With a dog in your life, every day is a learning experience. Even well-seasoned dog owners learn new things about pet parenthood from time to time, especially with new discoveries in canine health and behavioral science being made every day.
There’s no single right way to raise a dog, no cookie cutter mold that works for every furry family member. But, there are 3 mistakes that even the most well-meaning dog owners sometimes make.
1. Feeding the Wrong Diet
Despite what the dog food manufacturers would like you to believe, there is no single brand or type of food that works well for every dog. When choosing your dog’s food, it’s important to consider your dog’s age (the needs of puppies are very different from the needs of adult or senior dogs), the dog’s breed (small breeds have much different nutritional needs than large or giant breeds), weight (is your dog already at an appropriate weight? Does he need to lose a few pounds or put a few pounds back on?), activity level (very active dogs, especially those that participate in physically demanding sports or work will have different nutritional needs than couch potato pups) and the dog’s personal preference and tastes.
Although no single pet food brand is right for every dog, some brands are made with better quality ingredients and provide better nutrition than others. When choosing the right food, it may take some time and a bit of experimenting until you find the right fit. A lot of dog owners are shocked by the huge difference in price from one food to the next. When it comes to your dog’s food, you get what you pay for. But remember, a higher quality food is almost always much more nutritionally dense than an inexpensive alternative, meaning it requires feeding a much smaller amount (a 10-pound bag of inexpensive food made with cheap fillers and ingredients may last only a week, while the same size bag of top quality food may last 2 or 3 weeks!).
But proper pet nutrition doesn’t end with finding the right food. It’s also vitally important to feed the right amount. A lot of pet parents have made the decision to “free feed” their dogs, meaning, the food bowl is filled up in the morning and the dog is free to graze as they feel like it. While this method works just fine for many pet parents, it can easily result in over-eating, weight gain, or an inability to properly monitor food intake. If you’re a free-feeder, just be certain to only provide the daily recommended amount of food using a measuring scoop. (Tip: your dog should eat the amount of food recommended for her ideal weight, not her actual weight!)
2. Inadequate Veterinary/Preventative Care
Another common mistake pet parents make is not providing adequate veterinary or preventative care. When our dogs seem perfectly healthy and exhibit no outward symptoms of illness or injury, it’s easy to skip that annual veterinary check-up.
The truth is, veterinarians can often spot potential or developing health issues before any symptoms are visible to us. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and other serious ailments many dogs will face in their lifetimes can almost always be detected early through veterinary exams. In most cases, catching these illnesses early – often before the dog shows any symptoms at all – provides the greatest chance for a cure or a great quality of life.
In addition to regular check ups, preventative care is always a better course of action than treating an illness or disease. Maintaining a healthy weight is arguably the most important step in preventing future life-threatening diseases and painful mobility issues.
Another big mistake pet parents often make is not keeping an appropriately stocked pet first aid kit in the home. Aside from the tools needed to treat cuts and scrapes, a pet first aid kit should include a thermometer (if you don’t know how to take your dog’s temperature, read this guide!), an antihistamine (for quickly treating bug bites and bee stings), and basic first aid supplies.
Additional preventative measures that every pet parent should be taking include trimming nails (untrimmed nails can lead to painful joint problems later in life), cleaning ears (don’t wait until your furkid has an ear infection to pay attention to those velvety soft ears!), and dental hygiene (some veterinarians recommend brushing your dog’s teeth every single day!).
3. Not Providing Enough Physical AND Mental Exercise
A dog that’s provided with enough physical and mental exercise each day is not only more healthy, physically fit, and just has a lot more fun, physical and mental exercise are great for dogs with behavioral and anxiety issues, too. (And, their humans are in better shape, too!)
Veterinarians recommend walking your dog for at least 30 minutes a day. But, if you’re able, and your dog is eager, go longer! To keep walks interesting, try taking different routes – even if you just switch to the opposite side of the street, you’re adding a whole new world of sights and smells to your dog’s routine. If walking your dog around the neighborhood isn’t providing him with enough exercise (remember, some dogs need a lot more exercise than others) consider jogging, biking with a special bike leash attachment, or even a doggy treadmill.
But, don’t forget to provide mental exercise, too. Mental exercises, like treat puzzles, scent games, and obedience and trick training, are another important way to both expend pent up energy and build your dog’s confidence, resulting in a better behaved, happier dog all around.