Top 8 Mistakes New Dog Owners Make

Top 8 Mistakes New Dog Owners Make

Movies, books, and pictures that we see on social media depict life with a dog as carefree cuddles and fun games of fetch. But behind every tossed ball or belly scritch there’s a lot of work, especially with a rescue.

For someone who thought they took their time and did enough research, my dog’s first two months home were a LOT more than I was expecting!

There is such a thing as TOO much information. Instead of focusing on solidifying Mina’s basics in an environment that was totally new to her, I tried to do everything I’d researched, all at once, while sheltering her from other things at the same time.

The result was a confused, stressed out dog — with an owner who was equally stressed and overwhelmed, if not more than her.

After purging my brain of too much conflicting information and working with a local, R+ trainer, I went back to the Internet for a reminder on what NOT to do. I found seven of the most common mistakes made by new dog owners... plus an extra dose of reality I picked up along the way.

1. Impulse Adoption

Look, it’s really hard to avoid when you see those soulful eyes staring back at you. But if you aren’t 100% ready to bring a new dog home, then this is where you stop and recalibrate. Choosing to work with shelters who don’t do same-day adoptions can help while you sort out things like:

  • Are you able to spend adequate time on training, exercise, bonding, etc.?
  • Will you be able to handle messes, shedding, or possible behavior problems?
  • Do you have enough room for the dog you’ve got an eye on?
  • Do you have other pets? If so, will they tolerate a new dog (and vice versa)?
  • Can you afford a new dog?

If you feel confident about your answers, then it’s time to do a little research on the dog’s breed or mix of breeds. As I learned more about the Heeler side of my dog, tailoring her exercise and mental enrichment was a LOT easier!

Ginger and white Heeler Mix laying on couch, looking perfectly satisfied.

2. Not Sticking to House Rules

If you have NO intention of letting your dog on your bed or couch, then you MUST stand firm. Allowing your dog to sit with you on the couch in the evening then shouting at them to get down the next day will only cause confusion and anxiety. They may even begin ignoring your instructions.

This gets harder when there are already established pets in the home, or if you and others in the house aren’t on the same page. Take the time to establish house rules for everyone involved, then stick with them!

Who knows — when you and your dog hit a comfortable stride you might change your mind on certain rules. This is fine, as long as you don’t switch it on your dog a couple days later.

3. Inconsistent Training

When you first bring a puppy home, it’s easy to put off obedience training for play, bonding, and the singular task of potty training.  With adult dogs who have their basics down, the assumption is that you won’t need to train them.

Training is key in BOTH cases. The best part is you don’t need to spend huge chunks of the day doing so. If 10 or 15 minutes seems too long for your puppy, drop training sessions down to a few minutes a session, three or four times a day. Often, training sessions can become play for a puppy, so you’re doing two things at once!

Adult dogs might take a little extra work to keep them focused. When transitioning from shelter to a new home, some will even regress in their training. But the cliché became one for a reason: old dogs CAN learn new tricks! If you find that your dog is having trouble with training motivation, take a step back to analyze how you’re handling training sessions. 

4. Unconditional Treats (and Affection)

You raised your brows there, didn’t you? So did I, at first. Dogs crave structure — and they need it more than they need affection, especially when they're new and overwhelmed. This doesn’t mean you can’t give your dog any love or pats in passing. It just means that you should be selective on when you dole out the good stuff!

This is most important in the first couple weeks when they’re just trying to figure out a new house, new people, new patterns, and possibly new animals. By giving out treats and love all the time for no reason, these things will have less effect during any positive training you do as your dog gets more comfortable in their new place.

The balance of structure and affection is a beautiful thing as long as you don’t tip too far to one side or the other!

Ginger and white Heeler Mix outdoors, eagerly waiting for a ball.

5. Not Enough Activity (Physical and Mental)

You’ll need to factor in time for physical exercise, but this doesn’t mean you need to block out hours on end. Depending on your work schedule, this could be 15 to 20 minutes in the morning before you leave, and longer when you come home in the evening. If you’re retired or work from home, you can do shorter time frames more often throughout the day.

