5 Things a Bad Dog Can Teach You About Writing Good Copy

5 Things a Bad Dog Can Teach You About Writing Good Copy

Reader Comments (95)

  1. Susan:

    These elements have also been emphasized in earlier Copyblogger posts and elsewhere: Get attention (I.e. – AIDA) – attention, promise, lead, call to action, and reward).

    Having said that, I like the unique spin with the bad dog. It also is nice to see these things reinforced. Good food for thought.


    • Hi Randy…yes, these basics been pointed out here and in countless copywriting books before CB existed. But sometimes we all need a reminder. (I know I do anyway!)

      Tika often curls up next to my desk (she is right now in fact). I looked down at her and made the connection between positive reinforcement in dog training and copy. The rest kinda flowed from there πŸ˜‰

      Thanks for reading!

      – Susan

      • Susan, I loved this article. I’m a novelist, consequently tuned into great words and phrases, similes and so forth.

        This cracked me up. ( running around a room like a Tasmanian Devil on crack ). What great imagery. I not only liked what the article said in regard to writing, but liked the way it was said. Just wanted you to know I like your voice.

        S.K. Hamiltn (Pee Wee)

        • Hi Sylvia…sorry I missed your comment earlier. Thank you for the kind words! I have to say I was kind of pleased with “Tasmanian Devil on crack” too. Anyone who met Tika in her youth knows how apt the description really is πŸ˜‰

      • I like this suggestion: “Don’t give your valuable attention to people who won’t ever buy from you.” but how are we going to implement it? How do we know these are not buyers?

  2. All great points, especially number 3. You have to lead you reader down a pre-determined path. If they start to wander off on their own, you’ll have a hard time getting them to act.

  3. There’s a good reader …..Who’s a good reader. ……You are!

    LOL, I thought this was both an amusing look at writing good copy but was also, of course very true. Thanks for a great article. It made me laugh and think. A potent combination.

  4. “Shane! Where’s that edit you promised me?”

    “Sorry, Susan’s dog ate it.”

    Seriously, that was a refreshing spin on copy tactics. Reminded me of a great book called Sales Dogs.

    • Hee hee. Actually, Tika hasn’t been the eater of inappropriate things. That would be Fiona, our fuzzy white dog. She ate my husband’s favorite hat while we were out at lunch one day. We refer to event as Fiona’s Hat Trick.

      Thanks for reading!

  5. Speaking of not paying attention, I read the headline as “…Things a Bad DAY Can Teach You…”

    I kept wondering what all this dog stuff was about.

    Then it hit me that I was an example of what you are talking about. No one pays attention.

  6. What a really engaging read. I rarely if ever read a whole blog post but this was fun and really relevant. Thanks
    p.s. my puppy is 4and a half months !!!

  7. Great post Susan. It’s true. We spend most of our lives on auto-pilot — we make snap decisions in the same way a dog would.

    Didn’t get my attention? I move on.
    Didn’t make a promise? I move on.
    Changed directions on me? Now I’m confused. I move on.
    Didn’t tell me exactly what action to take? I’m going to do my own thing.
    Didn’t praise me when I did what you asked? I won’t do it again.

    Thanks for writing this!

  8. Great idea for giving perspective by relating readers to dogs. πŸ™‚

    Really, it’s amazing the similarities the average reader has to a dog, as you’ve outlined here. Though I would hope readers at least bathe regularly and don’t poop on the lawn.

  9. Great article Susan. I honestly can’t relate to the dog thing because my dog is just about the best dog in the world (except he play-bites a bit more than most other dogs).

    But I like that your article gets back to the basics! Thanks!

    • Yes, they can. If you do a search on canine hyperkinesis, you can learn more about it. I consulted with a behaviorist named Bill Campbell about it, after reading about it on his site. He worked with my vet to do a test and get the diagnosis that showed Tika is clinically hyperkinetic.

  10. This is a fantastic post. I think I’m going to print it out and keep it on my desk where I can refer to it all the time. I’ma relatively new copywriter and blogger and I am seeking all of the info I can get my hands on. Since I love dogs (and I have a challenging, ADHD dog of my own), this really resonated with me. Thanks!

  11. Susan,
    I loved the article-and yes you had my attention πŸ™‚ The blending of the story of Tiki along with real application of how great copy is designed was very sticky to my mind based on the way you delivered it. The common commands used to teach a beloved pet certainly are a great reminder of how we can gain the attention that we want for our products, services, and in sales pages. Thank you again! i look forward to coming back again. Sye-

    • Tika isn’t actually shy. She’s on a lot of my other Web sites. If you do a search on my name and Tika, I bet you’ll find her. Look for a golden retriever with deep, dark brown eyes. She is a beautiful girl πŸ˜‰

  12. Nice reminder about some important lessons. Your post also is a great reminder to find inspiration in everyday universals in life. We can almost all relate to having a bad dog, and that gives additional resonance to your message. Thanks for sharing that!

