Dogs Behaving Badly


A yard stick. A t-ball hat. Multiple socks. The outside “Welcome” mat. A 300-page book. All items that found their way to the trash can since my husband left. And all thanks to my child of the four-legged variety.

My dog is the cutest black Labrador Retriever in the whole wide world. He’s a cuddle monster who wakes me up every morning with a level of enthusiasm matched only by my spinning instructor after three cups of coffee. He somehow hasn’t quite figured out how to play catch with a tennis ball, but he sure is good at cleaning up all the morsels of food his human brother and sister manage to drop on the kitchen floor after every meal. He’s the perfect pet.

Until my husband leaves.

And then the cutest, cuddliest puppy in the whole wide world morphs into pure naughtiness matched only by that dog in the movie Marley and Me. The chewing, the jumping, the disobeying. My husband leaves, and everything we thought we had taught him disappears into the trash along with the remnants of my daughter’s Angry Bird underwear he swiped out of the laundry basket.

I expect that my children’s behavior will be a little off when mom is the only parent in the house. But even the dog seems to know we’re one man down, and if he’s ever going to get away with taking a nap on the patio table, that time is now.

It’s times like these that I have to remind myself that even short absences like my husband’s most recent 2-weeker affect everyone in the house, even the furbabies. The entire atmosphere in the house changes. Mom’s stress level multiplies, while the parental attention is cut in half. The kiddos know they have to fight for the attention that dad took with him when he left, any attention they can get.

Negative attention is still attention, a basic fact of psychology that even a dog can figure out. So while the kids are busy discovering fun and interesting ways to one-up each other to earn my attention, the dog is right there in the mix, shredding toilet paper, eating crayons and generally destroying anything that will create the messiest of messes. (And I swear he purposely eats those crayons to leave me Crayola-colored messes a few hours later in the backyard.)

But just like my human babies, my canine baby knows exactly what mommy buttons to push to get back into my good graces. And as I snuggle up in bed at night after the naughty pup morphs back into a cuddle monster, I remember that I have to give extra lovin’ to this sweet animal who doesn’t understand why his family can’t stay in the same room at the same time every minute of every day.

So I give him that extra love that is matched only by his daddy.

Do you catch your pets behaving badly when your servicemember is gone?

About the Author

Heather Sweeney
Heather Sweeney is an Associate Editor at, former Navy wife, mother of two, blogger, and avid runner. She’s the blogger formerly known as Wife on the Roller Coaster and still checks in every now and then at her blog Riding the Roller Coaster.

21 Comments on "Dogs Behaving Badly"

  1. Dogs are pack animals. He sees your husband as the Alpha Male, and figures you really don't count. Here are some tips:

    When you discipline the dog, make your voice as low as possible.
    When the dog misbehaves, put it in a crate (actually a wire cage; buy one from the vet). Make sure the crate is somewhere that nobody will interact with the dog.
    Train your kids to treat you like the Alpha Male where the dog is concerned.

    • Curious: what does being treated like the Alpha Male by your kids entail?

      • Amy, Great question…. My eye brows went up too when I read that! Amazing what some people think….and do! It is actually a great little story and yet, they come crawling out of the wood work….

        • It's really not that difficult. You simply get your kids to refrain from comforting the dog when its being punished. Trust me in this. I've trained many dogs and I've been told that being a dog in my house is like being in the Marines (in that my dogs have always been so well behaved). I now have two dogs who wipe their feet before they come in the house, which never ceases to amaze visitors, and who sit and wait until I say "OK" when their food is placed in front of them. Dogs love structure and mine are the happiest dogs anyone has ever seen.

          • I want to add to Libertarian's comments – You're doing your dog a huge disservice in treating it like a child. It's not a child no matter how much you love it. It's a dog. If you love it as much as you think you do, you will give it the structure and discipline it needs (and the exercise). Dogs also require consistent training. No one can contradict what you teach it. You must provide a united front. Training isn't a one-time deal when they are puppies.

            I have a German Shepherd and from the day we brought her home, I have been the Alpha to her. Do I cuddle with her? Yes but NEVER when she'd been corrected. She gets attention when I call her over. Her rewards have always been love, firm, structured love. She doesn't want a treat. She wants her Alpha's calm affection. That's me.

            Now, on the other hand, the cat… :)

          • No one is doing a "disservice" they are doing it differently than you. Stop judging. Let people live their lives their way without your directions.

