Raising a good canine citizen doesn't come naturally to every dog guardian, which is one of the reasons so many unlucky pups are relinquished to animal shelters each year. Many people don't realize that molding a puppy or adopted adult dog into a balanced canine companion requires a considerable investment of time and energy.
And while everyone recognizes the difference between a well-mannered dog and one that is unpredictable and out-of-control, often dog owners develop bad habits without realizing it, and are left feeling confused and frustrated with their dog's uncooperative behavior.
1. Doing the right thing, but at the wrong time.
Every interaction with your pet sends a message, and sometimes dog owners inadvertently send the wrong ones. For example, giving your pup attention or affection when she's performing an undesirable behavior can reinforce that behavior, increasing the likelihood she'll continue to do it.
Remember: To your dog, attention and especially affection are rewards, so try to offer them only when your pet is performing desired behaviors.
2. Who's walking whom?
Your dog looks to you for guidance and leadership. He needs to know what his boundaries are in order to feel secure with you. So when you take him for a walk, he should walk beside you – not out in front of you, yanking at the leash. When you're preparing his meal, he should sit and wait politely, not hump your leg. When you come through the door and he's beside himself with joy, he should still quickly respond to your command to "Sit" and "Stay."
Remember: Your dog needs boundaries and manners, so take the time to help him become be a self-confident, balanced individual.
3. Mistaking your dog for a human.
Your dog is: Canis lupus. You are: Homo sapiens. You and your dog are different species. Put another way, your dog is not a human. And treating her as if she is will deprive her of many things that can make her healthy and happy. She doesn't need that processed pet food, no matter how cute you think the TV ad is. She needs balanced, carnivore-appropriate nutrition. She doesn't really need another stuffed toy or rain boots, but she does need at least 20 minutes of aerobic exercise every day.
Remember: As much as we love our canine family members and often feel like their mom or dad, they are distinct from us in many wonderful and inspiring ways. Focus on honoring and nurturing all that makes your dog, a dog.
4. Fighting tooth and nail.
Okay, it's a silly play on words, but seriously... two hygiene items every pet parent should but often doesn't attend to are their dog's teeth and nails. You should brush your dog's teeth if not every day, at least several times a week. Otherwise, like most dogs over the age of 3, he'll have gum disease, and as time passes the situation will worsen until his mouth smells bad and feels worse. Then you'll be faced with a big vet bill and he'll probably lose a few teeth.
Your dog's nails also need to be clipped regularly, and here's how to do it. How often depends on how fast they grow and how much time he spends on surfaces that grind them down naturally. If you can't bear to clip little BooBoo's nails yourself, I encourage you to make a standing appointment with a groomer or veterinarian who will do it for you. You'd be amazed at how often dogs develop serious paw problems from nails that have grown too long.
Remember: Don't fight tooth and nail to avoid cleaning those teeth and clipping those nails. You and your dog just need to learn to deal with it. You'll be happy you did. Trust me.
5. Showing hate for the crate.
I'm perpetually surprised by how many dog guardians think crates are an invention of the devil. If you're one of them, here's what you're missing in the equation: your Canis lupus is by nature a den dweller, and a crate affords you the opportunity to work with your pup's natural desire to seek out small, dark, safe spots to inhabit. This can be a huge win for you, as well as him, if you need to housetrain the little fellow, not to mention for car or plane travel, or overnight stays with friends, family, or at a pet-friendly hotel.
Remember: Crate hate is not logical, unless an animal has been emotionally traumatized by people who made bad choices with a crate. Try to keep an open mind. Talk to some dog loving friends who've crate trained their pups. Chances are they'll tell you their dog seeks out her crate on her own for naps, at bedtime, and whenever she just wants a little me time.
6. Accentuating the negative.
If you want a balanced, well-mannered dog, the way to achieve this is with positive reinforcement behavior training, not punishment-based training. A growing number of studies show that positive reinforcement training of our furry companions is much more effective than training that involves dominance and punishment. Some studies even conclude that punishment-based training actually creates additional problem behaviors, which is certainly an outcome no dog guardian wants.
Remember: Positive reinforcement training is based on the simple notion that rewarding your dog for desired behavior will encourage more of that behavior.