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Do’s and Don’ts for Dog Owners: Lessons Learned the Hard Way

        
          

As a dog owner, I look back to my childhood in horror and cannot believe what awful dog owners my parents were.  I know that sounds harsh, but the level of pet-parenting dogs receive today is vastly different than it was 20 – 30 years ago. 

Today I am what might be called an over-protective pet parent, but I am probably this way due to years of learning from my parents’ mistakes.  Here are my top do’s and don’ts for dog owners, gathered from my own experiences growing up.

Don’t Assume All Dog Breeds are the Same

Before I was born, my parents had only ever owned purebred cocker spaniels.  Until I had a spaniel of my own, I never understood why my parents thought dogs didn’t need training or exercise [note:  I do not recommend not training or not exercising a spaniel; rather, some dog breeds just happen to be easier than others!].  Then, when I was young, they brought home a cocker spaniel/Alaskan Malamute mix.  Their thought process:  this dog is half cocker, so he must be the same as the purebred ones, right?

Wrong!  Smokey was a great, loving, fantastic dog for my immediate family.  However, he was also fiercely protective, required training and exercise, and had a bite record.  To my parents’ dismay, not all dogs behave like cocker spaniels!

What we should have done:  Instead of assuming all dogs are the same, we should have done our research.  Even though the internet wasn’t as prevalent at the time, a quick trip to the library would have educated us that different dog breeds have different requirements. 

We have dog profiles on many dogs, find a dog that is right for you here.

Do Exercise Your Dog

I grew up in an era where exercise wasn’t as important as it is today, either for dogs or humans.  In our home, the most exercise our dogs received was while running to the end of the tie-out chain in the yard to chase after a squirrel.  As a result, our dogs were over-protective, aggressive, and overweight. 

What we should have done:  Even a short, daily walk every day would have prevented or alleviated many of the aggression and weight problems.  While lack-of-exercise was the norm 20 years ago, today it is irresponsible to have a dog you are not committed to exercise. 

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Don’t Trust a Tie-Out

My parents never had a fenced-in yard.  As a result, our dogs were tied up to a tie-out whenever they were outside, and we would bring them in as soon as they started barking (our neighbors must have loved us).  On multiple occasions, the tie-outs broke.  In one instance, our dog ran into the neighbor’s yard and bit their dog (who was also on a tie-out).  The bite-wound became infected and my parents were stuck with a hefty veterinary bill.

On another occasion, my mom had let our senior dog outside on a very cold winter night.  She realized he had been outside for a while and when she went to check on him, she noticed the tie-out had broken.  He was 12 years old and very arthritic.  We searched for him to no avail and knew there was no way he would survive the night.  Miraculously, someone found him and took him in for the night, which leads me to my next “do”:

An underground dog fence is a much better choice in most cases.

Do Put Contact Information on Your Dog’s Collar

Above personalized dog tag can be found here

When the woman found our dog, he did not have contact information on his collar.  Instead, he was only wearing a rabies tag.  If contact info had been present, the finder could have called us that night.  Instead, he stayed at her house until she could call our vet in the morning, who was able to provide our information based on his rabies number.  Microchips were not popular at the time, so this tag was the only link he had to his family.  Had he lost his collar, we might have never found him.  The 36 hours he was gone were among the worst in my life. 

What we should have done:  Every dog should have a collar with tags that provide the owner’s phone number.  Some people contend that putting a dog’s name on its collar is a bad idea, because it can make the dog easier to steal.  Additionally, adding a phrase like “reward if found” or “requires medication” may improve the chances of a dog being returned. 

All dogs should also be microchipped.  A microchip is implanted near a dog’s shoulder blade and contains all the owner’s contact information.  A microchip is invaluable should a dog ever be stolen, and only costs $20 – $30. 

Amazon has a wide range of personalized dog tags that can be found here. Chips can be inserted at any vet.

Don’t Feed Table Scraps

Growing up, my dog ate everything I ate:  ice cream, spaghetti, grapes (note: grapes can be toxic to dog), cookies, etc.  One night, when my dog was 7 or 8 years old, he developed a terrible wheezing cough.  My mom feared he had developed heartworm, and we took him to the vet.  Fortunately, he was heartworm-negative.  Unfortunately, the vet told us that our dog was nearly 30 lbs overweight.  The cough he developed was due to fat encasing his heart and lungs. 

