Common Mistakes Puppy Owners Make

LAST UPDATED 1 JANUARY 2022

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Belinda Stancombe

Becoming a new Paw-parent is an exciting time, with so much to learn and teach your new puppy. Training your puppy to be a well-mannered member of the family is a big responsibility and like all new things, mistakes can happen!

Our vets have listed some of the most common mistakes that Pet Parents make when training a new puppy and the best ways to avoid them. Knowing what to look out for in advance, could save you and your puppy a lot of frustration in the first year of raising your new fur-baby. We also recommend checking out the 10 most frequently asked puppy questions!

Common Mistakes New Puppy Owners Make

Giving Toys and Treats That Are Too Hard

While they are teething your pup will probably start to chew on everything, so make sure you give them plenty of appropriate chew toys. Until your puppy has all their adult teeth, avoid giving hard dental chews, bones or chew toys as baby teeth are more delicate and may break if they chew hard objects.

Damage to your puppy's baby tooth is painful and may cause a tooth root infection, which can permanently harm adult teeth below the gum line. If your puppy does break a tooth, your veterinarian may recommend removal of the damaged tooth to avoid further complications.

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Access To Toxic Foods

As a general rule, it is best to limit the amount of human food you feed your pup to help keep their diet balanced and prevent obesity in later life. In particular avoid feeding human foods which are known to be toxic to dogs including:

• Grapes
• Sultanas and Raisins
Chocolate
• Caffeine
• Macadamia nuts
• Garlic
• Onions
• Avocado
• Artificial sweeteners (xylitol)

If you believe that your puppy may have consumed any of the foods above, please contact your veterinarian immediately as they may require emergency treatment.

Letting Your Puppy Chew On Objects That Are Not Toys

When you first bring your puppy home, they won't know the difference between their toys and your favourite couch! While seeing your puppy chew on your fingers or an old pair of sneakers may seem pretty cute to begin with, it will not be so great when they hurt you or destroy your shoes when they are fully grown! It is important to set consistent ground rules from the beginning to avoid confusion for your puppy.

Chewing is a very normal behaviour for puppies so it is up to us to provide appropriate objects to chew, and supervise where necessary. Set your pup up for success by removing all objects that you don't want chewed from their reach. If your pup gets hold of an object they shouldn't chew, immediately replace it with a toy and praise them for chewing the toy. Keeping a rotation of toys can help prevent your pup getting bored.

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Using Punishment To Train Your Puppy

Contrary to popular belief, attempting to stop unwanted behaviours by yelling, picking up or interacting with your dog in any way can actually encourage them; your dog may well see any form of attention as positive reinforcement. Of course the use of physical force such as hitting, kicking or smacking is also not considered an appropriate or humane way to train a dog.

Positive or reward based behavioural training is widely accepted to be the most effective and enjoyable way to encourage dogs to behave in the ways that we want. This concept really hinges on capturing and rewarding desirable behaviours (with food and praise) while ignoring undesirable ones.

In the case of negative behaviours with dogs and puppies, the best approach is to 'shape' their behaviour by redirecting them away from the undesirable behaviour (eg. barking at the neighbours) towards a learned desirable behaviour (eg. sitting quietly on a mat). While it can take time and patience, positive pet parenting will help your dog to learn how to behave and interact with people and other animals appropriately without damaging your relationship or causing distress, anxiety or pain.

A handy mantra for positive pet parenting is to train the dog you want - acknowledge and reward behaviours you desire in your pup, ignore and reshape the behaviours that you don't desire.

Ready to get started?

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Not Considering Pet Insurance

There is no doubt that having a new pet is expensive so it is not uncommon for pet owners to prioritise immediate costs such as vaccinations, food, toys and puppy preschool. Planning for future events such as illness or accidents may not seem as relevant with your new bundle of joy when everything is going well.

That said, puppies have a tendency of getting into mischief and pet insurance can be a fantastic way to ease the financial stress of an expensive, unexpected illness or injury. Signing your puppy up for pet insurance from a young age can help avoid insurance loop-holes such as pre-existing conditions.

In Australia we are not used to how expensive medical costs can be due to medicare and an excellent public health system. Unfortunately, there is no medicare for pets so the cost of medical treatments can run into the thousands very quickly. The veterinary industry has changed a lot in the last few decades and if your pet is suffering an illness or injury, there are a range of veterinary specialist available that your pet can be referred to from your regular veterinarian to ensure absolute gold standard medical care. These include cardiologists, orthopaedic surgeons, oncologists, dermatologists and 24 hour care facilities just to name a few. With increased standards of care that often align with those seen in human medicine, comes an increase in cost.

One alternative approach to pet insurance that some owners prefer is to set up a pet savings account and arrange for a small amount to be put aside from each pay cheque to cover any unexpected vet expenses.

Picking Your Puppy Up When They Bark

Puppies frequently bark at people for attention and rewards (such as play or food). They may also bark in greeting, at passers-by and other dogs. It's not really realistic to stop your puppy from barking entirely, but there are some methods you can use to help reduce it.

It is important never to reward your puppy for barking. Picking them up, touching, eye-contact, looking at or scolding your puppy all constitute forms of attention and may reinforce the behaviour! Instead, use clear body language to indicate you are ignoring your puppy - for example by turning away or leaving the room. As soon as your puppy falls quiet, reward them with praise or a treat. You can continue this lesson by rewarding your puppy whenever they are resting calmly. Many dogs learn to be demanding barkers because they only receive attention when they are noisy - not when they are quiet!

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Letting Your Puppy Sleep In The Bed

Dogs are Pack animals and constantly require guidance from the 'Pack Leader' (you) as to where they fit in the group. Puppies need a leader to guide them as to what is appropriate behaviour and set guidelines as to what is acceptable and what is not. Dogs that do not have this guidance can become stressed and anxious and may feel that they need to take 'Pack Leader' status to protect the rest of their family, leading to problem behaviours.

A very easy way to establish 'Pack Leader' status is to not allow your puppy to sleep on the bed. Having an area for your puppy to sleep such as a crate or puppy pen, will re-enforce that you are the pack leader and are in charge of making decisions, allowing your puppy to learn and follow your lead. Crate training is a way to create a safe, personal space for your dog in your home. It draws on your dog's natural instincts to create a den, a safe refuge in which to sleep and teaches your puppy to self-soothe, meaning less issues like as separation anxiety in the future.

Switching Foods For Fussy Eaters

New puppies have a lot to adjust to and diet is often just one of those changes. We all want to do what is best for our fur-baby and it can be difficult to know what to do when your new puppy will not eat the dry food that you have chosen for them.

Firstly, ensure that you are feeding a Premium Brand Dry Food as they are backed by decades of nutritional research and development to meet all your puppy's needs. The ingredients in Premium Brand Dry Foods such as Hill's Science Diet, Royal Canin and Advance are superior in quality to supermarket brands and are therefore often more palatable. If your puppy is not enjoying their current food, then swapping to a Premium Brand Puppy diet may help to make their dry food more enticing.

Secondly, try adding some warm water or mixing in some Puppy Wet Food to make the dry food more enticing. Stop giving treats in between meals times and refrain from feeding table scraps that your puppy will fill up on.

Changing your puppy's food every time that they refuse to eat it and supplementing with something else, only rewards fussy behaviour. Just like children eating their vegetables, it is important for pets to eat a complete and balanced diet. Given the choice, most children would opt to eat Fast Food, but that does not mean that is what is best for them. Just the same, what a fussy puppy chooses to eat is not always complete and balanced. If you are trying different food options to get your puppy to eat, then your pup has you trained, not the other way round!

Letting Your Puppy Pull On The Lead

Pulling on the lead means your puppy is excited and can't wait to get out and explore the world! But teaching your pup not to pull is super important, before grow into a much stronger adult dog.

How to stop your puppy pulling on the lead:
•If your puppy begins to pull, stop and call them back to you and praise them
•Start walking again, this time with a handful of treats in the hand closest to the puppy
•Lure your puppy along with the treats in the desired direction, giving them plenty of praise and a treat every few moments to reward the behaviour
•If your puppy begins to pull again, stop and call them back and repeat the process. Over time you can increase the interval between the treats from a few seconds to a few minutes and then longer as they start to get the idea

This method will take time and patience but is an effective and gentle way to train your puppy to walk at your side. If you are still having trouble with a puppy that pulls, you could also try using a front-attaching harness or Halti headcollar. These are designed to distribute pressure across the bridge of the nose to discourage them from pulling.

It is important that you are patient with your puppy while you are training. Walking on a lead can be a challenge for them at first, but with perseverance, kindness and some tasty treats as motivation, you can train your puppy to walk nicely on the lead beside you.

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Not Following Feeding Guides

Knowing how much to feed of a particular food can be tricky; the ideal feeding amount will vary from formula to formula and depends on your puppy's age and weight. To work out how much to feed your puppy, consult the feeding guidelines on the food packaging and use this as a starting point, adjusting the amount up or down depending on your puppy's needs.

As every puppy diet is different it is best to follow the feeding guide for the food that you are feeding. As your puppy grows and their energy requirements increase, the amount you are feeding your puppy will increase, so ensure that you continue to check the feeding guide and feed as recommended.

If you are feeding the recommended amount and your pup is a healthy weight, begging for food does not necessarily mean that they are hungry or you are not feeding enough. Dogs are food motivated and if begging for food gets a response, meaning that they receive food, they are more likely to repeat the behaviour, whether they are hungry or not. If your pup is begging for food, you are best to ignore them and feed them at set mealtimes instead instead of responding to begging behaviour.

Further Reading

Pooping, Barking, Biting: The Ultimate Puppy Training Guide

Best Puppy Food

How To Toilet Train Your Puppy

Choosing The Best Toys For Your Puppy

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