When you think about getting a dog, you most likely imagine the fun and excitement of it. You’ll have a furry companion to snuggle with, a living alarm system to ward off would-be burglars, a playmate — or all three.
But there’s a lot that goes into being a good Pack Leader. A dog is a big responsibility, and ownership means being able to commit a significant amount of time and money. Often it can even require a lifestyle change.
First-time owners who don’t spend enough time learning about what they’re getting into can find themselves in over their heads and make big mistakes.
To keep yourself from falling into this category, here are some of the most common mistakes dog owners make.
Buying from a pet store instead of adopting
Why does it matter if you buy from a pet store instead of adopting? Because dogs that are commercially sold often face extremely poor conditions — buying from those who create these conditions merely serves to reward them for their bad behavior.
Adopting is preferable for a number of reasons. By adopting from a public shelter, you are saving one dog’s life and freeing up space for another dog to get a second chance. When you adopt from a rescue or private shelter, the process is far more rigorous. These organizations want to ensure that dogs are going to the right people, so they will make sure that you are paired with a dog that fits your personality and lifestyle. The other option is to find a reputable breeder.
Not considering the dog’s energy level beforehand
Often, people fall in love with adorable, spunky little pups who seem like a lot of fun… only to later realize that their dog doesn’t have an “off” switch and they just can’t keep up. Alternatively, very active people probably don’t want low-energy or older dogs who won’t be able to keep up with them. It’s important that the new dog’s energy level is the same or lower than yours or your household’s.
Insisting on adopting a puppy
If you plan to adopt a puppy, make sure you do your homework and learn how to raise one properly. Puppies come with many challenges that adult dogs generally don’t, especially if you work with the right organization to find the best adult match for you.
For example, you won’t necessarily know about possible problem behaviors until the pup grows up. And of course, there’s housebreaking. It’s a sad but true fact of life, but most dogs that are abandoned by their owners to shelters are between a year and a year-and-a-half old, which is the point when un-corrected puppy behaviors go from being cute to destructive.
Don’t rule out the idea of adopting an adult dog. Or you may even want to consider a senior, since they can be lower energy, which means they may require less of an abrupt lifestyle change on your part.
Not spaying and neutering
Most people know this by now, but it is vital that you spay or nueter your dog. We have an epidemic of homeless dogs in this country, and the systems we have in place can’t keep up with it. Do your part. Spay or neuter your dog.
Not fulfilling your dog’s needs for exercise, discipline, and affection
Whether your dog is incredibly high-energy or a lump that prefers to lay around, he needs structure to stay balanced. What this means can vary from breed to breed and dog to dog, but you always need to provide exercise, discipline, and affection. And stay consistent. For best results, you should have a schedule for your dog’s meals, work, and playtime — and always take your pup for at least two long walks each day.
Neglecting vet appointments
It’s really easy to skip a vet appointment or two, especially if you’re the type of person who isn’t all that great at taking care of your own health. But going to the vet regularly can be a life or death matter. Otherwise, your dog can miss out on shots that protect her from a variety of diseases and conditions. And regular checkups are also important for catching potential problems before they become too serious.
Skipping obedience training
If you neglect to teach your dog proper obedience, you’re setting yourself up for a world of frustration — and may even increase the likelihood that your dog is put in mortal danger.
How so? Simply put, dogs that haven’t gone through obedience training won’t listen, and they won’t understand what you want from them. This can be a huge problem the third time they chew through your new couch or if their natural inclination when meeting other dogs is to charge over and start barking. The best time to train your dog is when they are younger and more receptive — but don’t forget that old dogs can learn new tricks, too.
Not microchipping the dog
Why microchip? Because dogs can get away from even the most watchful Pack Leader. If your dog is microchipped, whoever finds him can have him quickly scanned to find out exactly where he came from and how to return him to you.
Feeding human food
It may seem harmless to offer your dog scraps from the table or feed him a portion of what you’re eating. But this can cause huge problems.
First off, there are a number of “people foods” that actually make dogs really sick— and in some cases can even kill them. Moreover, it’s not good for dogs to eat many of the spices and other things that we add to our foods. If you are going to give human food to your dog, make sure you do your research and talk to your veterinarian.
Failing to consistently exude calm-assertive energy around the dog
Imagine your dog keeps pulling on the leash when you go for walks, or really likes pooping in the corner of your bedroom. If you’re like a lot of people, your first inclination may be to yell or punish the dog to teach her that she did something wrong.
But when you let your emotions get out of control, it’s a signal to your dog that you might not be the calm, assertive Pack Leader she needs. Not only does this kind of freak-out not teach them what you want, it can cause them to assert themselves even more to replace you as Pack Leader or to look elsewhere for that leadership.