Top 15 Dog-Owner Mistakes
By Arlo the Hound with help from Honor Tarpenning
If you are at the end of your rope with your dog, or maybe just want to read up on how you can be an even better dog owner than you already are, read up on these 15 common dog owner mistakes. Sometimes it just takes changing your own behavior to make your dog a little angel.
1. Not Recognizing Obesity
I can’t even estimate how many times my mom has been told by well-meaning, but misinformed dog lovers that I am way too skinny. Let’s just say it happens A LOT. Since I’m a hound dog, I am supposed to have a waist that is visible from above, my tummy is supposed to tuck up behind my rib cage, and I should only have a thin layer of fat over my ribs. However, lots of beagles you see are completely round, so people think this is how they should look. Talk to your vet about the proper weight for your dog. A good rule for most breeds is that they should be slim enough to have a waist that is visible from above, but not be so thin that their ribs show.
2. Encouraging bad behavior
You need to establish your expectations from day one with your new dog. Jumping up, chasing, and nipping are all kinda cute in a little puppy, but not cute at all when they get older. It isn’t fair to change the rules of the game in the third inning. Don’t allow any behavior from your puppy that you wouldn’t allow from an 85lb dog.
3. Not cleaning up properly
When your dog has an accident in the house, it is absolutely vital that you clean up thoroughly. Take a black light and check out your carpeting. Do previously “invisible” spots show up? The black light shows you organic stains that you can’t see in regular lighting. The thing is, even though you can’t see them, your dog can smell them, and those smells tell your dog that it is ok to use that spot again. Use an enzyme cleaner (or a half and half mixture of white vinegar and water if you don’t mind the smell) to get spots cleaned up all the way.
4. Being inconsistent
Dogs understand “always” and “never.” “Sometimes” is a foreign concept to them. If you don’t want your dog jumping on you when he’s muddy and you’re wearing a cocktail dress, don’t let him jump on you when he’s clean and you’re wearing old jeans. If you don’t want your dog on the couch when company is over, don’t let him on the couch when it’s just the two of you. If you don’t want your dog running through the garden after you’ve spent all day tending and weeding, don’t let him run through it when you’ve neglected it for a week or two either. Always and never, not sometimes.
5. Too many treats
Remember that every treat you give your dog is part of his daily calorie intake. If you’re feeding your dog a weight management food and exercising him daily, but you and your family are constantly forking over the carb-heavy treats, he’s going to keep gaining weight. Keep the treats to a minimum, and try healthy snacks like apple slices or baby carrots instead.
6. Not socializing
As soon as your dog is fully vaccinated, he should be getting the chance to meet as many other people and dogs as possible. The more you socialize your dog, the more comfortable he will be in various situations. Good socialization will teach your dog that there is no reason to be shy, frightened, or aggressive. Take him to the vet just to check the place out, when he’s not going to get poked and prodded. Take him to the dog park. Take him to dog friendly restaurants. All these experiences make for a mellower, well-rounded dog.
7. Not enough mental stimulation
Bored dogs get into trouble, and it’s not their fault. Give your dog plenty to keep him busy and you’ll be surprised at how much better he behaves. Interactive toys are fantastic because they encourage your dog to play by himself. Try stuffable toys like the Buster cube that dispense treats as your dog plays, encouraging them to use their problem-solving skills. Toys that bounce erratically like the Kong (which is also stuffable) are great too, because they keep your dog interested. Also, I’ve never met a dog that didn’t love to play with an empty two liter bottle (make sure to take the cap off). They make great noise and when your dog jumps on them, they tend to “jump” away.
8. Unrealistic expectations
Some dogs are exceptionally trainable. I know a Lab who learned “paw” in ten minutes and never forgot it. However, every dog has a unique personality. You cannot expect your dog to learn how to be a perfect gentleman overnight, and then get angry when he isn’t. Keep him crated when you aren’t home for at least a year, until he learns the rules of the house. Take him out every hour until you are sure that he’s got the house training game down. Don’t get frustrated when he doesn’t know every trick in the book by the time he’s two. Some dogs will still have a ton of “puppy” in them into their third and fourth year. I’m two and a half and sometimes you could mistake me for a year old puppy. Remember, he is just a dog, he doesn’t understand anything you haven’t taught him over and over.
9. Not enough exercise
If you think your dog has “behavior issues” or is “untrainable” try tiring him out. He may just have excess energy that isn’t getting burned off. Take him for a nice long walk every day, take him to the dog park, or let him pull you on a skateboard. Wear him out every day and you’ll be amazed at the difference.
10. Too much time alone
This goes along with “not enough exercise” and “not enough mental stimulation.” If your dog is acting really, really needy, he might be spending too much time alone. Is he in the crate for all eight hours of your work day? Try to go home at lunch, have a friend look in on him, or hire a dog walker. A dog shouldn’t be crated for more than six hours at a time.
11. Improper disciplining
Finding a puddle on the floor and taking off to find your dog and discipline him is completely ineffective and counterproductive. If you don’t catch your dog in the act, forget about disciplining him, because he has no idea what he did to deserve it. Also, never, ever hit your dog in anger. Different vets and professional trainers will give you different answers about whether is effective or even ok to pop your dog on the tush with a newspaper or give him a gentle bop on the nose, so that is entirely up to you and whatever training philosophy you choose to believe. However, any responsible animal lover will agree that hitting your dog in anger is absolutely not ok. Unless you want to raise a dog who is terrified of you, do not hit, slap, or kick your dog, even when he knocks over the garbage can an drags a half-eaten meatball sub from last week onto your clean white sheets. Just don’t do it.
As much as dog owners love to treat us dogs like babies (and we love it too), we aren’t, we are dogs. Anthropomorphizing is the act of ascribing human characteristics to an animal. Some examples include “I can’t neuter my dog, he’ll hate me for taking away his manhood,” “I have to breed my female dog, she’s sad because she’s missing out on being a mother,” “I can discipline him for the mess he made three hours ago, he knows what he did, just look at him!” Well, as far as the first example, dogs have no concept of sexual identity, so that’s out the window. Example two—female dogs do not know what they are missing when they are not bred. Dogs thoughts just aren’t that complex. And example three—When you think “look at him, he knows what he did” he’s really reacting to your anger, not a knowledge of what he did wrong.
13. Chaining Dog
It is fine to put your dog out on a run to go potty and play outside, but no dog should be relegated to a five foot circle around a tree for his whole life. Dogs who are chained are much, much more likely to be aggressive and fearful. Some states even have laws against chaining. If you don’t have the time to give your dog exercise and attention, it is time to find a home for him with someone who does.
14. Feeding people food while you eat
This is why dogs beg! If you feed your dog off your plate, then don’t be surprised or angry when he won’t leave you alone during dinner. It might be cute to toss him popcorn while you’re munching on the couch, but unless you want him climbing in your company’s lap at the dinner table, save your dog’s share of the people-food for after you’re don’t munching.
15. Giving Up!
Too many people think “I can’t train this dog, he’s impossible, I quit” before the dog is even a year old! You know how they say “boys will be boys?” Well, puppies will be puppies. Give them a chance to grow up, make sure you aren’t making any of the above mistakes, and if all else fails, try an obedience class. There are very, very, very few untrainable dogs out there, and most of them are in such a position as a result of years of abuse, not an obstinate attitude.