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Eight common mistakes pet parents make

From not training pups to handle loud noises to feeding them too much, a first-time pet parent lists the most common errors that dog parents can make

If your dog pulls the leash, never pull back on it, or you could injure them.
If your dog pulls the leash, never pull back on it, or you could injure them. (Unsplash/Andriyko Podilnyk)

Just like raising a human child, raising a dog is a constant process of trial and error. Perhaps, more errors because one is dealing with a different species that, though, loves humans, communicates and behaves differently.

Every time I see my two-year-old Dogo Argentino, the so-called fearless dog, pace the house in a panicked state on hearing sounds of dhols or fire crackers, panting heavily and refusing to eat, I regret not desensitising him to loud sounds when he came home to me and my husband as a four-month-old puppy. We sent him to a professional canine trainer to teach him and ourselves how to handle him. We learnt how to make him follow our sit, stay and wait commands. We socialised him, made sure he has a perfect recall, ensured he didn’t jump on people and so much more. Yet, we missed a few common things, which when taught as a puppy would have been much better. Turns out, most parents make these common mistakes.

1. Not desensitising your dog to loud sounds

This is on top of my list because it’s one of the easiest things to do. To begin with, fill a bottle with stones and give it your puppy to play with. Once he or she is comfortable with it, introduce them to music on television and radio, first at a low volume and then gradually increasing increase it over days. Follow it with getting them used to the sounds of the doorbell, blender, mixer grinder, and most importantly, hairdryer. You will have to use a dryer during heavy monsoon spells to dry your dog’s coat if you want to save them from skin infections.

If you can procure a tabla, dhol, harmonium, drums, please introduce your furry baby to the sounds of these instruments as well. Again, first at low decibels and then gradually increase the volume, all the time rewarding him for getting close to the instrument, sniffing it and eventually learning to relax when these are played. If you don’t have the instruments, you could also try playing these sounds on your television or phone, including the sounds of thunderstorms. Many dogs are scared of that as well. This method may not guarantee that your dog will never be scared of these sounds, but there are good chances that it will work, at least desensitise him to some of the sounds. It’s definitely worth a try. Our dog Khal is comfortable with most of these.

2. Not desensitising your dog to touch

Get in the habit of cleaning your dog, especially their paws after each walk. Clean their ears frequently as well. Apply balms and creams on them and reward them with treats when they let you do that. Many dogs snap at their owners, groomers and vets when these body parts are touched, not letting them examine wounds or cuts or trim nails. The dog must be groomed by you from the very beginning, introduced to an electric nail trimmer and be absolutely okay when you bathe him. If not, you could take him to a salon to be groomed, but whose help will you take when he doesn’t let a vet touch him? 

3. Not hand-feeding your dog

Hand-feeding a dog some of their meals is a good way to bond with them and to get them to love you and to trust you. This also goes a long way in training your dog to listen to you and develop bite inhibitions, so dog parents should hand-feed at least one meal a day till the pet turns six months old. Even today, after 17 months of living with us, I hand-feed my dog one of his meals every day. It’s also the time we reinforce the basic commands he has learnt, and teach him newer tricks to keep his mind stimulated and exercise him.

Also read: The right way to socialise your dog

4. Not setting boundaries

Khal Dogo is not allowed on any of our furniture, the bed or inside the kitchen. He doesn’t steal food from our plates and does not come begging for food for us while we eat, (well, most times) because he was discouraged to do so, and repeatedly, from the very beginning. I have heard many pet parents complain about their dogs scratching their sofas, bed sheets or about being subjected to their farts while they fall sleep on the same bed. If you want none of that, most importantly, if you want to raise a disciplined dog, setting boundaries and being persistent about it being followed is crucial. Don’t be vulnerable. Be firm, for maintaining boundaries is good and will only help when you have guests at home or are in the midst of an important work meeting.

5. Pulling your dog’s leash

This is one of the most common mistakes I see pet parents make. I did it too until Khal’s trainer stopped me. If your dog pulls the leash, you don’t pull it back. They will think it’s a game and will continue doing it. Worse, you could choke them or injure or break their neck. One of the best ways to get a dog to walk well on a leash with you is to correct them with one, strong tug of the leash every time they break the heel position and go off sniffing. That’s how we trained Khal. Of course, you also reward them with treats and positively reinforce the right behaviour.

6. Not giving instant feedback and modulating your voice while training 

If you see me with my dog, you might think I am this crazy woman who is in one instant being extremely stern and yelling ‘No’, in the other instance, very happily praising her dog ‘Yes, good boy,’ and the very next moment asking him to come to her very excitedly. But it works. Dogs are highly tuned into your emotions, hence, you must modulate your voice accordingly. If your ‘no’, ‘yes’ and 'good boy’ all sound the same, the dog may not know the difference and may ignore them all.

Also, dogs have a very short memory, so your feedback on their behaviour must be instant. Say, if they have eaten something off the road, you immediately say ‘leave’ and make them sit as a punishment. But that should last for not more than 30 seconds as the dog won’t remember what they are being punished for after that. The same is true while appreciating any good behaviour.

7. Presuming your dog understands your words

I know of three gentlemen who while introducing their dogs to an unknown dog will repeatedly say, “Friend, friend, friend”. For starters, your dog doesn’t know what friend means. If you don’t want them to pick fight with another dog, distract them with a loud noise, take them away from that dog. But if you want them to become friends with another dog, I am sorry, that’s just not how it works. They are not humans, who will try to strike a conversation with someone on his parent’s insistence.

Also, dogs have limited intelligence and can only grasp a few words in their lifetime, like their commands, and that too, only after a lot of reinforcement. Again, they don’t really understand what these words mean but associate a sound with a particular behaviour expected from them. So, instead of 'come', if you ever suddenly say a new word like aaja, they won’t get it. So, stick to the same words and make the pup’s and your life easier.

8. Not calculating food intake

Obesity is a big problem among dogs, which causes many other complications such as lethargy, joint pains, etc. Please don’t feed your dog however much you think is right and what you think is right. Measure their weight and consult a vet about the right quantity of food to be given and what their ideal weight should be at what age. Also, consult a nutritionist and feed them the right amount of protein, carbs, fibre, etc. Understand what makes for a balanced meal for dogs.

After many trials and errors and bouts of food allergies and diseases, we are now feeding Khal only raw meat and fish along with boiled vegetables, rice, curd, a pinch of turmeric, honey and other oils and ingredients that are good for his health. Please note, that sugar, chocolates and many vegetables, fruits, and even plants are bad for your dogs, and so is dal chawal.

Riddhi Doshi is an independent journalist, a first-time pet parent and a Kathak student.

Also read: Don't ignore your pet's allergies


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