The Most Common Mistakes New Dog Owners Make
When you first decide to add a canine companion to your family, there are all sorts of exciting emotions you can feel.
Often, the excitement of procuring the perfect pup can make you forget that accepting responsibility for a pet means more than just getting slobbery kisses every morning. Dogs have all sorts of needs beyond getting pet and getting fed. And, if you’re not careful, you can form harmful habits that will make life way more difficult for both you and your new four-legged friend.
With the help of a little research and a lot of discipline, and you can easily avoid many of the mistakes first-time dog owners make.
Keep in mind, every dog is going to have a special set of needs, but if you follow these general guidelines, you’ll set you and your furry friend up for years of cuddly, playful happiness.
Don’t Choose a Dog on Looks — Know What You’re Getting
Once an adorable dog locks eyes with you, it can be hard to turn away. After all, puppy eyes have their powerful reputation for a very good reason.
But prepare yourself before you ever start your dog search process to better understand all the different breeds and each of their specific needs. Over the years, dogs have been bred for all sorts of varying purposes.
Knowing what that purpose is will help you to create the happiest life for both you and your dog. Because of that, you need to know which pups might be best for your lifestyle and living situation.
If you end up adopting a dog that you’re not sure the mix of, there are tons of easy genetics tests you can take to find out. Arm yourself with knowledge so when you do finally lock eyes with your forever friend, you’ll know how to make sure they are (and in turn you are) the happiest.
Don’t Let Them Run the Show
Even though it can be difficult to say “No” to a big set of doe-eyes and floppy ears, it’s essential that you set down the proper rules and expectations for your dog.
We may treat them like people, but they are actually animals that thrive when they know their human’s expectations of them. Setting down clear rules so they know what they should and should not do will alleviate their anxiety of wondering how they should behave.
Plus, when they know you’re in charge, they can relax and enjoy themselves more than assuming they’ve got to rule the roost.
Don’t Assume They’ll Always Have Their Puppy Personality
Puppies tend to live more extreme lives than the rest of us. They’re often extremely friendly, always extremely floppy, can be extremely skittish, and basically define what it is to be extremely adorable. As they grow, those extremes can transform in all sorts of ways — except, of course, the extremely adorable because they retain that forever.
Sometimes, that can mean something beneficial like they become less skittish as they gain more confidence. But sometimes, that means that their personality becomes a little less friendly to other dogs. To get angry at or simply try to force them to be something their not is unfair to you and your pup.
Adapting and embracing all the personality changes in your dog as they come about will allow you to simply grow with your pup. Having unfair expectations or attempting to change their personality will set you both up for immense frustration and constant failure.
If it’s a dangerous behavior, enlist a professional to help you. But if it’s just an annoying little quirk that you wish they didn’t have, both your lives will be way happier if you simply embrace who they are and work with it rather than against it.
Don’t Shop Without Considering Adopting — Visit Shelters First
This is a pretty hot button issue in many parts of the world with people feeling very passionate on both sides. The most important takeaway is knowing just deciding what type of conditions you want to support. Plenty of wonderful dogs find their way to shelters every year.
Before you immediately assume your perfect first pup has to come from a breeder and that you have to get them as a puppy, consider at least stopping by a local animal shelter. Most shelters are filled with loving, amazing animals who will make incredible — not to mention grateful — companions for you.
If, for some reason, you are really specifically set on a certain breed or procuring a pup in a different way, that’s your choice. But at least a quick perusal of an animal shelter will remind you that there are lots of four-legged friends begging for homes every day.
If you take one home, you’ll not only be giving it a forever home, but you’ll also be creating a temporary space for another homeless pup in the future who could also get adopted.
Don’t Be Inconsistent — Give Them Routines and Boundaries
If you want your dog to truly understand the rules of the house and the expectations you have for it, you need to be consistent with it. This is especially important if you’re “co-parenting” a dog with a partner or a family.
If the dog gets away with some behavior with one person but gets in trouble for the same behavior with another, those mixed signals can really get frustrating for human and doggo alike. If you decide to change up those rules or want to change some behavioral element for your dog, you need to have a meeting with everyone that spends a lot of time with them to make sure they’re on the same page.
Following through and being consistent no matter who the person or the external situation will make your dog learn a lot quicker, and will give them more time to relax and keep their eyes out for more important things like nearby squirrels.
Don’t Assume They’ll Grow Out of a Bad Habit
Even though it can make your heart grow to see a tiny little puppy chew up your sock (they look so little next to it!), you need to teach even young dogs what their expectations are.
