Good Dog, Bad Dog!

I married Debbie Babbington on the island of Maui in 1980. A few weeks after we returned from our honeymoon, Steve, an old friend from high school, stopped by our house. Steve was a blue-collar, regular type of fella with a big heart. He carried a cardboard box and inside the box there was a backyard-bred Doberman puppy. He was so excited to give us this “wedding gift.” My wife was nonplussed. “Why would he give us a dog?” she asked. “That’s just Steve,” I replied, “he means well.”

After a week, it was clear we needed some help training this adorable-yet-hyper little canine. My wife called a friend. Her friend suggested the trainer we should hire. We met him at his facility in Mill Creek, Washington. He looked like Johnny Cash: dressed in black, with a thick crop of dyed black hair combed back, and diamond rings on eight of ten fingers!

He said to us, “I love dogs; it’s people I can’t stand. You see, I can train dogs; it’s people that are the problem. If you are willing to do everything I suggest, I will train your dog so you won’t need a leash.” I looked at my wife. She just smiled. We invested $300. That was a chunk of change in 1980! He had our dog, Jake, for 30 days. When we stopped by to retrieve “our training,” I was amazed. We gave him a puppy and he gave us back an incredibly well-trained and obedient dog. No leash required.

There are no Bad Dogs, only Bad Owners. There are no Bad Children, only Bad Parents. There are no Bad Employees, only Bad Bosses. Every dog is good. Like humans, dogs need education.

Maya Angelou wrote, “We train animals, we educate people.”

Dale Carnegie said, “Give a dog a good name and he will rise to the occasion.”

As the story goes: Denzel Washington was asked to leave Fordham University in 1975. His father was a preacher and his mother owned a beauty salon. He stopped by one day to talk over his situation with his mother. A woman sitting under a hair dryer stared at him the entire time. Her name was Ruth Green. Near the end of his visit, she yelled, “Someone give me a pen. I have a vision!” The consensus was Ruth had spiritual powers and was well-respected for her insights. She wrote Denzel a note and told him, “Read this note later when you are by yourself. Every word is true. I had a prophecy.” Later that morning, Denzel opened the note and it read, “Someday you will speak to millions of people, you will travel the world, and you will make a positive difference in the world!” Denzel has carried that note with him every day of his life since then.

What if you developed the “Ruth Green Habit” of writing positive notes to your team? To your children? To your dog? (Okay, that’s not practical. Just pet your dog every day and say, “You are such a good dog!”) What I am suggesting is for you and I to become “Good Finders” to the people we meet, even if it’s a chance encounter in a beauty salon.

In 1995, I was fed up with my parents’ behavior. I sat down and wrote a scathing rebuke. I brought up every past hurt and slight. I really let them have it. I printed the letter, two pages long, and showed it to my wife. After she read it, with the most serious look I had ever seen on her face, she said, “It was REALLY important you wrote that letter. It’s even MORE important that you NEVER send it!” I did what she suggested. I pasted the letter in my journal and deleted the document.

In 2009, my mother was sick with cancer. One day, I wrote her a different kind of letter, “10 Great Things I Got From You!”. It was honest, sincere, and heartfelt. Two weeks later, she called me. “Mark, it’s Mum. I received your letter parcel post (she was British). It was lovely, brilliant; I have showed it to all my friends. Thanks, love.” It changed my relationship with my mother. It validated her role as a mother. She died a few months later. I was so glad I sent the second letter and not the first one.

Here are five suggestions to let the people you care about know how you feel about them:
1. Write a letter to the people in your life who matter. Make it about the “Five or 10 Things You Admire about Them.” I have done this many times with the important people in my life. The effect has always been the same—amazing.
2. Predict great things for others. When my children were young, I told them every week, “Your future is so bright it burns my eyes. You are going to go so much further than I ever have in school, sports, and business!” Guess what? They have!
3. Catch other people doing things right. When you see positive progress in others (children, employees, friends, dogs), say what you see. “Man, you have changed so much since I have known you. You are so thoughtful, kind, caring, smart, athletic (you get the idea). Keep up the good work. I am so proud of you!”
4. Put a sticky note in your employees’ pay envelope or your child’s lunchbox and affirm their progress or predict their future success. “The palest ink is better than the strongest memory.”
5. Provide support to the people you care about by listening. When you come across a challenge or strong interest, give them an article or book that will help them in their journey. That is Creative Caring. If you own the company, invest in books, audio, and business education for your team.

I miss that old dog, Jake. He died too soon, but you know what? He was a good dog! We all are…

Remember, we are all looking for A.R.U. from others. That means:

Why not you?

Mark Matteson
International Speaker
Best Selling Author
To get your copy of my new book “Freedom from Fat” go to to get your copy! Thank you!

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