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Your actions greatly impact your dog’s behavior — for better or worse. In fact, it’s possible that you are unknowingly acting in a manner that is hindering your dog’s training success. While you are probably familiar with the more common training mistakes, such as petting your dog when he jumps up while greeting, there are some less obvious mistakes that you might be making. I’ve rounded up five of the most common errors I see pet owners make; be sure to avoid these with your own dog.
1. Failing to deal with your dog's fear of the veterinary office. A study funded by Bayer found that more than 26 percent of dog owners said just thinking about a visit to the vet is stressful, while 37 percent said their dog hates going to the vet. When your dog is stressed or frightened during a vet visit, it can be difficult for the doctor to thoroughly evaluate your dog. Luckily, fear-free veterinary visits are becoming more common as the push for gentler methods has increased. Find a veterinarian who implements fear-free practices into office visits, including force-free nail trims. Frequent friendly vet visits are essential for your pet’s health.
2. Leaving your dog unattended for long periods. Dogs left alone in the backyard for long periods of time have ample opportunity to develop unwanted behaviors, such as barking at passing people and dogs. This can lead to barrier frustration, which can intensify over time and result in territorial behavior and reactively aggressive behavior. Barking is also a self-rewarding behavior, which means that the more your dog is allowed to bark, the more he will bark. Instead of leaving your dog outside alone, supervise him when he’s in your yard. If you need to leave him outside by himself, keep the interval short and provide him with ample activities to keep him busy, such as searching for scattered kibble.
3. Exaggerating greetings and departures. Too often pet owners turn every goodbye into an emotional scene, complete with lingering petting and attention. Dogs are smart; your dog will pick up on your heightened emotion, and this can make your absence more distressing for him. When you return home, you are understandably excited to see your dog again and may greet him with affection, hugs, petting and treats. This process of an emotional goodbye and an intense greeting can exacerbate separation anxiety and increase your dog’s distress at being left alone. To avoid this, keep departures and arrivals low-key. The more relaxed and nonchalant you are when you come and go, the less anxious your dog will be.
4. Letting your dog mouth your hands. I almost never recommend hand wrestling with your dog; the one exception is if you are teaching bite inhibition to a puppy. Playing with your dog in this manner teaches him that it is acceptable to mouth people’s hands. He may also have a hard time distinguishing when it’s playtime and when it’s not or deciphering whom it is OK to play with in this manner. Your dog may also use the mouthing as his default behavior when excited, such as when out on walks. Instead, direct chewing-related play toward a toy by playing fetch or structured tug with your dog.
5. Limiting your dog's social interaction. Your dog’s social skills need continual practice in order for him to learn to communicate well with other dogs. Limited opportunity to greet other friendly dogs on walks and lack of playtime with a variety of friendly dogs can cause unruly on-leash behavior, such as barking and lunging. If your dog is friendly with other canines, allowing him to greet and sniff other friendly dogs on walks and providing social outlets, such as an afternoon at the dog park or a day at doggy day care, encourage continued calm interaction with other dogs.
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