10 Mistakes Even Loving Pet Parents Make Way Too Often

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance -

  • Even the most well-intentioned pet parent makes mistakes every now and then in caring for their dog
  • Sometimes, we don’t even recognize a mistake for what it is
  • It’s important to know when something we’re doing (or not doing) might cause harm to furry family members
  • Some common mistakes dog parents make involve socialization and training, exercise, and diet

Even the most well-intentioned pet parent makes mistakes every now and then in caring for their dog. Sometimes, we don’t even recognize a mistake for what it is! However, it’s important to know when something we’re doing (or not doing) might cause harm to furry family members. Common mistakes dog parents make often involve socialization and training, exercise, and diet.

1. You don’t do your homework before selecting a dog — Taking on the responsibility of caring for a dependent creature isn't something you should do on a whim. It's a decision that requires careful thought, planning and preparation.

Especially if you’re a first-time dog parent, you need to do some research to understand which breeds are best suited for your activity level and lifestyle. Before you decide on a dog, talk with knowledgeable shelter employees about what kind of pup best suits you, especially in terms of temperament.

Allow them to point you in a direction, and keep your brain engaged as well your heart so that you can make the best choice for both you and the dog you adopt.

2. You buy your dog from a pet store or online — When it comes to those adorable puppies being sold at your local mall, or on Craigslist, or out of the back of a truck in the grocery store parking lot, as cute as they are, and as much as you may think they need you, just say no. Don't help unethical backyard breeders and puppy mills stay in business.

If you have your heart set on purchasing a purebred pup, try to buy from a local, reputable breeder who is focused on reparative conformation. Make sure to check his or her background and references. Review the sales contract closely. If possible, it’s always best to visit a breeder's facility in person. You want to see for yourself the conditions in which your puppy was born and raised.

3. You wait too long to socialize your puppy — Socialization of puppies ideally occurs between the ages of 5 and 16 weeks when they are most open to investigating new environments and stimuli. Puppies not given a full range of socialization opportunities by about 10 weeks can develop fear of the unfamiliar.

Puppies who aren't properly socialized during their first 3 months are at dramatically increased risk for behavior problems like aggression, fear and avoidance. Sadly, dogs with problems stemming from lack of early socialization fill animal shelters and rescue facilities in every city and state across the country.

4. Your training efforts are inconsistent — In order to get the results you desire, it’s very important to be consistent in the words you use to train your dog. Repeat the same command for a particular behavior you desire, and make sure everyone in the family is following your lead.

For example, if your dog has a habit of jumping up on people, pick a one-word command like “Down” and stick with it. Don’t say “Down” some of the time, “Off” at other times, “No” now and then and “Bad Dog” when you’re truly frustrated.

Also be consistent in what you ask of your dog. If you don’t want her on the couch, be consistent about not letting her on the couch. Don’t allow her up there some of the time or even once in a while. It’s not mean to set reasonable boundaries for your dog, but it is mean to confuse her by constantly changing the rules she’s expected to live by.

5. You focus more on punishment than praise — Fortunately, most enlightened pet parents and trainers these days know that reward-based, positive reinforcement behavior training is the most effective and humane approach to training dogs. Studies show that dogs trained using punishment are no more obedient than those trained by other means, and, furthermore, they exhibit increased numbers of potentially problematic behaviors.

Successfully training your dog means setting her up for success by consistently rewarding desirable behaviors and reducing or eliminating opportunities for her to make mistakes. A good way to stay on track is to consider her mistakes your fault, not hers, and when they happen, simply reinforce your commitment to helping her succeed going forward.

6. You don’t realize your dog is bored — Most dogs have a very strong “work mentality.” Today’s dogs are unemployed because we don’t give them fun and engaging “jobs” to do. Boredom is especially a problem for dogs left alone for long periods of time. Bored dogs can develop annoying or destructive behaviors, for example, gnawing on furniture or chewing holes in carpet.

The very best hedge against boredom is lots and lots of exercise. Dogs who are well-exercised every day typically don’t get bored. My motto is “a tired dog is a good dog.” Daily walks are very important for your pet; other great activities include hiking, jogging, swimming and fetching a ball or playing Frisbee. Obedience training, nose work and interactive toys are excellent ways to keep your dog challenged and mentally sharp.

7. You miss random opportunities to shape your dog’s behavior — There are typically many moments throughout each day when you can ask your dog to do something that will enhance his obedience skills, allow you to praise and reward him, and strengthen the bond you share with him.

For example, ask him to sit before opening the door to greet a visitor. While out walking, ask him to do a sit-stay when a neighbor or another dog approaches. When you’re preparing his meals, ask him to lie down and stay either in his bed or several feet away. Be sure to generously praise him each time he complies, and offer the occasional treat as reinforcement. When you focus on finding teachable moments for your dog each day, you’ll realize how much you’ve been missing!

8. You feed your dog processed pet food — Hands down, the single most important thing you can do for your dog’s overall health and well-being is to offer a homemade or commercially available nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate, fresh food diet, served raw or gently cooked.

Try to steer clear of kibble, canned food (unless it’s human-grade), artificial ingredients, preservatives, grains, starches, carbohydrates and cheap filler ingredients such as meals, corn, wheat, etc.

9. You allow your dog to get fat — Allowing your furry companion to become overweight is one of the worst things you can do to her. Excess fat will destroy her health from the inside out and shorten her already short lifespan. Just say no to too much food, dry food, processed treats and lack of exercise, starting with the very first hour of the first day you bring her home.

Don’t join the legions of pet parents who are doing all the wrong things in the name of “love.” Check here to understand what a dog at a healthy weight looks like and how to calculate the number of calories to feed each day.

10. You don’t take care of your dog’s teeth or nails — You should brush your dog’s teeth if not every day, then several times a week at a minimum. Most pets over the age of 3 have some degree of gum disease, and the situation only gets worse with time. Not only are dental and gum problems painful, they can trigger other health problems, and they can hurt your pocketbook as well.

You should also clip your pet's nails regularly. 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 do the clipping yourself, I encourage you to make a standing appointment with a groomer or veterinarian who will do it for you. Dogs too often develop serious paw and toe problems from nails that have grown too long.

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