    • Even if you don’t have a dog that’s habitually bad, pretty much every dog has bad moments. No dog is perfect. The same can be said of humans. Thanks for reading!

  13. Hi Susan, wonderful article. I love the way you compare a bad dog with good copy. All of them are great points especially the fourth one. Thanks again for sharing an useful article.

  14. Great Post Susan,

    I really like the way you used your dog in all the analogies for copy writing. It is so true, you must lead them where you want them to go.

    • Many people who have problems with their dogs are not good at communicating what they’d like the dog to do. Same thing goes with copy. You really have to spell things out πŸ˜‰

  15. Susan,

    This is an excellent, and unusual way of describing one’s approach to copywriting. I particularly enjoyed it because (not to insult our readers but…) in so many ways the audience we reach is very much like a dog. They have no real reason to listen at first. They need to be shown that there’s something in it for them. AND, we’re trying to get them to perform a given action (for a dog: sit… for our audience(s): buy something.) It could be argued that, while humans are certainly functioning on a high cognitive level, this goal is a bit easier with the dogs.

    Thanks for sharing… great food for thought.

    • Thanks for the kind words. And you’re right, I wasn’t trying to insult readers. Both copywriting and dog training have their challenges. It takes a lot of patience and practice to do either one well.

      • A Skeleton in the cupboard.
        We often read in novels how a seemingly respectable personn or family has some terrible secret which has been concealed from strangers for years.the English language possesses a vivid saying to describe this sort of situation.the terrible secret is called ” skelton” in the cup board.At the dramatic moment in the story , the terrible secret becomes knowen and a reputation is ruined.the reader’s hair stand on end when he reads in the final pages of the novel that the heroine , a dear lady who had always been so kind to everyone , had in her youth poisoned every one of her five husbands.it is all very well for such things to occur in fiction.

  16. You are very lucky; my dogs only teach me annoying skills such as picking up the occasional tick and waking people up in the middle of the night, just for the sake of it.

    • Well, yeah there is that. I can think of a few more, but I’ll spare you. My dogs also teach me good things like the importance of taking a break and going outside for a walk πŸ˜‰

      • Spare me of the details? Why, after reading this article, I’d love to read more.

        “5 filthy things about your pets, that you (unwillingly) replicate in your copy writing.”

        That kind of reverse approach might actually work for a follow up article! I personally favor positive writing angles (such as the present article), but it might be interesting to read an analogous article that compared filthy pet habits to bad writing habits.

        Am I alone thinking this?


        • HA, that’s a good one! Tell Sonia (Copyblogger editor) you want to bring me back for a repeat performance πŸ˜‰

          I have 5 dogs. I’ve got stories of doggie grossness, badness, weirdness…you name it!

  17. Great post Susan. The call to action step is soooo important. I began changing how I make offers by actually spelling out what I’d like my readers to do. It makes a huge difference.

  18. Hmmm.. Were it not for the difference in breed and age, I would swear that Tika and my parents’ deceased dog George were separated at birth… He was actually on “doggie Ridalin” for his ADHD, and I know from painful experience the challenges of having a really difficult 90+ pound dog.

    Especially when he’s a triple-alpha and has zero conscience!

    But enough about George. I’m really writing to applaud you for an excellent post. I love your use of the dog metaphor. Anyone who’s ever tried to train a dog, even one with a double dose of conscience, knows how much patience and persistence is involved. Learning to write good copy, just like pretty much everything else worth doing, requires the same.

    • Hi Melissa! Actually, the drug Ritalin is used to do the hyperkinesis test. (Dogs react differently to it, but they do react.) Many “spaz dogs” aren’t clinically hyperkinetic, but some are. And believe me now I can tell the difference. As you say, a REALLY difficult dog is a challenge.

      I agree that most things worth doing require work. (Dogs and copy both!) Although dealing with Tika has not always been easy, she has given back more than I’ve given her. She is sweetest most loving dog you’d ever want to meet πŸ˜‰

      • Hi Susan,
        George wasn’t actually on Ritalin — I think it was Amytriptalin (sp?) or something), but we called it “doggie Ritalin” because it made it easier to explain. πŸ™‚

        He also had his good points, despite the challenges. I’ll admit I was glad he lived at my parents’ house though, and not mine! πŸ˜‰

        • Probably it was amitriptyline. It’s often used to treat anxiety in dogs. I had a dog with different behavior problems who was on that for a while. In her case, I subsequently figured out that her (massive) weirdness was due to a thyroid imbalance. The vet tested her and once we put her on thyroid meds she turned into a great dog. We adored her, even though she was still kind of a weirdo to the end πŸ˜‰

  19. Excellent tips. Thanks for this humorous and true bit of thinking. As new blogger, I appreciate your ideas and your email newsletter. I just posted to my blog what I thought was a good effort. Now I want to go back and change the title and the ending.

