A good start can add years to your dog’s life
When I started writing this article, I thought about listing the 10 most common mistakes dog lovers make with puppies. My list turned into 30 or 40 points and I realized this article will be the starting point of many more conversations, whether it is in these pages or online.
Hip dysplasia, vaccinosis, too many prescriptions drugs, poor bone growth, chronic diarrhea, cruciate ligament tears, obesity, epilepsy, organ failure, autoimmune disease, cancer and premature loss are often the outcomes of well-intended deeds and poor advice that people get about puppy care.
I hope the following 10 points serve as a springboard and inspire you to go deeper in your learning. Your actions will make a huge, positive difference in the life of the dog you love. Enjoy!
MISTAKE #1: GETTING THE WRONG DOG
We live in times when almost anything can be returned. This has led to certain behaviors when it comes to getting a dog. People see a dog and don’t think about how much food a dog needs, what climate their coat and body can handle, what diseases the breed is predisposed to, how much they bark and how they connect with their people.
Some dog lovers go through a harsh awakening when the food bill for their Great Dane is more than their own or they have to wear earplugs night and day because their dog barks like crazy.
A border collie is not a good match for a couch potato, a Chihuahua is not a great avalanche rescue dog, a Chow Chow is not likely to be tolerant of kids and an Alaskan malamute is not exactly a dog for Hawaii.
Research breeds before you get your puppy. With some exceptions, most dogs come with reliable breed characteristics, which makes it easier to match your dog’s traits to your needs and situation.
MISTAKE #2: GETTING A PUPPY FROM THE WRONG PLACE
Most people are aware that puppy mills are some of the worst, torturous places for dogs. Many who buy a dog from a pet store or puppy mill say “they just wanted to rescue the poor puppy” but that only supports the puppy mill machine. The only time you should adopt a puppy mill dog is after a crackdown by local authorities.
Puppy mill purchasers only contribute to the misery of many canine generations. Puppy mill operators often advertise themselves as reputable breeders. That makes it increasingly important to check the puppy’s home and ensure you have not fallen for false advertising.
Ideally, adopt from a reputable registered rescue organization that aligns with your beliefs and values. Find a breed-specific rescue if you have your heart set on a particular breed.
MISTAKE #3: KNOW-IT-ALL SYNDROME
Just recently I visited a friend who fostered two puppies. I saw her boyfriend spanking the puppy because it was chewing on his hand and I knew the situation was tricky. If I let him continue the spanking, I would be letting the poor puppy down.
So as gently as I could, I suggested placing a toy or a bone in the puppy’s mouth or putting him in a crate for a moment would be effective without the spanking.
“I know how to raise dogs!” my friend replied. “My parents had dogs and we always spanked them and they turned out alright!”
In fact, dogs are not okay when they are physically punished. A dog is much better behaved and happier when we reinforce good behavior and prevent or ignore negative behavior, when it’s safe to do so.
MISTAKE #4: EXCESSIVE USE OF THE WORD NO
Imagine you’re in a restaurant with a friend and you’d like to excuse yourself from the table for a minute to say hi to a person you know. Your friend looks at you and loudly says NO!
Or you want to watch your favorite TV show and your partner, who has a different idea in mind, yells NO at you!
The truth is that the word NO in a commanding tone makes most people feel uncomfortable, irritated or downright angry. It lacks respect and makes you feel negative.
Dogs are no different, except they can’t tell a person to treat them kindly. Their only defense is to ignore the word if it is used frequently or get as far away as possible.
I remember the words of my behaviorist friend who advised me to treat my dog the way I’d like to be treated. Kindness and patience generate trust, while dominance and use of force creates resistance, fear or even aggression.
A good example is a situation when a dog is jumping up on people. Yelling “Fido NO!” usually creates tension. Contain your dog calmly, using a neutral tone of voice. Put training of difficult tasks aside for later in a setting with minimal distraction or with the help of a positively-minded behaviorist or trainer.
MISTAKE #5: CHOOSING THE WRONG VETERINARIAN
It’s my experience that most of my colleagues are sincere and are there for their patients and clients. However, some veterinarians are unable to separate their responsibility and duty from the idea of financial gains or losses in their practice.
There are several reasons why this happens. One is that it’s extremely hard to run a profitable practice without the sales of drugs, vaccines, surgery and kibble.
Another reason is veterinarians are educated by drug and pet food companies and their reps, who frequently visit clinics to teach the staff how to push their products.
It takes maturity and integrity to talk a client out of a $1,000 procedure when there’s a $50 solution.
Before you choose a new vet, read their website, check online reviews and talk to local dog lovers. If you see a lot of negative reviews about your vet, it may be a sign you should go elsewhere. You can also read this blog for more tips on how to find the best veterinarian for you and your dog.
MISTAKE #6: FEEDING PROCESSED FOOD
I regularly talk to other dog lovers in dog parks and on beaches and I often hear them say they feed ‘natural kibble.’
