Sometimes Being Bad is Being Good

I told this story to someone the other day, and I realized I should tell it to you.

For those of you who are newer to the blog and only used to the much-improved Silas, his car phobia used to be much, much worse. If he could see a glimpse of metal through the trees at the park, he wanted to leave immediately. Since we’re in an urban area, this was a challenge, and for a long time we had exactly one “safe” park.

Even at the “safe” park, we struggled when it was time to leave. Given the choice between staying in the forest and crossing the parking lot, Silas picked the forest. No matter how hot, tired, and ready to go home he was, he just couldn’t get across the parking lot. When he was small enough, I would carry him, but as he got older he got both less interested in being carried and much heavier. I can lift him, but carrying him over a distance wears me down pretty quickly.

Eventually, Silas learned that he could get through the parking lot on his own, if he bolted. This was sheer, blind panic. I went along with it because it was better than the alternative, and in a perverse way it was actually progress. We would step to the edge of the parking lot, I would get a good grip on his leash and check for traffic, and then we would run flat-out, directly to the car.

One day he balked on me and I couldn’t get him back to the trail entrance closest to the car. Instead of our sprint being 30 feet, it was a hundred yards.

As we approached the car, we bolted past a lady with a beautifully well-behaved border collie. She had a waist bag of treats and the general attitude of effective training. There is Silas, pulling like mad at the end of his leash because I can’t keep up with him, and me, running well over my fastest natural pace and one false move from being on my face. No treat bag–I kept them in my backpack just in case, but he wouldn’t ever eat them–no attempt to rein him in.

Border Collie lady passed our car as I was putting Silas in, and gave me a withering look of superiority. How dare my “bad” dog and I exist? Didn’t I know anything about dog training? For a few minutes I felt really bad. It had taken me almost a year to get this “terrible” behavior.

Then I realized that she was a miserable human being who had no authority to judge me or my dog. “Minding” and “behaving” are not the only goal, and sometimes “being bad” is still progress.

5 thoughts on “Sometimes Being Bad is Being Good

  1. Jessica, I’m a ‘newer’ reader but have gone through the entirety of your archives. About six weeks ago, I got a lovely small Aussie named Harper who, while not to the same extreme as Silas, has some fairly serious fear issues (many of which I’m sure are due to the fact that she had to fly on a plane, move to an urban area for the first time, meet a new person, get spayed, have teeth removed, etc. all in that six weeks). She is only just now taking treats in certain safe areas on our walks, becoming interested in play at the park, and maaaaaybe not freaking out at traffic lights changing.

    All that to say, I am never judging another person/dog actions again, because I now understand how difficult it can be and we’re all living our own struggles (something I knew before, but now apply more personally to the dog world). Now if only we could stop people on the streets from squealing and reaching for our dogs’ heads….


    1. Anybody who reaches for Silas learns to never do it again–he has a terrifying bark. More seriously, you’ll learn to deflect it. I’ve developed a pretty good sense of who is planning to reach.

      Good luck on your journey! It’s a brutal roller coaster sometimes. I strongly encourage you to keep some notes, either in a blog or just a notebook, or take some video every now and then. It’s too easy to fixate on the remaining problems and lose track of the progress.


  2. Thank you for sharing Silas’s story. All the time.

    It helps keep me sensitive to other dogs going through their issues. I look for signs of fear before whizzing by a dog on my bike. I cross the street with Honey if I see another dog getting aroused.

    After all, it’s not about keeping our own dogs well-trained and comfortable. It’s about creating a better world for all people and their dogs.

    Border collie woman needs to read a few blogs.


  3. I can so relate to your situation. Having three reactive dogs, I have also been the subject of “withering” stares. Most people with issue-free dogs are clueless as to what some of us deal with on a daily basis.


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