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Top 5 Common Pet Owner Mistakes

Pets Aren't Always Fun and Games

By Jessica Vogelsang, DVM


Pets can present a variety of challenges, even to the best prepared of owners. Here are our picks for the 5 common pet owner mistakes that may be making your life challenging. Let us know if anything sounds familiar?

1. 'He’s Not Fat, He’s Big Boned'

Actually, he probably is overweight or obese, along with more than half of pets in American households. Because the majority of dogs and cats are packing on extra pounds these days, our minds are fooled into thinking this is normal. Your veterinarian can assess your pet with an objective tool such as the Healthy Weight Protocol to give you an accurate idea of what your pet’s weight should be, as well as a specific diet plan to get you to that healthy goal.

2. 'I Only Go to the Vet When My Pet is Sick'

Animals are tremendous masters of disguise; they don’t want to inconvenience us by letting us know they feel poorly. Usually by the time owners notice signs of illness, a pet has been sick for quite some time. Annual preventive care exams at the veterinarian allow you to catch diseases like arthritis and renal disease much earlier in the process, saving you money, and your pet pain and stress.

3. 'The Store Employee Told Me to Change Pet Food'

Choosing a pet food can be confusing. Meanwhile, the person at the pet food store, convincing as they may be, doesn’t know your pet’s medical history the way your vet does. If your veterinarian recommends a specific diet for your pet, there’s usually an excellent reason. Diet plays a key role in your pet’s health, so make sure to include their number one health advocate in that decision.

4. 'Don't Be Scared; Give Him a Cookie'

When a pet is exhibiting a fearful behavior, such as growling or snapping, it can be tempting to try and calm them down with attention. But rewarding a fearful pet with hugs and consolation can actually worsen the behavior by reinforcing it. If this behavior worsens over time, a pet might actually wind up in a shelter, and aggressive pets have lower chances of being adopted. If your pet shows any signs of fear or aggression, talk to a certified trainer, your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist ASAP!

5. 'My Dog Doesn’t Need a Leash, He's Trained'

It’s important to be a good dog ambassador by obeying local dog ordinances about leashes and cleaning up after your pup. If you live in an area where leashes are required by law, you should obey that law without fail. Many people — and even some dogs — are frightened of other dogs, and they can be very distressed by being approached by any canine. Many cities and towns have designated areas where dogs can run off leash, so if your dog is feeling the call of the wild, find a dog park and let loose.

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Comments  8

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  • Fear #4
    01/27/2013 06:19pm

    As a certified trainer, I remind you that fear is an emotion, NOT a behavior. As such it can not be reinforced. If a dog is showing fearful or aggressive behavior, get him/her out of that situation ASAP! Making your dog comfortable and keeping them out of stressful situations is the best solution. Build a trusting relationship with your dog and show them that they don't need to react to scary things, because YOU, the human will manage it for them.

  • Fear #4
    01/27/2013 09:15pm

    I think you need to revise your statement for: 4. 'Don't Be Scared; Give Him a Cookie'. Some readers may think you are advocating punishing the behaviour as you suggest attempting to calm down an anxious, fearful dog with attention or food will reinforce the behaviour.
    By offering a really high value food reward we are attempting to change the underlying emotion which is generally fear and anxiety. We may or may not be successful but we will not be reinforcing the emotion. The dog needs to be calmly taken out of the situation.
    If the growling dog is punished we may inhibit the behaviour but we have not changed the underlying emotion, in fact we have made the matter worse for the dog. The next time the dog is in a similar situation it may well indeed think this is a scary and dangerous situation. It may inhibit some of its warning signs and we have made it more likely to be relinquished or destroyed.

  • 01/28/2013 09:42am

    If a dog is afraid of something, and you do something to counter their emotional state, that's called counter conditioning. If a dog is food motivated and actually enjoys hugs and you give these when your dog becomes fearful of something, you're countering the fear, not reinforcing it.

    Insisting that your dog has to just deal with what they're fearful of with nothing to change their fear, or punishing them for being fearful, however, DOES reinforce fear.

    Question #4 needs to be altered to take this into account.

  • #5 - Off-leash
    02/21/2013 05:53pm

    I disagree with the wording of #5. Many places don't have leash laws. But, even in places that do not require leash, like dogs parks, off-leash dogs can be a problem. Dogs often disregard commands while off-leash. The owners are often overly confident in their dog's training or become too complacent to keep their dogs under control. Off-leash dogs may approach other dogs in an overly aggressive manner, even if play is the intent, and end up getting into fights or biting someone. Off-leash dogs can be startled and run away. They are also more easily stolen if they get out of their owners' sight.

