Mistakes were made (by me)

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.

She kills me
Edie! She is too much.

7 Mistakes I’ve Made in Dog Raising

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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?



13 thoughts on “Mistakes were made (by me)

  1. Patience…I lost my cool way too many times.
    Going to the dog park…I wish I never stepped foot in that place!
    Being too nice to other dog owners when their dogs were punking mine…or not walking away when I should have.
    Giving them off leash freedom too early.
    Not taking enough puppy pictures! I have a lot but it’s never enough, especially early on.

  2. We all make mistakes! It’s great that you know what your mistakes were, so now you can fix them (if you haven’t already). That shows responsible ownership. I still struggle with lazy and inconsistent training. This dog raising thing – it’s tough sometimes! Hang in there, though. You got this!

  3. As someone else already said above: not taking enough puppy pictures! I’d actually wish I’d started my blog when we got Moses and not some time after, so I could look back on the early days and my naivité as a first-time dog owner.
    I’m glad Moses was easy on us as a puppy – didn’t destroy things, basically housetrained himself (it was summer, we installed a doggy door and put no effort into it – thinking back, I can’t believe how lucky we were). We were lucky to have friends who recommended the right books and training classes right off the bat, so Moses (well, us, technically) were in training right away and we got a good foundation. And we’re lucky we got Moses before Alma – she wouldn’t be so forgiving as we learned.
    I do wish we’d started raw feeding earlier – not for any real reason, I just do.

  4. Mistakes happen – at least you are willing to learn from yours! 🙂 I have made so many mistakes over the years there isn’t a place big enough to list them but I certainly try to not make the same mistake twice. The thing I most regret was using a prong collar on Bourbon – it increased his reactivity and it was at a time in my life when I had no idea how to deal with it. So of course I made it worse :). I still beat myself up over that and it’s been years (and I mean years – like 6 LOL).

  5. Oh the mistakes I made…I think we all have at one time or another. I tell Blueberry all the time that she is fortunate to be with me now since the other two dogs I had definitely paved the way for her. I was SO ignorant when I had my first 2 dogs. I learned a lot with them and improved by the end of their lives – but I just cringe when I think of the things I did. I once actually tried to “alpha-roll” my then 6 month old puppy, Shadow. Even while I was doing it I was thinking “What am I doing???? Just stop!!”. I really think the early mistakes I made with her damaged our relationship. We were super close – but I always sensed she was wary of me after that and a few other incidents (yes, sadly, I used a choke collar on her for a while; had no idea what I was doing). I didn’t have great role models while I was growing up – so most of what I knew involved very old school methods. I am just glad that I heeded my instincts and sought out gentler methods.

    There is something to be said for those of us that have learned from our mistakes and seek better ways to communicate with our dogs! Some people just never learn.

  6. Oh goodness, I’m guilty of nearly all of these, too. Using a prong collar on Lasya, ignoring a tense initial meeting with Freya and Lasya and adopting Freya anyway (although I don’t know if I’d have changed it still, I loved Freya so much), overwhelming Ruby with outings before I knew how to read her, and yes, yelling. The important thing is learning from our mistakes and making efforts to improve. We all start somewhere, and even in a general sense I think that the nuances of dog behavior and training and raising are only just starting to really be examined.

  7. I enjoy reading posts like this, and have done similar ones myself. I think it is reassuring to me (and others) to know that we are all human, all make mistakes, but are all trying to do what is best for our dogs. Both my boys act like clowns/thugs when it is time for them to eat. I am so inconsistent with them about that. When I yell at my dogs, they think it is a game, or get their feelings incredibly hurt. Your post has given me other things to think about in regards to my dogs. Thank you.

  8. I’ve ever-so-gradually mostly stopped yelling at Silas before I think about it. Mostly it helps that with his meds he doesn’t bark 8,219 times a day, because that wears on you. I still do it every now and then.

    There is, of course, the big umbrella problem: that I didn’t realize how timid Silas was until he was too old to do the most good. Which spawns a list of several hundred mistakes all on its own.

    The one thing I’m eternally grateful for is that we were positive training from day one, thanks to some wise friends who insisted I immediately read Ian Dunbar and Pat Miller.

  9. Yay for being human! When I think back on all the mistakes…well when I think back I’m just glad I’ve improved! As you have! And the yelling was def an issue but I have found a great alternative is to say what i want to yell in a friendly, adorable voice. For example: ‘you little as$hole’ said adorably makes me feel better and the offender is none the wiser!

  10. Ugh…I yell sometimes (more often than I’d like) and then I’m sorry/frustrated/guilty but explaining you’re sorry doesn’t really mean anything to a dog….I could go on. But we all know, I think.

  11. Great post! We all make mistakes, and as you say, it’s great to learn from and lean on each other. I’ve made many of these mistakes before, but I think my biggest mistake has been not exercising and walking my dogs enough. We grew up with GSD’s and when I look back now, I realise that a lot of their “destructive” and overly boisterous behaviour was actually just boredom and could’ve been so easily solved. Now walking is an essential daily routine to keep the pup (and myself) happy and healthy!

  12. There’s some quote that I could look up, but I’m summarizing: Do the best you can, and when you know better, do better. I try to remember that. I’m guilty of almost all those same, and then some. The first “trainer” we hired for Lucas was all about leash corrections with a pinch collar (little plastic teeth… ugh). Thankfully, during our second session with him, John and I both realized… this is wrong. And we changed course. That was 7 years ago, but I still feel sick when I think about it. Most recently, I left Lukey without his cone on for 20 minutes when I DEFINITELY know better. Ripped out stitches, emergency trip to the vet. Sigh.

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