The top three common mistakes dog owners make

Monday May 29th 2023

This View has been written by Midlothian Dog Trainer Nick McMechan.

It’s been on my mind a lot in recent weeks. I’ve kind of went down the Rabbit Hole with the Dog Bite problem in the UK right now. There’s an All-Party Parliamentary Group working on the problem with regular meetings (APDAWG). It seems that, almost every day in the News I’m reading headlines about Dog on Human attacks, with the people involved sadly being maimed or sometimes killed. It feels like the issue is worsening and any data I can find backs up my feeling. There needs to be effective and enforceable legislation change. The issue is as straightforward as its complex in some regards. I’ll explain more in a future article.

I read some jaw dropping statistics recently. Dog Ownership in the UK has increased in the last ten years from almost 8 million Dog to almost 13 million. That means there are almost as many Dogs living in the UK there are Children. Almost 13% of Dog Owners don’t think they ever need to train their Dog. That’s almost 1 in 8 Owners who think they don’t need to train their Dog – not good!

But, for the time being.

It can all be avoided.

Here are three mistakes every Dog Owner can avoid

1. Allowing your Dog to approach strange Dogs.

Stop your Dog approaching strange Dogs – today! That’s going be an unpopular opinion, I know. I was introduced to this concept many years ago. At first I didn’t like it admittedly. I had a romantic notion of taking my dog to the park and having its own doggy pals to play with. I loved this idea. Over the years my opinion and stance on this has gradually and firmly changed.

The more I work with Dogs, the more I realise the importance of this, and the problems this mistake can cause.

So, first, what happens when your dog runs up to an off leash dog.

When this happens, both endorphins and oxytocin are released as the play ensues. These are pleasure chemicals released in the brain. However, similar to Humans, they are addictive. Your dog becomes addicted to things that are not you. This may start with other dogs, and can become other things, such as rabbits, squirrels, deer, chasing children on scooters, chasing other moving vehicles. Very soon you can have an out of control dog. You can help prevent this by stopping your Dog approaching strange dogs

I’m a Dog Reactivity Specialist. I specialise in dogs who present fear based reactivity (and ‘frustrated greeters’ and aggression). One of the most common triggers of fear based reactivity is interactions with strange Dogs. Often there will be a negative interaction at some point, sometimes there are no obvious signs (to humans) and the dogs stress levels build around strange dogs. Then reactivity develops. This is when I usually help to reduce the dogs reactivity in kind and (very) effective ways. But it’s difficult to live with. You can prevent this by stopping your dog approaching strange dogs, particularly when the other dog is on leash – that is a massive No No!

If you can’t stop your dog running up to other dogs, use a long training line to prevent the interactions off leash, and of course, a leash for safety in other areas, such as roadsides. It’s vitally important your dog still gets free running exercise as this is a fundamental aspect of the needs of your dogs, so use the long training line for that

But, please, for the greater good of all dog owners, stop your dog approaching strange dogs. You may inadvertently cause reactivity in the other dog or your own.

2. Stopping Training your Dog

Dog Training shouldn’t be a one off intervention. Whatever you have learnt from your Dog Trainer, use it on an ongoing basis. Dog Training is a lifelong event, particularly Recall work.

I could write a book about the benefits of this and how to do it. But stopping at each leg of your regular dog walk and performing a quick training exercise has massive benefits you are likely unaware of. Vitally, your dog becomes more engaged in you on your walks and not on other things (see above!). The things you do on these walks can be as simple as Sit, Down, Stand or anything else you have learnt to do with your dog. The benefits are enormous. Trust in Nick, do this on at least one walk per day

3. Incorrect Socialistation

In my experience, many dog owners think dog socialisation is about dogs learning through dog to dog interactions and play. Whilst there is truth in that, most of your dog’s social skills with other dogs was learnt in the Litter.

If you are reading this and about to get a Puppy, please DO get your puppy out and about during the “critical socialisation period” of 8 to 10.5 weeks of age. Do it safely using a puppy stroller and have pet safe antiseptic to hand just in case you need to let puppy out of the stroller to do the toilet – my recommendation is a product called Leucillin.

Socialisation is mostly about your dog being calm when presented with all the things that the environment throws at them. From all different sorts of people, to all different noises, sounds, sights, etc. If your dog is calm and happy around everything it will be a pleasure to live with. If your dog shows any arousal at anything the perceive as unusual calmly move your dog way and reward your dog for engaging with you afterwards.

To the point above, about lifelong training with your dog, on your walks, you are continually imprinting on your Dog throughout its life, that everything is good in the world. You, as the owner are more important and more fun than other things. Please, keep your phone in your pocket and pay attention to your dog. Enjoy your walks and have fun with your dog!

So, here’s my advice

Allow your dog free running at least once per day every day. Active dogs will need an hour or more. Use a long training line to prevent problems if you can’t stop your dog approaching other dogs

Train your dog at least once per day, performing training exercises on your regular walk, at least once per day. Intelligent, active breeds will need more training

Make it all about you, not about other dogs. Play with your dog, have fun with your dog and enjoy your dog.

Nick specialises in Loose Leash Walking and Reactivity as well as everything you would expect from a great Dog Trainer. You can find out more here:

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