As dogs grow up, they may outgrow some of the habits they have as a puppy since they tend to even out some of their spastic energy and become better listeners in general. But just assuming that someday your puppy won’t want to chew your sock once it gets older will very likely mean you’ll end up with a lot of holey socks for a very long time.
The same goes for house training. You can start teaching them at a very early age what the expectations are and reward good behavior. You need to have patience while they pick it up since human is, after all, their second language.
Don’t Keep Them Away From Other Dogs — Socialize Them
Sometimes people can get nervous that introducing their dog to other dogs too young may make the susceptible to diseases or possible attacks. But, many vets insist that more animals are put down because of behavior issues than are killed by diseases.
Of course, it’s smart to make sure the animals your new dog interacts with are all vaccinated so you won’t have any issues. And it’s also helpful to keep them around the friendliest of friendly dogs when they first start interacting so they can start to get confidence early on.
As their confidence grows, it’s important to let them interact with lots of different dogs, even those who may be slightly more aggressive than your pup (assuming, of course, it’s still safe for your dog).
Allowing them to understand their place in a pack pecking order and to pick up on signals from all kinds of dogs will set them up for better communicating with their doggie brethren for the rest of their lives.
Don’t Force Them to do Something if They’re Scared.
This goes back to doing your research before you ever get a dog, but it’s really important you understand your dog’s basic signals so you can respond to them appropriately. If you can’t seem to get a handle on it, pay to have a professional evaluate your dog when it begins acting overly aggressive or reacting in a surprising way to some external stimulus.
If your dog gives you warning signals that its scared or feels threatened in some way and you ignore, overlook, or continue to push them, the resulting actions can be dire for everyone involved. Most dogs just want to feel safe and loved (just like most humans), so if they’re acting out, there’s a very good chance there’s an instinctual fear response rooted in their actions.
Knowing that will help you to effectively protect yourself and your pup from escalating a delicate situation.
Don’t Only Pet Them Occasionally — Touch Them All Over
If you get a dog when its a puppy, it will likely be much more open to letting you pet it wherever — especially as it begins to know and trust you. Even if you adopt an older dog, as it begins to bond with you, you’ll be able to get away with more and more in terms of where and how you can touch them.
Touch is so important not only for bonding with your dog, but also in case there’s a situation where you need to be able to grab certain parts of its body for its own safety. Teaching your dog it's OK to be touched on the paws or on the gums will help the vets and groomers in the future who are messing with those areas.
Touching them regularly will have the bonus effect, too, of letting you keep good tabs on their skin and general health.
Don’t Neglect Their Oral Hygiene
Another added benefit of teaching your dog to be comfortable with you touching them all over is that it will make it easier for you to brush your dog’s teeth.
Dogs can get all sorts of gum diseases as they age. And, just like humans, a good daily brushing session can help prevent many of them.
If, of course, your dog is really stubborn about not letting you jab a confusing brush all up in their mouth (even if you buy the nicest brush and tastiest doggie toothpaste), there are toys and treats that will help maintain their oral hygiene.
Don’t Overlook Their Diet
All dogs eat differently and approach their love of food differently. Some dogs scarf down all food put in front of them without any perceivable “off” switch. Others can be better about self-regulation but may get protective of it if another animal (including a human) approaches.
Some dogs do better if you give them their food in a special grid puzzle plate so it takes them longer to eat it and they feel more satisfied. And still other dogs may do better with three small meals per day instead of one big one at the end or beginning of the day. Whatever you research and figure out works best for your dog, stick to that schedule regularly so you can maintain and regulate a healthy weight.
And, while you’re at it, don’t overdo it on the treats. Giving them treats as rewards for good behavior is a great way to effectively train them. But giving them treats too regularly or without at all earning them could not only result in some weight issues, but also in some behavioral problems since they’ll become demanding for those treats and less likely to be enticed to behave than if you only give them periodically.
Oh, and don’t feed your dog human food from the table. If you want to research good dog foods and cook it for your dog in a wholesome meal, there are plenty of Pinterest pins that can help you on that homemade dog parent journey. But there are a number of human foods that are can be harmful or even fatal to your dog. Plus, once they learn how delicious even healthy human food can be, you’ll create little beggars from the table and you don’t want to have to deal with that every single meal.
