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Faux Paws: Six Common Mistakes New Dog Owners Make


By Emma Snow

The family around the block got a new Jack Russell puppy. I’ve been jogging my Border Collie mix past their house for over a year now, and we usually see their spaniel mix tied out in the backyard. When I saw the new puppy tied to the tree out front it was the first time I saw the two boys that the dogs belong to. They had longish hair, and washed-out blue eyes. One was school-aged, ten or so, and the other about four. When I came upon them they were playing with a stick, letting the puppy get a hold before pulling it away. The pup growled and yipped cheerfully. All seemed well. Except for one minor detail. The older boy kept yelling, “Shut up, Hope!” over his shoulder at the older dog, who watched with sad eyes, barking desperately from the backyard, where she was tied against the fence.

The puppy saw Harry and me, and dove toward us. We stopped to visit for a few minutes, and I petted the squirmy puppy. I asked the boys about their other dog in the backyard, but they were more eager to talk about the new addition. The other dog isn’t well-mannered, they complained. That’s why she has to stay tied up in the back. As I take my leave, I know inside that this puppy is doomed. I wish I could sit down with those boys and have a heart-to-heart about their dogs. But since I can’t, I will instead reach out to cyberspace, to those of you thinking of joining the ranks of dog owners. To you, who dream of the loyal dog with his head in your lap at the fireplace, I want to tell you, it’s a great dream. I love those moments with Harry, but there’s a flipside to having a dog. Dogs don’t come perfect out of the package, and raising a dog, whether you bring it home as a puppy or an adult, is much like raising a child. Below I’d like to share five common mistakes new dog owners make.

Number one, which I most wanted to share with the neighbor boys, is when you bring home a puppy you must decide right away how you want it to act when it grows up. Some behaviors, while darling in puppies, are not so adorable in grown dogs. Snapping, jumping, and chewing on your hand are probably not habits you want to encourage in your puppy. Think twice before you snuggle up with it in bed. Once a puppy develops a habit, it’s going to be 500 times harder to break it. Owners should not constantly fawn over their new pet, or carry it everywhere they go. After the newness wears off, you will grow annoyed if your dog is constantly whimpering for you to play with him. Believe me, you’ll appreciate it if your dog has gotten used to spending some time on her own.

Many more mistakes are made in regards to training. Training should begin the second that dog becomes “yours.” Ideally you will sign up for obedience classes. That way you have a teacher-expert who will know your dog personally and can give you the best advice. Whether you take classes or check out a training book at the library, you should teach your dog some basic commands, like sit, stay, come, off, and no. Be careful not to expect too much of your dog at first. People with unreal expectations usually give up on training their dogs at all. Then they complain that their dog is ill-mannered! Most important, you must be consistent with the training. That goes for everyone in the household. Make sure that even your five year old understands that Pickles is not allowed to eat ice cream under any circumstances. Training sessions work best if they are short (ten or twenty minutes) and frequent (every day.) Following through on training sessions, and being consistent with rules will make your new dog into the companion you dreamed of when you brought him home.

Third, when your dog misbehaves—and she will, frequently, what should you do? You must never forget that dogs are not human. They don’t have the same memory we do. Therefore, if you weren’t there to punish the misbehavior as it happened, you mustn’t punish the dog at all. If there is a habit you are trying to break, try to anticipate when it will happen and be ready to intervene. When I first brought Harry home, he had a jumping problem. He simply felt obliged to run and jump on every passer-by. Whenever I had a guest I warned them of Harry’s problem before letting them in the house, and then asked them to lift their knee when Harry approached. I also gave a stern, “Off!” when he jumped. None of my guests encouraged his behavior, so he eventually got the hint, and stopped. (Dogs do aim to please. It just takes them time to know how to please YOU.)

Of course, the worst thing you can do to punish your dog is to strike him. I can’t understate how big this mistake is. Direct punishment, no matter how “bad” the dog behaved, will only backfire on the owner. Hitting, kicking, or even swatting the dog’s nose will make her fearful of you. When punishing your dog, try your best to associate the punishment with the bad action. Never, ever hit your dog!

The last mistake common to dog owners is probably the funniest to watch. When you bring that new dog home, start teaching it the “Come” command right away. This is not done by chasing it around the neighborhood. Trust me, your dog thinks this is the best entertainment since rawhide bones. “Chase” is a game most dogs love to play, but I haven’t yet met an owner who does. If your dog runs off, fight the urge to pursue. Instead, give a command—any command—he might know. “Sit” works well, as does “Stay.” Then reward him. If she’s not that far along in training, bribe her with food or with a toy. Toss a stick and see if she falls for the cue. Then, reward with hugs, attention, treats…whatever to make it clear to your dog that you want him to follow you, not the other way around.

These are the things I wish all dog owners knew. The good news is that none of these mistakes is unavoidable, nor are they difficult. Keeping these five tips in mind, the new dog owner will be on the right road to a happy ever after—ruff ruff!

About the Author
Emma Snow an animal lover works in marketing for Dog Pound http://www.dog-pound.net and Horse Stall http://www.horse-stall.net leading portals for pet management.

 

 

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