    Keeping your dog leashed in public space can prevent injuries (to your dog, other dogs, and people), loss of your pet, and even lawsuits.

  • Off leash
    03/31/2013 08:40pm

    OH can I tell you how often I am out walking and people CANNOT keep their dogs on their own property!!! I have had to STOP walking mine because NO matter which direction we walk people feel they don't need to restrain their dog(s)... I walk 2-4 at a time. WHAT do you think could happen to that dog that comes charging at us?? MY dogs are supposed to stand between me and a threat. I am partially disabled and have been ON the ground holding mine- preventing them from ELIMINATING the threat while their owners often 2-3 of them CANNOT control one. I also carry an extra leash when walking. One time I even threw the extra leash to them it was AT least another 10-15 minutes before they could collect their dog and DRAG it into the house. The entire time I am on the ground in the road holding mine. The dog charged us across the road. The first comment was well no wonder look what you are walking! Really yes look at what I am walking. The fact that I am STILL in control of mine and have NOT allowed them to KILL yours... Instead of insults maybe a thank you would be more in order. ANYONE would be JUSTIFIED in shooting a dog OFF property with repeated charges such as what we have endured. I have well bred Boxers & rescue Pitties! :)

  • vets & diets
    03/31/2013 08:46pm

    Vets have little to no nutritional training. The best you can do for your kritters WHATEVER kind is research species appropriate diets & feed them accordingly. Example my goats are total vegans so they get NO animals products at all. My chickens are omnivores they are little vultures and will eat ANYTHING- they will even eat mice if they can catch them. My K9s are carnivores and as such their main staple is meat. They do enjoy some grass & greens. Peace & blessings!!

  • fear
    04/25/2013 07:01pm

    Comments 1-3 demonstrate why the author advises to seek help for a fearful dog from a veterinarian or behaviorist. These three comments are by people who don't know what they are talking about and have even incorrectly interpreted the author's comment.

    Owners of dogs that show any type of aggression should consult with a VETERINARY BEHAVIORIST, not a "trainer" or "behaviorist". You have no idea of the qualifications of people who call themselves trainers and behaviorists, but you do know the qualifications of veterinary behaviorists. It is a board certified specialty and you can look it up to see what these people have done to become board certified. Anyone can call him or herself a trainer and behaviorist.

    And it is important to know that aggression is a general term, like heart disease. It doesn't tell you what kind of aggression the pet is exhibiting, or the proper treatment or management. There are different types of aggression and each type has its own appropriate therapy and/or management strategies. It is not a one-size-fits-all situation. It takes a trained specialist to correctly identify the type, determine appropriate therapy, and determine the most likely prognosis.

  • Two comments
    05/22/2013 09:15am

    I would like to answer Ruby Fifer here:
    Where did you get that veterinarians have no nutritional training? In my school we have a year of lectures and practical trainings dedicated to it, of which one semester is for cats and dogs! It is such an important part of animal's health, I can't believe other schools would be different. Furthermore, we learn how to compare food ingredient lists on commercial feeds, how to make home diets, about BARF, how to adapt it to each dogs needs and/or diseases. How to figure out if the dog could have a possible deficiency of vitamins. How to monitor the protein intake for older dogs with weaker kidneys. Calculate how much fat, protein or carbohydrates a particular dog/cat needs. To test for possible food allergies. I am surprised you would think veterinarians do not know about this! If your vet doesn't, please change vet!

    Also on a side-note, I agree with other comments about #Fear. Actually I would try to get the dog used to the situation causing stress or feel, but very slowly. Let's say the dog is scared of the vacuum cleaner, I would start off with an turned off vacuum and be sure the dog is fine around that. Then turn it on but with the dog far away from it and reward for calm, happy or curious/uninterested behavior (I know these are opposites but both are fine). Then get closer as long as the dog is ok, and do this in fun sessions. The more situations a dog is comfortable with, the more he will be trustworthy everywhere. And yes, it would include giving him a cookie so he would make a positive association with the situation.
    Now every dog, every stimulus and every situation is different, I picked an "easy" one for my example. Seeking help is always advisable if the owner doesn't know what to do, or if the owner is struggling with remaining calm, patient.