Avoid common errors, and keep your four-legged pal healthy and well-behaved.
Mistake 1: Buying a Pet Spontaneously
Why this is a mistake: That doggie in the window may be darling, but he might not be the right fit for your family or lifestyle.
How to avoid it: Fully inform yourself before you bring home a pet. Every dog or cat has its own needs, some of which are specific to the breed. Terriers tend to dig; Abyssinians explore and climb. If there’s a breed that interests you, read up on it (try the website of the American Kennel Club), talk to owners, and get to know someone else’s Border collie or Persian. That said, not every dog is typical of its breed, so “ask about the pet’s history, health, and temperament,” says Stephanie Shain, a director at the Humane Society of the United States. When dealing with a breeder, you should be shown where the pet was raised and meet his parents.
Mistake 2: Skipping Obedience Training
Why this is a mistake: Bad habits can be difficult to train out of a pet. So unless you have the know-how to school an animal, you need the help of a pro.
How to avoid it: Even before a puppy starts formal training, teach him simple commands, such as sit and stay. A puppy can begin formal training at eight weeks (and ideally at 12 weeks), after he has had it’s shots. Between the ages of 8 and 16 weeks, puppies absorb lots of information about the world around them.
Mistake 3: Being Inconsistent With the Rules
Why this is a mistake: If one child lets Fido on the bed and another punishes her for it, the animal will be confused. Bad behavior is inevitable.
How to avoid it: Make sure everyone in your household knows―and follows―the rules. If you want your dog to sit before eating a treat? You don’t want your pup to chew/mouth on your hands? Then figure out a system that will help your pet succeed. Dogs thrive with a sense of order, so discuss with your family when yours should be fed, exercised, and even given a treat.
Mistake 4: Dispensing Too Many Free Treats
Why this is a mistake: Treats lose their training value if your pet gets them for no reason.
How to avoid it: Think of treats as currency given to a pet to reward good behavior. Assign each type of treat a value, and pay according to how well your pet behaves. Kibble is worth a dollar; a cheese, five; chicken, 10. It’s important not to over pay the good behavior. This way, your dog will always hope he might get that bonus, and he’ll eventually perform without seeing a treat.
Mistake 5: Neglecting to Socialize Your Pet
Why this is a mistake: Pets that aren’t exposed to a variety of animals and people at a very young age can develop fears and aggressive behavior.
How to avoid it: Introduce your pet to adults, kids, animals, and environments so he’ll take every novelty in stride. It’s optimal for a pet to start the process before you bring him home, since the critical socialization period is early in life.
Mistake 6: Skimping on Exercise
Why this is a mistake: Pets have pent-up energy that needs to be unleashed through physical activity. Otherwise it will be channeled into barking, jumping, or even hostile behavior.
How to avoid it: “Walk your dog at least twice a day for a minimum of 30 minutes each time,” says Cesar Millan, host of The Dog Whisperer, on the National Geographic Channel. Dogs need more exercise than people do. Try running or biking with your dog or playing fetch or Frisbee.
Mistake 7: Neglecting to Keep Your Pet Mentally Active
Why this is a mistake: Bored pets are more likely to get into trouble.
How to avoid it: Give your pets something to do. For a dog, that can mean having him hunt for food. Place a meal or treats in spots around the house for him to sniff out, or feed him out of a food-dispensing puzzle toy instead of his bowl.
Mistake 8: Leaving a Pet Alone for Too Long
Why this is a mistake: A lack of proper companionship can lead to separation anxiety and destructive behaviors.
How to avoid it: Don’t leave a puppy alone for eight hours. Hire someone to watch him or drop him off at a doggie day-care center. Your puppy will need to learn how to be alone for a few hours each day, however, so teach him to self-pacify almost immediately. Put him in a crate (or leash him to a stable object) a foot or two away from you, then gradually increase the distance over the course of a week. Then make sure that he spends escalating amounts of time alone in his crate or confined to a room. Break up the day for dogs of any age with a visit from a dog walker or a neighbor, and give your pet access to toys and visual stimuli.
Mistake 9: Failing to Make Your Home Pet-Friendly
Why this is a mistake: A dog without a cozy bed will end up on the couch.
How to avoid it: Dogs don’t really care where they relieve themselves, but do them the favor of regularly picking up the poop in the backyard. Dogs also need spots where they can cuddle up and feel safe. We all need a spot or room to escape to every once and a while. Provide a crate or a cozy bed, and make it taboo for your family to pester the dog while he’s in it.
Mistake 10: Punishing Your Pet
Why this is a mistake: You might think Buddy knows you’re screaming at him because he ate the loaf of bread on the counter, but he won’t connect your behavior with his action.
How to avoid it: It’s OK to startle a pet out of a behavior, but only if you catch him in the act. They’ll connect the reaction with what he’s doing and learn that it’s not OK. Otherwise, the punishment should come from the environment. Teach a dog to stay off the counter, say, by arranging sheet pans in a pile that will clatter to the floor if he jumps up. The counter, not you, will become the thing to fear.