What we should have done:  The easiest way to keep a dog from begging for food is to not feed table scraps in the first place.  Commit to having everyone in your family follow this rule.  If you must feed your dog table scraps, do so away from the table so that your dog does not beg during meal times.

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Do Socialize Your Dog

Socialization is a necessary part of dog ownership.  This crucial step involves introducing your dog to new experiences, people, animals, etc. from a young age.  The goal of socialization is to help your dog better cope with stress and fear, since a common reaction to stress for dogs is to lash out aggressively.

Twenty years ago, my family knew nothing about socialization.  As a result, our dogs rarely left the house and were aggressive and overly-protective. 

What we should have done:  Since we adopted all of our dogs as puppies, socialization would have been very easy for us.  We should have taken our dogs for walks, to dog-friendly areas, and on car rides. 

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Don’t Leave Dogs Alone with Children

My childhood dog was the epitome of a nanny dog.  He protected me, played with me, and could be trusted with me.  I wasn’t the problem; other children were the issue.  My parents trusted my dog with me to a fault.  One day, when I was 5, a neighborhood boy tried to hit me.  The result was my dog biting his lip and leaving him with 10 stitches.  We were fortunate that – at that time – dog bites weren’t taken as seriously as they are today, and no charges were filed.  From then on, my parents never allowed our dog around anyone other than family members (which likely only made his aggression worse!). 

What we should have done:  If children were going to be rough-housing, my parents should have been more vigilant or placed him in a crate or other safe location.  After the bite, we should have hired a professional trainer to assess his aggression.

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Do Dog-Proof Your House

Over the miraculous 14 years my childhood Cocker/Malamute mix lived, he ate/destroyed many items.  Items that my dog consumed included:

  • Digitalis (heart medication)
  • A whole, raw chicken (bones and all)
  • 10 lbs of German chocolate
  • A popsicle (stick and all)
  • Hemp jewely cord
  • A thumbtack
  • Multiple $20 bills (stolen from guests)
  • Countless meals, leftovers, and baked goods
  • Garbage

The fact that my dog survived all these occurrences never ceases to amaze me.  The only incident that required a veterinary visit was the hemp, which caused him severe sedation.  Not even the chocolate caused him any GI distress.  Fun fact:  if your dog chews money you can return it for a replacement to the bank, so long as the serial number is visible! 

What we should have done:  After the first few stolen items, we should have learned to dog-proof our house.  There are many solutions for dogs that eat and steal items, such as child-proof locks and better training.

Resources

Do Introduce New Dogs Wiseley

My parents never owned two dogs at once until my Grandpa passed away, leaving behind a schnauzer.  We knew nothing about how to introduce two dogs, so, we simply plopped the schnauzer down in the kitchen with our dog one day and expected them to be best friends.  When the dogs didn’t get along immediately, we scolded them.  We truly had no idea this wasn’t the right course of action.  Eventually they tolerated each other’s presence, but we certainly could have handled this situation better.

What we Should Have Done:  Dog introductions can be very tricky, especially when introducing an unfamiliar dog in another dog’s home. 

The first step is to find a neutral location, such as a quiet park.  If introducing off-leash is not an option, dogs should be introduced side-by-side, allowing one another a turn at sniffing the other dog’s butt.  Face-to-face interactions while leashed should be avoided.  Spend time walking together, providing plenty of positive reinforcement to both dogs.  Repeat the introduction in the same way on less-neutral territory, such as in one of the dogs’ yards.  The final step is to perform the introduction in the home. 

If the introduction does not go smoothly the first time, do not give up.  Sometimes dogs (like people) require time to warm up to one another.  During this process the crate-and-rotate method can be employed, or dogs can be leashed while in the house. 

Resources 

Ultimately, my experience should show that dogs are extremely resilient creatures.  Even though my family was well-intentioned, we did a lot of things incorrectly.  Do not fret if you are not a perfect dog owner.  Instead, identify areas of improvement and make small changes.  We can do better for pets to create a happier and healthier environmen

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Anna Weber

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