If you have found your way to this blog, chances are that you are an engaged dog owner who truly loves and cares for their furry companion. This post is absolutely not designed to pick at the faults and failures of everyday dog owners, but rather to bring to attention some of the trends that often occur among those who genuinely love their dogs, but perhaps don’t realise that at times, certain types of love and affection can actually be damaging to their furry friends.
So take a look at this list, and consider how it may or may not apply to you, and don’t feel bad if you (like me!) are guilty of some of these points, self-reflection is the first step to a happy home with happy hounds!
1. Over Feeding
How many times have you been making breakfast and tossed your dog a bit of Bacon? Or at lunch given them a biscuit (or two)? Left overs from dinner, anyone? Before you know it, all these little treats add up, and suddenly Fido is beginning to resemble a little barrel on legs!
The worst part about this phenomenon is that most of us don’t even notice when our dogs have put on a little too much weight. It took going overseas for two months for me to realise just how pudgy my Spaniel had become after all the treats I gave her! She was seemed she was so skinny by comparison when I got home!
“The eighth annual National Pet Obesity Prevalence Survey conducted by APOP found 58% of U.S. cats and 53% of dogs were overweight in 2014…The study also found a significant “fat pet gap,” in which 90% of owners of overweight cats and 95% of owners of overweight dogs incorrectly identified their pet as a normal weight.” – Source
There’s a lot that goes into determining the proper weight range for your dog, but this diagram by Purina is very useful in determining their range, regardless of breed, size, age etc.
2. More cuddling than exercise
Cuddling on the sofa with a movie, or snuggled up under blankets may seem like an ideal life for a human, but dogs need to run! Every breed of dog, from a Doberman to a Dachshund needs daily exercise. Be sure to do some research into your dog’s breed (or mix of breeds) and pay attention to their energy levels to determine the type and duration of exercise they require. Trust me, they will love you for it!
3. Inconsistent Discipline
I see this time and again, and have been guilty of it myself, especially with our little old man, JR, who plays the “oh but I’m so old and sore” card whenever you ask him to do anything. Funnily enough, he is as youthful as a puppy as soon as the biscuits come out!
In order to be happy, dogs need clear and firm leadership from their family. By standing firm on your discipline every single time, you are making it clear what you want from each command. Though you may feel you are being mean to the dog, keep in mind that in the long term you are helping them to understand what you want, and how to make you happy, which in turn minimises their stress levels and makes for a more harmonious home! Be sure to join our pack to get your FREE copy of our 12 best commands for a happy home mini Ebook here!
4. To Much Excitement
Who doesn’t love the hysterical excitement you receive from your dogs when you return home from long day at work. Bouncing, jumping, barking, they’re just so happy to see you! The problem begins when you encourage this state of mind on a daily basis, and suddenly, it is the only way they know how to react to stimulus. Think about the way your dog responds to going for a walk, feeding time, coming in the house, seeing family members; it’s natural for them to be excited at first, but they should calm down quickly, and you should try not to encourage the state of excitement or raise it further as this can turn into an obsessive, excited state of mind which can cause unneeded stress and lead to bad behaviour (which causes further stress!)
5. Not challenging their brains
Sleeping on the sofa, basking in the sun, sniffing around the garden. Sounds relaxing, right? But imagine if this was your life, all off the time. Boooring! Dogs need to be mentally stimulated, just like humans! This stimulation can come through training in basic commands, participating in dog sports, going for a run, puzzle toys, whatever! The important thing is that you are challenging them to work things out for themselves.
Our dogs are highly motivated by food rewards, so we find that they go mad for their Kong toys filled with healthy treats!
6. Wild spirits and no structure!
Like humans, every dog has their own little personality, and a lot of the time, their wild, bounding energy is what draws us to them. Many owners fear that by training their dogs in manners, they will crush this glowing spirit, and so they allow their dogs to bark and jump and pull on the lead. I am guilty of this myself with our Spaniel, but have found that, on the contrary, that after training her to walk to heal and in other commands she seems to be so much happier, as she now knows how to communicate with us and doesn’t get in trouble half as often!
7. Humanising their emotions
Some dogs have very human qualities, they seem to understand us when we speak, and even when we don’t. All of these things can lead us to mistakenly expect our dogs to rationalise their world in the same way we do. It is important to remember when raising and disciplining a dog to see the world from their perspective. For example, if they are barking at the window, they are not going to understand the meaning of “Oh Billy stop it, what are you barking at! What is the matter! Will you be quiet!”. To them, it just sounds like you’re joining in!
You need to give a short sharp correction as the pack leader to stop the behaviour, and only provide, love, conversation and affection when they are being good.
8. Reinforcement of negative behaviour
This one is super close to my heart. It is a totally natural human state to want to protect our family, friends and animals from things that make them fearful or unhappy. In the case of dogs, some examples may include when they show aggression towards a certain person, or are approached by an unfamiliar dog. Your first instinct it to tell them it’s ok, reassure them with a stroke or lift them up out of harms way. However, it is very important to recognise that all of these reactions, while well intended, are actually inhibiting the dog from learning how to cope with stress on their own. By constantly reinforcing the behaviour with positive feedback, you confuse the dog on how to react, and they begin to believe that the antisocial behaviour they are exhibiting is the correct way to react to whatever is happening to them.
9. Creating Negative Associations
It always baffles me to hear of the number of people who say that their dogs hate baths. I would never say my dogs love them (they know that bath time = no more stinky), but they accept that they need to be washed in order to get the love and fuss that is made over them once it is over. Besides, once they are in the water, they love the massage and attention!
All dog owners need to learn how to create positive experiences around this type of thing, or risk breaking their dogs trust. Picking them up in a state of fear and forcing them into the bath will further make it an unpleasant experience, which they then will associate with you.
The same idea can relate to anything, from getting in the car to brushing their fur with a comb. Take it slow, listen to your dogs body language, and allow them to participate in the action, rather than forcing it upon them.
10. Allowing them to play the Protector role
It may seem sweet at first to have your dog stand up for you, but many owners don’t realise until it is too late just how damaging it can be to allow their dog to take over the role of “top dog” and protector of a human family. No matter how loyal or protective your dog is, they simply don’t have the capacity to be the head of a family in the human world, and this inability can ultimately give rise to behavioural problems such as separation anxiety, aggression towards people and dogs, food guarding and so on.
But of course, it is all a learning experience, especially for first time owners. No one is perfect, and I have made many of these mistakes myself in the past. The important thing, in dog ownership and in life, is that you always try to be better than you were yesturday.
How many of these points have you been guilty of? I hope it’s not just me!