Well guys, I think my dog park stories may be drying up for the season. It is officially getting too cold for anyone to want to be at the park much, and even Janice and Leroy seem to prefer to stick around the house more these days. Being with them inside more often has me thinking about when they were puppies. We spent a lot of time hanging out together because they needed more sleep. I had to chuckle at myself when I remembered one story from my early days with these two.
Now, Janice and Leroy were not my first dogs. They weren’t my first Boxers, and they weren’t even my first puppies. I was by no means a new dog owner then. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t make a few mistakes early on. All dogs are a bit different and it’s easy to get lulled into thinking you know what you’re doing based on past experience. The last time I’d had a puppy before these two, it was a different breed, with a different temperament, and I approached the training quite a bit differently. The appropriate thing to do with Boxers, who need good training, is to get started with a few basic commands right away, as soon as possible. But I let them grow a bit before we got started, and it took me a while to get them to unlearn a few bad habits because of that. It all turned out okay of course – but it’s a good example of how dog owners that don’t know what they are doing can really hurt both themselves and their dog.
So today I rounded up a few top things that I’ve either seen or heard from new dog owners that can be big mistakes. Hopefully, if you are planning on getting a Christmas puppy, or you’ve recently adopted a dog, you’ll be able to avoid some of these things – which will be better for you and for your dog.
(1) Assume Your Dog Will Grow Out of Behaviors
One of the first mistakes that I often hear about with puppies is that people think they are going through phases like a human toddler. Dogs don’t really go through a “shoe chewing phase”, a “jumping on strangers” phase, or any other behavioral phase like that. Instead, they learn what behaviors are allowed based on what they can do without any consequences. In fact, if you are thinking “well, my puppy will stop chewing on shoes when she’s done teething” is a surefire way to have a dog that tears up all your shoes. Dogs don’t stop a learned behavior unless they have a reason to stop. So if your puppy is chewing, give her a place to redirect that energy on a gentle chew toy, and put the shoes away.
(2) Avoiding Socialization for Your Puppy Right Away
There is a myth that puppies should be kept away from other dogs till they get bigger because they could get sick. This thought should be tossed in the garbage can. Puppies need to be around other dogs, as well as children and other people, as soon as possible – even as soon as day one out of the womb. The sooner you can get a puppy used to being around other dogs and people, the less likely they are to develop aggressive behaviors. Be sure you set up some puppy play dates or visit a busy dog park with your puppy often. Encourage her to sniff and play with other dogs – just stay nearby so you can supervise.
(3) Not Recognizing Dog Body Language
By now, you guys know that I’m a big proponent of learning about dog body language. Canines have a language that they use to communicate with each other and with us, and it’s not their fault that we don’t realize they are trying to say something when they move their ears. It’s up to us as responsible owners to work on recognizing their signs. Of course, this is something that many new dog owners do not know, and don’t realize that they need to work on. Take some time to do a little bit of research and it will be much easier to understand why your dog may not be listening, eating, sleeping, or coming to you exactly when you want him to.
(4) Being Lax About Rules and Consistency
If there’s one thing that dogs need above all, it’s a schedule and clear expectations. Everyone in your home needs to know what the dog’s behavior should be, and they all need to follow through on enforcing this behavior. If one person gives the dog a snack before bed, and the other thinks this is a big no-no, your dog will just end up confused about why he can’t have his snack on certain nights. Dogs crave routine because it helps them know how to behave at any given time. This is how they understand what you want from them so that they can please you.
I’m not saying you have to pick out an ugly dog by any means. But I am saying to make sure you don’t get won over by the big puppy eyes and the cutesy hair do of a designer pup – or any pup, really. Pay attention to the dog’s behavior, their body language, and their personality, and consider whether the breed lines up with your lifestyle, before adopting or buying a dog. If you just walk in and point to the cutest one you see, you may end up with a dog that is not at all suited for your family. For example, if your idea of a good weekend is a Netflix marathon, you should not adopt a Dalmatian – these dogs need tons and tons of exercise to stay well behaved. On the other hand, if you really want a dog that is going to be a good running buddy, you might not want a dog that is very low energy, because they’ll just get bored and want to go home.