Don’t forget about mental stimulation, too! This is a list of brain games I use on rainy days when my dog wants NOTHING to do with outside, and some of them can be tailored so your dog gets a little more exercise inside, too.

And don’t forget — training sessions are interchangeable with a lot of games, too!

6. Limited Socialization

Did you know that you don't have to wait on puppy socialization? Recent studies show that you can socialize your puppy as they move through their immunization series. Aggression and lack of socialization are the top cause of euthanasia in dogs age 3 and under, so please take advantage of your new friend's window of fearlessness! With the right precautions, you can even get them going before their first set of shots.

Invite friends or family over, particularly those who know how to act around dogs. Your new friend doesn’t know to be fearful yet, so the more positive experiences they get right now, the better! When it comes to other dogs or puppies, just make sure they are well-behaved and vaccinated.

Socialization might take longer with adult dogs, particularly shelter rescues. Be patient, keep each situation or interaction warm and positive, and in time your pal will learn that what once caused fear and anxiety now brings about good things — like those treats and affection!

A not-happy ginger and white Heeler Mix standing in vet clinic room.

7. Avoiding Vet Visits

Raise your hand if you’ve ever postponed a routine vet appointment or stalked the Internet for health answers due to finances. Hey, I won’t lie — I’ve done this, too! But the sting of knowing I could’ve helped my dog sooner was worse than that of the vet bill when we finally went in, so I haven’t made the same mistake again.

Dogs are brilliant creatures, and that brilliance includes hiding pain. By scheduling routine checkups with your vet, you’ll have a leg up on catching issues before they get serious.

If you’re avoiding appointments because your dog is still working through fear and anxiety, you’re not alone. A good vet office will let you call ahead to bring fearful or reactive dogs through a back entrance or schedule the visit during slower times.

Source? Yours truly! Mina loves the car and loathes the vet, but our office has been accommodating every time we’ve gone.

8. Putting a Due Date on Results

"The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry."
- Brooks Hatlen; The Shawshank Redemption

We’ve had 24 hours in a day since the dawn of time, but it feels like there’s never enough time in a day to get everything done. I won’t lie: in the beginning, adding a new dog to your home will stretch your time even thinner.

Depending on how much work your dog needs, your stress levels may be pushed to the max.

It’s time to get personal. If I can leave you with one thing as you prepare for life with your new friend, it’s this:

Do NOT pin a due date on your dog’s training!

I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read, videos I’ve watched, even training courses I’ve enrolled in — both online and off. In the span of a six-minute video I’d watch a dog go from highly reactive to perfectly content and focused on walks. The training print-out estimated two weeks before I could move on to the next step with Mina.

Despite knowing these videos are made with well-trained dogs, it ignited unrealistic expectations. When we hit week three without real progress I was frustrated with myself, second-guessed myself as a dog owner... and all logic went out the window.

The truth is that just like people, every dog is different. The dog you grew up with who learned all their basics and socialization quickly, isn’t the same dog you’re about to bring home. Articles, videos, and courses can’t give you an exact time frame because it doesn’t exist.

The more I relaxed on time increments and sessions per day, the easier things got. A schedule and structure are important for a dog so long as you aren’t micromanaging every moment. Any time you start comparing your dog’s progress to another, take a step back.

There’s a reason dogs are so cherished, and why they help humans slow down and enjoy life. Follow these guidelines for the first few weeks, but don’t nit-pick every moment or get discouraged by setbacks. Your dog may open up sooner, or it might take them a little longer.

I promise you — it will be worth it.

Author getting doggie kisses on the cheek by ginger and white Heeler Mix, after a successful walk.

Whether you’ve just brought a new dog home or you’re still considering it, we’d love to hear from you — connecting with our readers is important to us!

[Revised 8/7/2019: puppy socialization update, backed by AVSAB statement. - HG]

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