Recently, I have been thinking about the first dog I owned and all the things that I did wrong that caused behavioral problems. I swear, I probably drove that dog to the insane asylum with my lack of knowledge on how to raise a dog. I wish I would have had a short list of do's and don't s when I adopted that dog so long ago. Though, a list may not have helped because I was young and thought I knew everything. It's always easier to think back on these things in hindsight. This week I have decided to compile a list of common mistakes and maybe it will help some other dog owner out there:
1. Treating Your Dog Like a Human: Dogs are not humans (Thank goodness!) They speak a completely different language. Things that humans find appealing may not necessarily mean dogs like them. Take for instance hugs. Most humans like hugs, but often a hug for a dog makes them feel stressed and claustrophobic. Hugs mean something completely different in dog language. As a dog owner, it is really important to learn your dog's language and how they communicate their different emotions. AND, it is equally important to teach your children.
2. Not providing your dog with enough exercise: To put it simply, a dog that is not adequately exercised (mentally and physically) will get into trouble. Your little furry family member will have a lot of pent up energy and will have to find a way to release that energy.
3. Taking food away mid-meal: A common mistake of dog-owners that are dealing with dogs that are food aggressive is take their food bowl away mid-meal when their dog is still eating. This just adds a lot of stress to your dog and makes the situation worse. Every time you feed them, they will be worried and in a panic wondering when their bowl is going to be taken away. Instead, enforce the rule in your household that your dog, whether food aggressive or not, is to be left alone while eating. Establish boundaries for humans and dogs. Which leads me to #4.
4. Establish boundaries! From the time your dog first steps foot into your household, you need to establish boundaries. Your food is your food, not your dog's (and vise versa--- don't mess with your dog when they are eating!) There should be no food gobbling. Which is what happens when your dog "stress eats"... Yep, even I food gobble when I'm stressed. When going on a walk, your dog should walk beside you. Not in front of you and pulling on the leash. When you enter the household or guests enter, your dog should not jump up to greet people. Basically, set rules for your dog and expect them to follow the rules.
5. Don't yell at your dog all the time: When you yell at your dog all the time, you will A) Ruin your relationship. If your dog is not properly trained, he/she will not understand why you are yelling at them. All they know is that your anger is always directed at them. This causes a lot of emotional stress for your dog. B) De-sensitize your dog to yelling. This could become dangerous. Imagine if your dog is running into a busy street and you NEED to yell at them to stop. But, your dog isn't listening because yelling is a daily norm. Not a pretty picture, huh? Instead, focus on properly training your dog, so yelling is not necessary and only used in life threatening situations to get their attention quickly.
6. Using punishment instead of positive reinforcement for training: When it comes to training, positive reinforcement of good behavior goes a long way. Limit punishing your dog when they do something wrong. If they are doing something wrong, you need to catch them in the act of doing it and re-direct their behavior. When you see them doing something right, reward that behavior. Also, remember to be consistent with your training.
7. Using the crate for punishment: Dogs are naturally den dwellers and a crate should be their personal den. They should feel safe and cozy when they are in their crate. When you use their crate as a punishment jail, their den will become associated with stress and bad, horrible feelings. This is not a good situation.
8. Leaving your dog for long periods of time alone: Dogs are social animals. Leaving them alone for long periods of time can cause separation anxiety, stress and depression. If you need to be gone for long periods of time, maybe a dog is not the right pet for you. Other options are to arrange to have someone come to your house to check in on your dog to provide attention and break up their day or take them to a doggy daycare during the day.
I hope this list is helpful for some dog owners out there! There can be a lot of frustration and miscommunication when an owner does not know how to "speak dog". Being a dog owner requires a lot of education. As a owner, I am constantly educating myself. Knowing that you don't know everything is the key. And remember, mistakes happen. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes and move forward. Don't beat yourself up. Learning is a life long process and is very fluid. Not all dogs are the same, which is why learning how your dog communicates is vitally important.