The Top 10 Dog Owner Mistakes

©Scott Sheaffer, USA Dog Behavior

In my private dog training practice I am frequently asked what the most common dog ownership issues are. I’ve prepared a list below of the top 10 that I regularly observe, but, before you read my list, remember there is no such thing as a perfect dog owner – including myself. We are all constantly learning to be better stewards of these magnificent animals.

1) Dominance. We don’t have to “dominate” dogs by filling them with fear and anxiety. We need to be great “pet parents” to our dogs. Good human parents don’t need their children to cower in their presence in order to have well behaved and mentally healthy children. Neither do dogs.

2) Victimization. The moment we hear ourselves say things like, “My dog won’t let me…”, “If I don’t ____ my dog will…” and “The only way I can get my dog to ____ is to…” a red flag should be raised. Dogs aren’t challenging us when they behave like this; they are most likely not experiencing the kind of loving, confident and deliberate leadership that eliminates undesirable behaviors and makes them more at ease.

3) Exercise. Most dogs need a lot more exercise than we think, especially younger dogs and more active breeds. Left to their own devices, most dogs will choose to lie down and sleep (I guess dogs and humans aren’t that different in this area). A minimum of three 20-30 minute intense exercise sessions per week (e.g., running with the owner, energetic ball-throwing, treadmill, etc.) is ideal for a young to middle aged healthy dog in addition to regular walks. This level of exercise helps them physically and mentally. See your veterinarian for exercise guidelines if you have any questions.

4) Overweight Dogs. Since we control the food intake of our dogs, it’s usually easy for us to control our dog’s weight through portion control. Most dogs don’t drive themselves to McDonalds and load up on fast food! We ultimately control their food intake and ergo their weight. Ask your veterinarian for help if your dog is overweight.

5) Inconsistency with Expectations. Dogs want to please us; we make this difficult for them if we are not consistent with our rules, boundaries and limitations.

6) Talking. Simply stated, most of us talk too much to our dogs! We confuse them with long and wordy commands and cues as if they know English. “Sit” used consistently is much more effective than, “Max, if you don’t mind, I need you to move over here and sit down while I cook dinner.” Watch professional dog handlers and you’ll notice they use very few words – if any.

7) Waiting. One of the most powerful concepts we can learn as dog owners is to wait. We need to give our dogs a few seconds to comply with our wishes (i.e., cues or commands). Patience in this area helps your dog learn and improves the dog-owner relationship.

8) Deliberate. Dogs are smart! They know when we don’t know what we’re doing or when we’re not confident. We need to work with our dogs in a confident and deliberate manner. It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean we should be abusive to our dogs in any way. In short, dogs love to follow handlers who are confident and know what they’re doing.

9) Inside versus Outside. Dogs are social animals (that’s why we love them) and need to spend most of their time near their human guardians. When we don’t satisfy this social need, there can be behavioral and health issues that follow. Our dogs need to spend the vast majority of their time with us – inside our homes. Why? Because that’s where human families live and dogs want and need to be part of our families.

10) Breathing/Relaxed Body. Our canine buddies have an uncanny ability to detect when we’re tense. This is a result of their hard-wired prey drive skills. It is absolutely amazing how much better dogs will respond to us when we are relaxed (called a “soft body”) and breathing calmly.