  20. Clicks to you! Loved this post- always helpful but especially so for this dog trainer. Thank you for leading me down the right path.

  21. Wow! What a terrific article. You are clearly a gifted copy writer. Actually, I think everything you’ve outlined here is essential to writing any article–doesn’t have to be sales copy. And the dog story really does all the work in this article.

    I loved Marley and Me, and at the same time I was thrilled that I don’t have a big dog!

    • Wow, thank you, Lynne {blushing}. I’ve found some small dogs can be quite a handful too actually. Sometimes those little dog have a bit of a Napoleon complex I think πŸ˜‰

  22. Hi Susan. Thanks for a great article. It goes to prove that thinking outside the square can make a huge difference between just another article and something that you want to read right through to the end. Leave an open-ended question at the end of an article like this and you’re guaranteed an almost 100% click through rate.

    I have only this morning been asked to write a β€œfunny” article about a serious small business issue and you have certainly given me some food for thought. Thank you.

  23. The title grabbed me and pulled me right into your story … “must …. read!” LOL – hope the puppy got a treat for helping inspire your awesome article. thanks for the valuable info.

  24. Susan, I haven’t read anything by you before and absolutely loved this. You pulled me in with the headline and opening, and kept the story compelling enough for me to keep going.

    Great work and great communication of the copywriting basics many don’t know, and others know and forget!


    • Thanks Debra! This is my second post for Copyblogger. And today, in fact, I discovered that if you click the author’s name under the article title, you can see all the articles he/she has written. Very cool πŸ˜‰

  25. Learning Experience Dog. Great….explaining your thinking with live examples is really a nice thing. I like this way, thats why…Everyone follow you here.

  26. Hi Susan and fellow writers, I love dogs and train the odd Tasmanian Devil myself as well as writing for a living so this was a had-to-read and it was more than worth it. Non doggy-people would also no doubt be sucked in and fired up (or should that be ‘out’) with your copy – great words, beautifully put together and useful to boot. Thank you

    • As a writer and dog owner, I know what you mean. Another one of my dogs was arguably as difficult to train as Tika was (for very different reasons). As a result, I gravitate toward anything that includes dog training too. For me, whether it’s training or copy, there’s always more I can learn πŸ˜‰

  27. Thanks again for great tips. I just changed my post title from Dog-to-Dog Greetings to Stop Dog Fights Before They Start. And my Dog Leader Mysteries (.com) blog is all about becoming a benevolent leader. Now I’ve got to learn how to link to this post on WordPress.

    • Awesome! That’s definitely a more compelling title. And here’s to teaching more dog owners the importance of benevolent leadership too πŸ˜‰

  28. You taught me how to sit, stay & read your piece. All because of your very clever title- see item #1. Sadly, I have a good dog at home. I guess that means this old dog won’t be learning any new tricks.

  29. Confused about one thing, although I think it is simply a semantic difference. I know that when we write copy we are trying to get people to opt into something, but if reaching the right customers, shouldn’t we be leading them down the path to where “they” want to go.

    • Persuasion is all about getting people to understand that where you want them to go is in fact where they want to go too. No one really does something they don’t want to do.

      So in that sense, you’re right. But getting people to understand how something benefits them is harder than most people realize. And that’s because it’s hard to hold attention long enough to get there.

    • Not a trivial difference, IMO, you’re on to a great point — they know where they want to go … you know a good path that will take them there. *That’s* what you’re leading them toward. The result they want comes from them, but if they knew the best path they wouldn’t need you.

      Brilliant copywriter Eugene Schwartz wrote a lot about this … that we can’t manufacture desire, all we can do is build sails to catch the winds that are already blowing.

      (P.S. Nice to see you Mike!)

      • Good point! In the context of the dog analogy, you can’t ever *make* a dog do anything he is completely opposed to doing.

        For example, if a dog has had a bad experience at a vet, you’ll have a really hard time convincing him that getting his shots is going to be okay. (“Hey, do you have any idea what that guy in the white coat DID to me last time?!”)

        Along the same lines, it’s difficult to train adopted dogs that have had a troubled past. The dog has to learn to trust again. In much the same way, in the Internet marketing realm, it’s challenging to convince potential customers who have been burned before that your product/service is different and you aren’t a shyster.

        It can require a lot of treats (aka “cookie content”) to convince them πŸ˜‰

    • Thanks Lori! On the conference, details are on the Web site in my bio. And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that early bird pricing is in effect now. (It goes up April 16.) If you have any questions about it, please feel free to get in touch with me.

    • Yes it is. Do a Google search on “canine hyperkinesis” and you’ll find a bunch of information. Lots of dogs are “high energy” and/or spazzy. But hyperkinesis goes beyond regular canine enthusiasm. It’s a LOT more challenging, let me tell you πŸ˜‰

This article's comments are closed.