5 Mistakes New Dog Parents Often Make
Happy New Year!
I'm still settling into my new schedule after making my side hustle my main hustle, but so far, it's opened up new opportunities for learning and growth that I'll be sure to share more on in future posts. This month, I want to switch gears from entrepreneurship and focus on dog ownership.
One of our good friends recently welcomed a new puppy into their home. All of their excitement and questions brought me back to when we first got King. There was a lot to learn in a short amount of time. If you're also a new member of the dog parent club, congratulations and welcome! You are in for an experience that is as rewarding as it can be challenging, but you're in great company. In order to help the new club members, I decided to capture a handful of what I see as some of the most common mistakes new dog parents make. Most of these are for new puppy parents, but some also apply to bringing home an older dog.
1. Socializing before shots
Socializing is an absolute MUST to set your puppy up for success. However, taking your pup to different environments, especially areas where wildlife frequently visits, and introducing him to dogs without knowledge of their vaccine history/medical conditions prior to getting his proper shots is a hazard to his health. Dogs, other animals, and even people can carry bacteria and viruses that could wreak havoc on your pup's weak immune system. Stick to your yard or a neighborhood walk for now. There is still plenty for your pup to explore in these settings. Speak with your vet to find out after which vaccines/treatments your pup will be ready to get out into more of the world.
2. Socializing without structure
Once you've gotten the thumbs up from your vet to introduce your dog to new furriends, another no-no for socializing is doing so without structure. At weeks 14-16 of your pup's life, the socialization window begins to close, so that doesn't leave you much time. Have a plan involving scheduled playdates with previously socialized and vaccinated dogs, enrolling her in a puppy socialization class through your local pet store or dog trainer, inviting people to your house, and going to dog-friendly places. You want these experiences to be positive. Bring training treats that others can give your dog to reinforce that people of different shapes, colors, sizes, and dress should not be something to fear. Advocate for your dog by giving others instructions on how to interact with her. The same goes for other dogs. Be mindful of your pup's behavior during play. If you see signs of bullying on either side (unreciprocated play, tail tucking, hiding, snarling, crouching, etc.), call your dog back to you for a time out while her arousal level decreases. A bad experience can cause lasting trauma for your pup while she's making new associations with the world.
3. Skipping the crate
I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that the sound of a crying dog who doesn't want to be in the crate is heart-wrenching. Confession: I cried the first night we had King in the crate. But whatever you do, stay strong, my friend! This temporary discomfort can bring you a lifetime of benefits from one of the most useful training tools. There are loads of resources about crate training, a recent article in The Bork Magazine summarizes it nicely, so I won't get into it in this post. I can say from first-hand experience that being boarded in a new place and away from you is far less stressful for your pup when he has been crate trained.
4. Lacking a game plan
This one will come easier for single dog moms and dads. When there are multiple people raising the pup, make sure you have a game plan. Giving your dog conflicting guidance when it comes to boundaries, training, and their schedule is just going to leave you all frustrated. Have a team meeting to get on the same page about these sorts of things (check-in for tweaks as needed) and stick to the plan you agree upon.
5. Humanizing the dog
Dogs are not people. They know it, and it's about time that we did too. Over time, dogs have adapted qualities that may seem to blur the lines, but don't be fooled. Dogs don't:
Speak our language - We have to teach them. Hence the reason most training commands are one-word and must be paired with a body movement when first teaching them.
Have the capacity to associate their behavior with your response after too much time has passed - You have a small window to reinforce their behavior. Do you think your dog knows what you are angry about when you point at the soiled carpet and raise your voice hours after he's done the deed? He's only showing appeasing behaviors like cowering and tail-tucking while you reprimand him because he senses your anger and wants you to calm down. He has no clue what you are actually angry about. Sorry. Clean up the mess and take a look at what could have caused him to regress with potty-training.
Want to be babied - Carrying your dog restricts their movement and can confuse boundaries. There are some dogs, especially toy breeds, that seem to like it and this may even be necessary in some cases, but try not to make a habit out of it. I also fall into the trap of using baby talk, but it can lead to dogs becoming overly excited. This excitement clouds their judgement, so don't get upset if they do something you don't want them to like jumping, tinkling indoors, barking, etc.
Don't feel bad if you've already done some of these things. We're all learning as we go. Dogs are particularly resilient, so you can most likely correct any errors with time, effort, and help from a dog behaviourist (if it's beyond DIY). I'm sure there are many more common mistakes. Please let me know in the comments if you had any lessons learned that I may have forgotten on this list. Above all, be patient. It will take time to build and nurture this relationship. Find a community of other dog parents that you can lean on, and I'll always be more than happy to be a resource for you.
Well wishes & puppy kisses,