Some of us adopt dogs when we’re sure we know enough about dog training to handle it, others adopt dogs without knowing much about them at all, but figure they can always learn as they go. Both of the groups have two things in common. One, we all love dogs. Two, we all make mistakes!
Upon adopting Bailey, I made a whole bucket of mistakes! Recently I had some time to reflect on them and figured I would share them with you. If we can all learn from each other we instantly better ourselves as dog parents. Which mistakes did you make as a fresh dog parent? Comment below! Here are my top 5:
1. Leaving Them Alone Unattended Too Soon
Oh goodness, what a stupid thing that was. Here’s a list of everything Bailey ruined when I left her alone without any boundaries in the first months of her life:
- Chewed up keyboard #1
- And keyboard #2
- She peed on my bed
- Chewed up her entire doggy bed
- Emptied the contents of my favorite plushy toy called Simba
- TWICE (can you tell how I didn’t learn from mistakes at the time?)
- Destroyed and ate any paper she could get her snout on; notebooks, tissues etc.
- I think we’ll leave it at that. 😉
So, what should I have done instead? Well for starters, I shouldn’t have just left her alone without any boundaries! This time around, with Chilly, I took a different approach. He has a crate if he has to be alone, but if I know that I will be away for a longer stretch of time, I ask a family member to babysit Chilly. Lucky for him, because he gets a ton of cuddles! 😉
2. Not Setting Boundaries
What I’ve described under #1 can already tell you this much huh? But it went beyond just leaving Bailey unattended when she was alone. She didn’t have much boundaries to begin with. She was allowed everywhere. I’m not saying your dog should’t be, but you should think ahead and really consider what works for you. For example, Bailey sleeps on the bed with me every single night and it works for us. But when I am working, I need her to leave me alone. When she was a puppy I always had her in my lap if I was studying or was on the computer. But as she grew and as I began to realize that she is already co-dependent enough as it is, this became a problem for us. It was hard to teach her to rest on her doggy bed instead, but with consistent work and positive reinforcement, we managed.
To repeat, set boundaries from the first day forward! If you don’t want your dog to be begging for food then don’t let them get away with it just because they are a fluffy little puppy. Set a clear boundary that says when we are eating, you are in your crate with a kong. Apply this logic to any boundary you want to set, but if you need some additional help either comment below or hop on my email list where you’ll get my unlimited support.
3. Listening To Other People
*SIGH* This is a big one. I know, I fully understand, that people mean well and just want to help. Especially family and friends. They will say things like:
“I’ve had dogs before, let me tell you what you have to do.”
“I saw it on TV, that trainer handled the dog in such a way and it worked.”
“I read last week that if your dog does this, then you should do that.”
“Are you sure you’re not being too strict?”
“I think you’re taking it too easy on the dog!”
I’m not saying that some of the advice you will get won’t be useful; depends on who it comes from. But in my own personal case the advice came from people who didn’t know the concept of positive reinforcement. It came from people who never set up their dog for success, but rather allowed them to make mistakes and then kept getting upset with them. It came from people who were still thinking within the concept of having to be the “dominant alpha.” And, naturally, some advice came from people who never had dogs at all.
Most of the advice I ignored. I always felt very passionately about how I’m willing to raise my dog. But sometimes they got to me. Sometimes I raised my voice at Bailey in times of her greatest fears, because that’s what I was told to do. Sometimes I ignored her when she needed me most, because I felt so incompetent I listened to other incompetent people. Listen, I love those people dearly. They are friends and family. But they don’t know anything about positive reinforcement or rescue dogs. It all comes down to this:
Stay true to your philosophy. The force-free philosophy. The philosophy that is kind to your dog but indeed includes boundaries. It includes hard work, one that people might not understand. Nonetheless, stay true to it. And only take advice from people who have experiences with positive reinforcement. I don’t care if your dog always listens to you; I care about whether he feels safe within your relationship. Big difference.
Bailey and me, last year. Out in the open space where she can enjoy without any triggers.
4. Pushing Them Too Much
Guilty as charged. You get a puppy and you have all of these ideas and plans of what you will be doing with them! Tricks and hiking and socializing and vacations and pet stores and dog events and playtime and if they are traumatized like Bailey there’s also a whole repertoire of fears to conquer. Can you see how it could all get too much for your dog?
I used to push Bailey pretty hard. I was obsessed with helping her overcome all of her fears. As we started to make progress on one of them, I immediately jumped onto the other. Out of all mistakes that I have ever made this was perhaps the biggest one. Why? Because it took me the longest to realize it. It wasn’t until I took her to some winter activities with a big group of other dogs – to “socialize” her – where she completely gave up on me and everything we had built together went out the window, (I’m talking her being the only one out of probably 20 dogs, who didn’t want to participate in anything and was barking hysterically at everything because there were too many dogs for her to handle), that I realized shit, I really messed up!
It wasn’t an easy realization. I felt so embarrassed and helpless. But what could I do? We went home and started to take it easy from that day forward. The result? A MUCH happier dog! I urge you to take it easy, even if you have a mentally stable dog. Puppies can easily be overworked, old dogs as well. Keep their wellbeing first and your own agenda second!
5. Not Investing Into Education From Day 1
Admittedly, I didn’t know anyone in my area who would be using positive reinforcement or train traumatized dogs with kindness. But that’s no excuse. Looking back, I know that I could have hopped online and did my research. I didn’t. I don’t see why not, but that was a huge mistake. I had Bailey for a year, A WHOLE YEAR, before I stated to seriously educate myself. Now I am absolutely obsessed with acquiring new knowledge from a handful of dog trainers that I really trust and fellow positive-training dog parents. Constantly collecting new knowledge makes me a better dog mom and also a better human. I keep learning new things about how amazing positive reinforcement is and what it can do for me and my pack. Before I adopted Chilly I spent months doing my research and even once I had him, when the first problems had arisen with his herding instinct, I found people who can help me with it.
Don’t be afraid to invest into your dog training education. It is absolutely necessary, as well as being willing to keep on learning. The only thing you have to be mindful of is that you learn from people who only use positive reinforcement and are familiar with the fact that the dominance theory has been scientifically disproven.
Well darlings, these were my top 5 mistakes. What do you say? Which mistakes did YOU make and more importantly, what have you done since to fix them? Let’s chat below!