Don’t Neglect Obedience Training
As important as it is to set boundaries and teach them rules, it’s equally important to get the perspective of a trainer. Both you and your dog have plenty to learn about proper interaction and etiquette.
A professional who knows the most effective ways to teach the basics to you and your dog can help you set up a good foundation for future learning. A trainer can also teach you the best ways to discipline and reward your dog, so you don’t fall into the trap of being excessive about either.
Plus, many trainers include basic lessons about how to teach your dog to behave when its on a leash while also showing effective ways for you to communicate your expectations to your dog.
Don’t Keep Them Cooped Up — Exercise Them Regularly
Though some breeds are way more energetic than others, all dogs needs exercise and stimulation. Without it, they’ll get frustrated and take out that frustration on all sorts of chewable items within their mouth’s range.
Depending on the breed or the mix, the physical abilities and demands of your dog will be different. But if they’re rested and happy — especially if they’re doing that adorable little nap where their legs are kicking and they’re making little yippy sounds — there’s probably a good chance you’ve satisfied their basic exercise needs.
Plus, as you walk them and exercise them more regularly, you’ll get the benefit of being more active yourself.
Don’t Overlook the Basics — Get Them Fixed and Microchipped
Waiting too long to get your dog fixed can cause all sorts of future issues (beyond, of course, possibly getting another dog pregnant or getting pregnant themselves).
You should do plenty of research and talk to your vet about the best approaches to take to when the surgery should come (assuming you didn't adopt a furry friend who was already fixed).
Making sure your dog is microchipped with also give you the peace of mind. If they somehow get away from you, they stand a better chance to be reunited with you if they’re able to get to a vet again and get scanned.
Don’t Ignore Your Vet’s Advice
You can always get a second or third opinion if your vet’s advice doesn’t really jive with you. But outright neglecting the opinions and perspectives of animal experts or assuming you can simply Google any issue that may come up with your dog is a formula for failure.
Your vet has years of training, research, and expertise on their side. So if they make certain suggestions about what kind of vaccines or appointments or suggest that your dog come in and get checked out because of an issue, it’s probably best to listen to them.
You’ll soon learn the baseline of what’s “normal” for your dog and be able to better gauge if and when they may be acting abnormally. But until then — and even after you get to know each other well — it’s always a good idea to listen to experts when its an option.
Don’t Let Them Get Shaggy — Bathe and Groom Regularly
Regularly brushing and grooming your dog not only makes them feel like a furry fancy canine, but it also helps keep them healthy. Giving your dog regular baths can prevent skin and fur issues that can crop up from neglecting it.
It also allows you to better see if there are any fleas, ticks, or some other unwanted critters hitching a ride on your pup. Plus, when the weather changes (especially as it gets hotter), you’ll want to make sure your four-legged friend is comfortable in their own fur and not carrying around an unnecessarily heavy coat.
Though there’s plenty you can do to maintain your dog’s coat, getting it regularly (or even semi-regularly) taken care of by a professional is like giving your home a deep clean. They may not be excited to watch you leave them with a stranger, but they will feel light and happier when you return and they’re all clean.
Don’t Leave Them Alone Too Quickly
Even if they know the environment, are comfortable in it, and spend a lot of time sleeping, leaving your pup on its own can be nerve-wracking at first no matter what their age or comfort level is with you.
If you can at all crate train your dog, it’s a great idea to follow through with that so they know there is a safe place for them to go while they are alone. It also prevents them from getting a little too curious (and way too chewy) about the items they could find around your home while you’re gone.
Not could it be expensive to replace chewed up items, but sometimes they could swallow sharp plastic parts and cause internal or intestinal damage.
If you don’t build up a comfort level with them being alone by doing it for short periods at a time and slowly increasing those intervals, they may become scarred from being left alone and even more anxious next time you try to leave. Take the necessary steps to make them comfortable with being alone and take away all the possibly dangerous items they may not be able to help themselves around.
Don’t Forget They Cost Money — Budget and Consider Insurance
The last thing you want to do is get a dog, train it, fall in love with it, and then have something happen or find out about a chronic issue that you can’t afford to take care of. Or, you don’t want to have to choose between getting your dog checked out and being able to pay your rent next month.
Luckily, there are so many affordable options that can help keep you from unbearable financial hardship or unthinkable decisions. Most major insurance companies offer pet insurance options, plus lots of vet hospitals and clinics may offer payment plans and other tiered insurance options.
Don’t put yourself or your pup in a precarious situation – be prepared for anything so you can rest easy with your new friend by your side.