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.
The Dirty Half-Dozen: 6 Common Mistakes You Might Be Making with Your Dog
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, consider making 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.
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.
Source: Dr. Becker
Sara Lippincott, Director, Shelter Outreach, Petfinder
The first few days in your home are special and critical for a pet. Your new dog will be confused about where he is and what to expect from you. Setting up some clear structure with your family for your dog will be paramount in making as smooth a transition as possible.
Before You Bring Your Dog Home:
- Determine where your dog will be spending most of his time. Because he will be under a lot of stress with the change of environment (from shelter or foster home to your house), he may forget any housebreaking (if any) he’s learned. Often a kitchen will work best for easy clean-up.
- If you plan on crate training your dog, be sure to have a crate set-up and ready to go for when you bring your new dog home. Find out more about crate training your dog.
- Dog-proof the area where your pooch will spend most of his time during the first few months. This may mean taping loose electrical cords to baseboards; storing household chemicals on high shelves; removing plants, rugs, and breakables; setting up the crate, and installing baby gates.
- Training your dog will start the first moment you have him. Take time to create a vocabulary list everyone will use when giving your dog directions. This will help prevent confusion and help your dog learn his commands more quickly. Not sure which commands to use? Check out How to Talk to Your Dog.
- Bring an ID tag with your phone number on it with you when you pick up your dog so that he has an extra measure of safety for the ride home and the first few uneasy days. If he is microchipped, be sure to register your contact information with the chip’s company, if the rescue or shelter did not already do so.
- We know moving is stressful — and your new dog feels the same way! Give him time to acclimate to your home and family before introducing him to strangers. Make sure children know how to approach the dog without overwhelming him. Go here for more on introducing dogs and children.
- When you pick up your dog, remember to ask what and when he was fed. Replicate that schedule for at least the first few days to avoid gastric distress. If you wish to switch to a different brand, do so over a period of about a week by adding one part new food to three parts of the old for several days; then switch to half new food, half old, and then one part old to three parts new. For more information about your dog’s diet, check out our section on Dog Nutrition.
- On the way home, your dog should be safely secured, preferably in a crate. Some dogs find car trips stressful, so having him in a safe place will make the trip home easier on him and you. (Watch this video on Easing Car Anxiety in Dogs.)
- Once home, take him to his toileting area immediately and spend a good amount of time with him so he will get used to the area and relieve himself. Even if your dog does relieve himself during this time, be prepared for accidents. Coming into a new home with new people, new smells and new sounds will throw even the most housebroken dog off-track, so be ready just in case. Need more housetraining tips? Check out our Dog Housetraining section.
- If you plan on crate training your dog, leave the crate open so that he can go in whenever he feels like it in case he gets overwhelmed. Also, be sure to check out the dos and don’ts of crate training your dog.
- From there, start your schedule of feeding, toileting and play/exercise. From Day One, your dog will need family time and brief periods of solitary confinement. Don’t give in and comfort him if he whines when left alone. Instead, give him attention for good behavior, such as chewing on a toy or resting quietly (Source: Preparing Your Home For A New Dog).
- For the first few days, remain calm and quiet around your dog, limiting too much excitement (such as the dog park or neighborhood children). Not only will this allow your dog to settle in easier, it will give you more one-on-one time to get to know him and his likes/dislikes.
- If he came from another home, objects like leashes, hands, rolled up newspapers and magazines, feet, chairs and sticks are just some of the pieces of “training equipment” that may have been used on this dog. Words like “come here” and “lie down” may bring forth a reaction other than the one you expect. Or maybe he led a sheltered life and was never socialized to children or sidewalk activity. This dog may be the product of a never-ending series of scrambled communications and unreal expectations that will require patience on your part.
- People often say they don’t see their dog’s true personality until several weeks after adoption. Your dog will be a bit uneasy at first as he gets to know you. Be patient and understanding while also keeping to the schedule you intend to maintain for feeding, walks, etc. This schedule will show your dog what is expected of him as well as what he can expect from you.
- After discussing it with your veterinarian to ensure your dog has all the necessary vaccines, you may wish to take your dog to group training classes or the dog park. Pay close attention to your dog’s body language to be sure he’s having a good time — and is not fearful or a dog park bully. If you’re unsure of what signs to watch for, check out this video on safety at the dog park.
- To have a long and happy life together with your dog, stick to the original schedule you created, ensuring your dog always has the food, potty time and attention he needs. You’ll be bonded in no time! For more information on creating a feeding schedule for your dog visit How Often Should You Feed Your Dog?
- If you encounter behavior issues you are unfamiliar with, ask your veterinarian for a trainer recommendation. Select a trainer who uses positive-reinforcement techniques to help you and your dog overcome these behavior obstacles. Visit Dog Training and Behavior for more information on reward-based training.
Congratulations! If you follow these tips, you’ll be on your way to having a well-adjusted canine family member.