It’s true some pet foods are made from better than average ingredients, but there are several issues with processed food that may make you rethink your puppy’s diet.
Dry foods like kibble or dehydrated foods put stress on your dog’s kidneys because they draw water from the body and may cause a state of dehydration. The fat in processed food can turn rancid fast and it’s common for pet food to sit in a store or warehouse for several months before it’s sold.
Often I see the numbers don’t add up when I compare the per pound price of quality meat and the price of processed dog food and factor in the weight lost from dehydration.
And even if your dog’s food is made with the best ingredients available, how would you like to eat the same dry food every day? Perhaps every dog lover who feeds kibble should try eating uncooked, dehydrated camp food for a weekend!
Canned food is heated to high temperatures, which makes it less nutritious.
COMMON MISTAKE #7: EXERCISING TOO LITTLE OR TOO MUCH
Frequently, people exercise their dog too much because they worry about them becoming bored and weak. Or they don’t exercise them at all because they worry their puppy will get hurt.
As with most things in life, the truth is somewhere in between. When it comes to exercise, we should try to get as close to the natural lifestyle of dogs (and wolves) as possible. Ample play and socialization in a safe environment with dogs about the same size and age is ideal. If there is a discrepancy in size and age, rough play or injuries and fights can be very traumatic for your puppy and can be the start of reactivity and fear aggression.
Ball throwing and too much sprinting, slipping and sliding causes injuries. It’s not natural for dogs to go back and forth for 15 or even 30 minutes. Dogs should mainly play, trot and run but sprint only very briefly here and there.
Walking and hiking are okay but introduce them gradually and use common sense with young puppies. Play and walking are more appropriate activities.
If you use a daycare facility while you’re at work, stay with your dog a few minutes the first few times to see how they interact and if they enjoy being there. I remember putting my dog Skai in a daycare once when he was a puppy. I will never forget his look when I came back. It was simply too much for him.
He also ran away from a dog walker twice because the group was too rowdy. He ended up at the nearest house where he was looked after until we found him.
The truth is that dogs are like people. Some enjoy larger groups and others do better with fewer dogs. It’s important to respect your puppy’s comfort zone to keep them safe.
MISTAKE #8: USING THE WRONG RESTRAINT
I see many people demand their youngster heel on leash right away. Puppies need to develop and evolve mentally to be able to grasp this challenge – similar to a two-year-old needing to grow up a little before learning to read.
The natural tendency of dogs is to pull. If you use a collar, the probability is high your puppy will sustain a neck injury or thyroid gland trauma. Plus, such injuries are often missed and untreated.
The neck is vital to your dog’s health. It governs the function of many internal organs and conducts nerves and arteries to the body, head and brain.
To keep your puppy safe, use a front-clip harness. Even if your puppy doesn’t usually pull on the leash, there are times when she’ll pull because she sees a friend, another dog or wants to sniff or chase a squirrel.
I recommend never attaching a leash to your puppy’s collar and never use choke, prong or shock collars on your dog to avoid serious medical problems.
MISTAKE #9: USING A RETRACTABLE LEASH
Many people love retractable leashes because they give their dog more freedom to move. However, this comes with a hefty price. In order for a dog to move, it has to pull on the spring-loaded leash, which creates pressure on the neck.
A dog wearing a collar puts an unnatural degree of stress on the neck, shoulders and torso so wearing a harness with a non-retractable, shock-absorbing leash is the best.
But that’s not all. When a dog gets to the end of the retractable leash or when the leash brake is applied, it creates an extra strong jerk that can cause even more serious damage to the thyroid gland, blood vessels and nerves. One of the most common problems related to such injuries is paw licking. Dogs lick their paws because the nerves coming from the neck to the feet are pinched or injured, which causes abnormal sensation and then licking.
MISTAKE #10: LACK OF BOUNDARIES AND SOCIALIZATION
I kept this topic for last because if you ensure clear and loving boundaries, living with a dog can be the most rewarding life experience. If you don’t, your dog may turn into a little hell on wheels.
Obedience is a sensitive topic, but here are a few pointers that make a big difference:
- Socialize your puppy with other dogs as soon as the titer test comes back confirming antibodies (immunity) against distemper and parvovirus.
- Don’t take your puppy to a busy dog park until she’s more mature to avoid getting traumatized by rowdy dogs.
- Teach your dog how to stay put in an emergency in street traffic where you need to maintain control.
- Never scold your dog if they do something wrong, especially when they come back to you. This may create fear and hesitation next time.
- Don’t let your dog beg or give her food when you’re eating at the table. As soon as you reward your dog for begging, the habit is hard to shake and your dog will be unhappy and confused. It can also be difficult if you have visitors for dinner. I see strict table manners as an act of kindness and love, not the opposite. Dogs also love clear boundaries.
- If you call your dog and she doesn’t come, use the cue “wait” and go and pick up your puppy. Repeated calls will make recall inefficient and put your dog in danger. Personally, I recommend using healthy treats to reward your puppy for good behavior.
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM