When you bring a dog, cat, or other animal into your home, you aren't just responsible for providing your pet with "creature comforts" (i.e. food, water, shelter) but also for his physical and mental well-being. Proper training is the key to having a pet you enjoy—and others do, too. According to New York veterinarian Richard S. Goldstein, DVM some of the most common mistakes pet owners make include:

1. Not "socializing" dogs when they are puppies.

As soon as your furry friend gets her first set of vaccines, start getting her acquainted with her world. Don't put off exposing your young dog to as many different types of people, other dogs, and situations as possible so they don't become afraid when confronted with new experiences. Haul out the vacuum cleaner and the lawn mower; take your puppy for a car or train ride; and introduce her to other dogs you know that have been fully vaccinated.

2. Using a crate for disciplinary purposes.

If you are crate-training your dog, be mindful of associating the crate with positive experiences only. That way, your dog's crate will be a happy, safe place for him. He may eventually take refuge there on his own. Once he feels at home in his crate, you can leave him there safely for short periods of time.

3. Feeding table scraps.

Besides encouraging a begging habit, over time, giving your pet the fatty end of a steak, a pizza crust, or other leftovers from your own table can add extra calories to his diet and lead to unhealthy weight gain. Just like humans, an overweight pet has an increased risk of developing health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and labored breathing. While a small percentage of your pet's daily diet can come from "human food" and other treats, stick to healthful choices like cut-up bits of unseasoned cooked chicken, vegetables and fruit that are low in fat and rich in nutrients.

4. Encouraging destructive behavior.

Puppies need to chew and cats need to scratch. There's no getting around that. If you have a cat, provide a scratching post and teach her how to use it so she won't scratch your furniture or curtains. Entice him to the post or scratch pad by sprinkling it generously with catnip, using a dangling toy to lure him there and rewarding post scratch behavior with a tasty treat.

If you have a dog, be careful not to give him chew toys in the form of clothing or household objects, or made from similar materials, or he won't know the difference between, say, an old shoe and a new shoe, or a leather chew strip and a leather belt. He will think it's OK to chew on all of it.

Tug-of-war games are also a mistake, Goldstein warns. "If you play tug-of-war with your dog, he will think you're still playing when you try to get that new shoe away from him." Instead, use toys to teach your pet to fetch and "drop it." That way, he will learn to bring objects back to you and drop them at your feet. Then, if he happens to grab a shoe or other object he's not supposed to chew, he'll know what to do when you say, "drop it."

5. Cleaning the litter box infrequently, or not having a sufficient number of them in the house.

Most cats prefer a clean litter box, so it's important to scoop it out at least once a day and do a thorough cleaning at least every two weeks. Otherwise, your cat may go elsewhere in the house. The golden rule: There should be one more litter box than the number of cats living in the home.

6. Displaying anger during potty training.

If you punish your pet for "accidents," by yelling or pushing his nose in his poop, he may not understand exactly why he is being punished. This is especially true if you are punishing him after the fact, because he can't associate his punishment with something he did in the past. If he has learned to be fearful, he may become afraid to do his business when he is with you, no matter where you are. Instead, watch your pup carefully while potty training so you can get a sense of when it's about to happen and take him to the place where he is supposed to go. "Positive reinforcement is extremely important in all aspects of pet training," Goldstein emphasizes.

Richard S. Goldstein, DVM, reviewed this article.



Richard S. Goldstein, DVM, diplomate, American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, canine and feline specialty, and owner of Mobile Pet Squad. http://www.mobilevetsquad.com

University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine
Companion Animal Behavior Program.
"What to Expect When Bringing Home a New Pet," Accessed 22 July 2013