I will simply say “I am going to hang up now” and then do so. If it’s someone at the dog park, I turn around and walk away. I doubt it teaches them anything, but it prevents me from getting upset and bawling my eyes out. Which is all that matters to me in those situations.

    It’s not easy, though. I admire you for your approach. I don’t think I have the mental capacity to be so kind to people who are being cruel. Like I say, I’d probably just start crying.

    • I don’t know how to be dispassionate when people are obnoxious. I just need to figure out how to function when them when I need to. Maybe someday we can look forward to not caring how people act.

      I hear it comes with age.

  4. An attorney I worked with a number of years ago told me that he had a “no a–hole” rule. He simply did not tolerate clients who were disrespectful and if they chose to continue their behavior after he addressed it, he’d tell them to find another attorney.

    I actually had to invoke his rule once when a client became overbearing and tried to bully me. I very calmly told him, after listening to his rant about how awful I was, that he was dangerously close to violating my no a–hole rule, and if he didn’t change his tone, we were done. I sat quietly on the phone for about 45 seconds and then he said, (very pleasantly) “Alright, let’s move forward.” Our relationship was fantastic from then on.

    I think some people’s behavior defaults to the nice and polite, and some defaults more toward the rude and domineering. Those that are more rude and domineering, however, are not willing to be treated that way themselves! If you let them know that you’re not willing to be treated badly either, they respect that. And they do have the capacity to be polite – they just don’t usually use it.

    • Great point, Amy. I have also met people who were only rude until they were called on it.

      It’s nice to build a life where we can choose who we want to spend our time with.

  5. Ignoring bad behavior works for me. :)

  6. Great post. I’m always trying to apply behavior psychology to humans and this was an excellent example. Think it terms of TAGteaching and TAG points. If this is someone you bump into regularly, you can address certain TAG points for him to work towards and then reward him if he achieves them. Not really in the vein of the articles you were talking about, but it’s more doable for me. I mean, we do have verbal communication for a reason!

  7. If only everyone in the world took this approach of not rewarding bad behavior!
    Uggh! I see this all the time and it drives me crazy, but it’s so true. I have tried to be more stern in some areas of my life, stern meaning more assertive and to the point, instead of beating around the bush. Maybe it’s because I am getting older but it did seem to work over time. I think there is a happy medium where you can be more assertive and still be polite. Right??

    • I guess my preference is to craft a life where I don’t need to bother with the badly behaved. Then I can be as polite as I want to be. :)

  8. Life sure does seem a little less complicated in the Dog Park than in the Human Park – I think we’ve got it easy, or we make it easy!?

    I like to be friends with everyone, but sadly I have met some who don’t, I usually just ignore them and focus on the good guys who make my tail wag!

    Tail wags to you and Honey,

    Your pal Snoopy :)

  9. I can relate! I try to treat people with kindness and respect, but there are some people you just have to take a different tactic with. I see it a lot at school with the parents of students. When I went through school to become a sign language interpreter, one thing that I was taught was that I had to be an advocate for my clients at times. I learned that I could be assertive with people, and if I could do it for others, I could do it for myself, too!

  10. i’m with you Pamela. i like filling my encounters with please, thank you, warmest wishes, excuse me, hugs, smiles and other niceties. [you might have noticed :)…] inane they may sometimes be, but i much prefer it to rudenness or being ignored.

    however, if i meet a creep who tries to hump me – i can be awfully vocal, cutting and obnoxious myself. i wonder what that would make me in the dogpark :p :) xoxxxxxox

    • I find those little niceties aren’t valued much. But I find that my ability to collaborate well with people helps me be more productive.

      I wish it were valued as much by others.

  11. Really interesting post… I really enjoyed that Reiter article you linked to, as well as the Lifehacker piece. Honestly, this is an area I need to work on. As a younger female who’s striving to gain more respect at work, I have been wondering if my surface niceness has been working against me. I’m well-liked and regarded as very capable… but I think people perceive me as willing to just go with the flow and deal with indignities (like a terrible office and other things) that others in my office don’t have to endure (because we don’t want to upset them and listen to them complain, of course). Like Reiter, my default is to say “I’m sorry” and to thank people for the smallest things.

    I have noticed, unfortunately, that there are plenty of male jerks around here who seem to rise to meteoric heights – and recently, one of the most unpleasant females I know was promoted as well. On one hand, it bothers me to see that kind of behavior rewarded – since when is being rude okay? On the other hand, it made me reevaluate things a bit. I think I need to learn to balance being nice with being firm and speaking up when I’m not happy with the way things are going.

    (On a related note, I do think it’s hard, as a woman, to break through the lingering good old boy mentality – somehow it seems that mediocre men are always being advanced instead of more capable and qualified women. We seem to be judged on different standards. However, that’s a rant for another day…)

    This comment has gotten much longer than originally intended… however, I have to say that yet again you’ve given me lots to think about. The Puppiness Project has become an invaluable resource to me!

    • I’ve been pondering the Jerk at work article for over a month myself. I see the truth in it. But I’m not sure I want to game the existing system.

      I think I’d rather rewrite the entire game.

      I wish you luck in finding your path with these issues.

      • Thanks, Pamela. I don’t like the idea of being a jerk either… guess I have to hope to find some sort of middle ground. Or, if you’re successful in rewriting the game, I’d love some tips. :)

  12. I find it’s a fine line between being assertive and sticking up for yourself and being a bitch. Personally I haven’t found the line.

    Maybe I will try growling, and then snapping; I will save the leg hump for the last resort.

    Excellent post Pamela and when you do find the solution, I look forward to hearing about it.

  13. This is a great blog! Lots of helpful information. I foster litters of puppies and I have 3 dogs of my own. I know I will be coming back to your blog! (I found you through the Monday Mischief Blog Hop which I participate in as well!)

  14. Brilliant. I am so guilty of trying to be nice to people that are rude. Who was it that taught me to “kill them with kindness”? It has never really helped . .the rude people just think that I like them and continue to treat me rudely. But, I don’t want to be a bitch either. You’re always right . . I need to think more like my dog 😉

  15. Some people pay ridiculous sums of cash to therapists for help dealing with obnoxious leg-humpers (or those who I will refer to as having zero respect for others’ personal boundaries, aka a**holes). :)

    Although putting into practice what one preaches is oftentimes easier said than done, I believe the best way to deal with those people is to promptly (and civilly) tell them they’ve crossed the line and that their behavior will not be tolerated. Also, I think women, in general, have a much harder time than men expressing justified anger. Somehow, we are programmed to think being angry at someone is bad. Repressing that healthy “anger” with line-crossing bullies, however, is the worst thing one can do.

    In your brilliant dog park analogy, if the victim dog could speak in those moments before the inappropriate humping, I think it might go something like this: “Just who the he** do you think you are coming over here invading my space, you jack-faced jerk?! You so much as lift your leg an inch off the ground, and I’m gonna rip you a new one!” To which the offending dog sheepishly replies, “Sure, Rosie; thanks for the heads up. I’ll be over there next to the oak tree in case you want to start a game of tag.” :)

    The trouble is, humans aren’t as smart as dogs. Sheesh.

  16. Great post. We could all learn more than a thing or 2 from the way dogs interact with each other :)