When I reflect on my (relatively short) time spent raising a dog, I am frequently aghast by the rookie mistakes I’ve made. And yet remembering these mistakes helps me to be more gracious with myself — and with other novice dog owners.
It’s going to be hard to admit some of these things to you, but I’m always encouraged by the honesty of other dog bloggers, who are willing to fess up and share what they’ve learned. So, here it goes.
7 Mistakes I’ve Made in Dog Raising
- Trying to bathe Pyrrha with a garden hose… on a choke collar. So many mistakes here. First, we’d only had her a week. She smelled so badly, though, that I was desperate to bathe her, despite the fact that I knew little about her personality (except that she was scared all the time). Second, choke collar. OMG. What was wrong with me?? I don’t know why I thought that was a good idea. Third, garden hose. She was terrified; she was screaming like she had been mortally wounded. Poor Pyr almost strangled herself trying to get away. I stopped the bath immediately, took a soaking wet Pyrrha into the house, and then cried on the kitchen floor. Not my best dog-rearing day.
- Taking Pyrrha to a busy outdoor brewery the third night we had her. Knowing so little about Pyrrha’s level of anxiety, I thought she’d just “get over it” and took her to a brew pub with Guion and my in-laws. She saw a bunch of kids and a roly-poly lab puppy on a leash and was petrified. Tail totally tucked under her body, ears flat back, growling. Oh, it was horrible. And such a bad idea.
- Using a prong collar on Brando. Brando was our first foster, and he weighed nearly 100 lbs., and was all frantic strength and muscle. This dog was a sweetheart, but a wild one. I could not walk him at all, and so, at the rescue’s advice, we bought a prong collar for him. I had no idea how to use it, never having used one before, and it certainly made him stop pulling, but did it teach him anything — except that people and other dogs on walks were causing an unpleasant pinching? Nope.
- Not trusting my instincts on dog body language. The worst example of this was when our foster Rainer met a potential adopter’s dog. The woman’s male German shepherd came onto our yard with immediately aggressive behavior (head down, hard stare, slow predatory walk) directed at Rainer. This made me really uncomfortable. She said, “Oh, it’s OK! He does this all the time. It’s herding behavior.” Instead of listening to my gut and telling her to go away, I let the dogs meet, and Rainer straight up tried to kill her dog. Worst day. (Everyone survived, a few stitches later, but it was such a bad day.) The positive outcome? That incident made me super-vigilant about observing dog body language and trusting my gut with dog–dog interactions.
- Not taking Pyrrha’s on-leash reactivity seriously when it first showed up. It is still unusual to me that she didn’t start reactive behavior until we started fostering, but I wasn’t interpreting the behavior correctly or doing anything to help her. I wish I had taken action sooner.
- Being a lazy and inconsistent trainer. Ugh, this one still plagues me. Inconsistency is my nemesis in dog training. I know, mentally, that I have to be consistent for the dogs to learn the behavior and repeat it successfully, but practically? I make sloppy mistakes all the time. Instead of making Eden lie down (our decided behavior to curb her mealtime madness) before she gets to eat, I sometimes let her sit. Or balance on her hind legs like a circus pony. Not helpful, Abby.
- Yelling at the dogs. I admit, this still happens from time to time. But yelling accomplishes nothing! They don’t learn anything from yelling. Eden is immune to it, and it just startles Pyrrha. And it’s not nice. So, that’s something I still need to totally expunge from my repertoire.
Surely there are many more! But these are the big ones that come to mind. Ugh.
How about you? Any mistakes you made with your dog that now make you cringe?