            Offer how you do it, fine. Tell them how they are doing it wrong, NOT fine.

          • You are completely incorrect. Dogs want and need structure and an alpha. To deny those things results in a neurotic, skittish, unhappy dog. It is distinctly a disservice. Either you know nothing about dogs or you have an unhappy, undisciplined dog. Either way, you're way out of line and I truly hope it's the former, as you obviously aren't fit to be a dog owner.

          • Dogs want consistency and clear communication, but they don't need an "alpha." Thinking about dog behavior in terms of dominance is completely outdated — except with Cesar Milan, who has no formal training in dog behavior — and is generally rejected by professional dog behaviorists. My dogs don't have an "alpha" leader and they're trained with positive reinforcement, not punishment . They're neither unhappy nor undisciplined.

          • Why do you think serving as the dog's alpha male is punishment? I never mistreat my dogs. I do isolate them sometimes to show them that some behavior is unacceptable. To you, apparently, that's cruelty. To me, my dogs and, contrary to your false assertion, a great many professional dog behaviorists, it's serving the needs of the dog. Frankly, if you practice what you preach, I suspect your dogs are neither happy or disciplined, but that you delude yourself that they are.

          • goathappymeh | November 21, 2012 at 1:39 pm |

            hilarious you should you tube that for us!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Please don't follow these suggestions. The idea of dogs being pack animals who need an alpha leader is outdated and is no longer accepted by most behaviorists. Most dog misbehavior isn't rooted in a struggle for dominance, but rather an inability to communicate effectively with your dog. Instead of punishing your dog for misbehaving, it's actually more effective to reward him for behaving properly – with praise, a quick game of fetch, treats, whatever makes him the most excited. Make training a game – it's fun for both of you, your dog gets more obedient quickly, and he gets tired out so he doesn't want to make trouble. Win all around :)

      Oh, and crates should never be used as punishment for dogs – it should be a quiet safe place for the dog to retreat to when stressed or (if necessary) to contain him when you're out of the house if he's destructive.

  2. Cats do fine when he's gone. This time when he came back after 10 months one decided to pee on his stuff. And in the bedroom. He was not happy to once again share me at night. It took over two months before he decided that the returning man was OK. Two months and lots of treats left on my husband's stuff and him feeding the cat canned food (which I never do.)

  3. I love this photo!

  4. O yes! When our lovely dog was alive and husband was deployed, he ate a Bible ( literally ingesting the word of God), other books, food left on the counter, but my favorite was my friends wallet that had been left at the house with $100.00 dollars in it while we were out enjoying Chinese food. While there were some shreds left, I was not about to wash the parts that came out later. It was an expensive girls night out.

  5. See mine is the complete opposite. When my dad is gone my dog is an angel, but when my dad is at home everything we taught him goes right out the window. He jumps on everyone and sprints all over the house, goes into his coat pockets and bites on all his clothing. We don't know how to stop it!

  6. Dogs need a pack leader 24 hrs a day. If they don't have a human pack leader, one of the dogs will become the leader.

  7. There are no bad dogs….just bad owners who let them get away with things then complain when they misbehave.

  8. when i was reading this all i could think about is two things; being a retired AF Loadmaster and the times i was "always" gone and the wife and the three (3) dogs and a cat and two teen age daughters – and the other was – what a PERFECT subject and show for Cesar Milan!!!!!! talk about things that affect military families.
    and yes, he does do the crayon thing just for his "mommy" to show her "all the love and attention" she needs, yea right!!! NOT!

  9. My husband has not been gone on a deployment since we got our dogs. But he has a favorite dog and she thinks he is her entire world. When he went to Las Vegas for his bachelor party she laid in front of the front door for 4 whole days. I'm so worried about how it will be when gets back on a deployment schedule.

  10. Great story. Thank u for sharing. I hope your husband, your children’s Dad & your dog’s Alpha Male comes home soon!

  11. Despite all the debates over Alpha males, the point is this: dogs need structure and calm assertive leaders. Maybe your husband is the more authoritative one or maybe your dog is just responding to your stress. However you have been training your dog, just make sure to stick with it (as it seems to have been working in the past). Until you see improvement try keeping as many objects away from his reach as possible by closing the doors to kids rooms, keeping delicious books on the self.and maybe wait to buy a new welcome mat :). As far as trying to reduce your stress and maintaining calm? Easier said than done!

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