(6) Not Measuring Your Dog’s Food
Dogs don’t need nearly as many calories as a person, and that’s a good thing. When you look a dog, and you can see a clearly defined waist (without seeing ribs), then they are actually at a healthy weight. Overfeeding a dog can lead to a ton of health problems – everything from achy joints to heart failure. That is why it is very important to know how much food to feed your dog, and to measure it appropriately. You can ask your vet how much to feed your dog, or look on the dog food bag – most quality brands include a weight chart to help you understand how much your dog needs.
Remember that a puppy or a more active adult dog will need more food than an old couch potato. Another important thing to remember is that snacks count as calories! If your dog gets a high-calorie treat every day, be sure you are feeding them less at meal times. If you struggle with overfeeding your dog, or you want to teach a child how much to feed your dog, consider getting a bowl with measurements on the side like this one by Indipets.
Dogs need plenty of entertainment to have happy, full lives. A dog that is bored will become destructive, chewing up shoes or digging up flower beds. That’s why there are toys designed to keep a dog interested in something else. If you aren’t around to keep them stimulated with your company all day long, consider grabbing one of these toys and teaching your dog to play with it:
A toy that you fill with their food so they have to work for their meal
A toy where they chase stuffed “prey” into and out of holes
A toy where they push buttons and flip switches to earn treats (or kibble)
A toy that throws a ball automatically for them to fetch and return
Any of these might keep a dog interested in something other than being destructive. If you can be with your dog more often and want to stimulate their mind, try giving them a job or getting them involved in a canine sport or show event.
(8) Not Following a Good Grooming Routine
Here’s something that I feel a lot of new dog owners do not understand when it comes to small puppies. Grooming your dog regularly – as much as daily – is important for more than just keeping them clean. When you groom them, you are handling them. You’re getting them used to the feeling of being touched and moved around. This is very important for the future. In the event that there is ever a reason your dog needs emergency care, or even just to go see a groomer, they won’t be skittish about being touched. This can ensure that they get good medical care if needed, so it’s a very important training session that owners should always plan for.
Dogs don’t need nearly as many baths as you may think, though certain breeds do need daily brushing to avoid shedding. You’ll have to research your dog’s breed to know how often to brush them. All dogs, regardless of breed, need weekly dental care. Having poor dental hygiene can lead to a lot of health problems for a dog, so it’s important that you get them started early with a regular tooth brushing routine. I recommend getting a starter pack that includes both a finger brush and a regular dog tooth brush so you can figure out which is easier to use with your dog. Always be sure to use dog-safe toothpaste!
The last thing that many new owners do that is a big mistake is letting a puppy get away with things because it’s cute at this stage. Yes, it’s adorable when a tiny puppy howls, or jumps on your ankle when you get home. You see a cute little baby trying things out, and that makes you want to encourage them. However, remember that dogs don’t grow out of behaviors. Whatever they learn is okay right now, is what they’ll be doing in five years. So if you don’t want a full sized dog howling all day, or jumping on every guest that comes into your home, don’t let them do that behavior at the puppy stage either. It can be hard to scold a little puppy, but trust me when I say – you’ll be grateful that you stuck with it when you have a well-behaved adult dog.
Just make the experience positive by first stopping the behavior, and then redirecting that energy elsewhere. Give your puppy other things to satisfy their curiosity, and be sure to introduce them to well-trained older dogs so they can start seeing desirable behavior.
I don’t for a second think that all new dog owners are hopeless, by any means. Reading up on the breed you intend to adopt and training tactics for dogs in general should always be step one. If you’ve done that, then I think you’re probably the kind of person who is going to handle this just fine.
However, I will say that I do highly advocate that new dog owners get in touch with a professional trainer as soon as they can. If you’ve never had a dog before, you may not have any clue how to be both firm and positive with your dog, which is the best way to train them. Don’t be ashamed about not knowing – none of us were born knowing how to train dogs! Use the professional resources if you can, or do a lot of reading and watching videos online if you can’t. Either way, you can use this list of common mistakes that new dog owners make to start working on better training for your new friend!