12 common dog parenting mistakes

We all strive to do the best for our dogs, but we may overlook or misunderstand some aspect of canine care. Check this list of some of the most common dog parenting mistakes, and how they can be corrected.

As much as we love our dogs, nobody’s perfect, and we sometimes make errors when it comes to their care. Most of us also know people in our neighborhoods who really aren’t caring for their dogs as well as they should be. Education is the key to enhancing the health, safety and well-being of our canine companions. This article covers 12 of the most common dog parenting mistakes seen by veterinarians, and how to prevent or correct them.

1. Feeding poor quality food

The ingredients in a dog’s diet contribute hugely to his overall health and wellness. Feeding high quality foods can add years to his life. You’ll have to pay more, but it’s worth the expense because it’ll save on vet bills down the road. Choose a dog food made from whole meats and vegetables, and that contains no artificial additives or cheap fillers or by-products. Don’t be afraid to contact the company and ask questions about their products, to ensure you’re giving your dog the best possible diet you can.

2. Feeding improper amounts

If a dog eats too much or too little, his weight will be inappropriate and cause a decline in overall health. “Underfeeding in my experience is quite rare,” says veterinarian Dr. Andrew Stas. “It is much more common for people to overfeed their dogs.” As we all know, dogs love food, and will beg for treats and tidbits even when they don’t really need them. And being doting dog parents, we all too often give in to those pleading eyes, to the detriment of the dog’s weight and health.

Work with your veterinarian to determine how much your own dog should eat. “A good rule of thumb is to feed based on his ‘ideal’ weight as opposed to his actual weight,” says Dr. Stas.

3. Not providing enough water

Constant access to fresh pure water is essential to your dog’s well-being. Some people believe they only need to provide water at mealtimes, but a dog should have a bowl of water available 24/7– and the water in that bowl should be changed at least once daily to keep it fresh and clean.

It’s also important to keep an eye on how much your dog drinks, especially if he’s a senior, and tell your vet if he starts drinking more or less. Varying conditions such as increased exercise or higher temperatures can cause a dog to drink significantly more water than is typical. But an unexplained change in water consumption can be the first sign of illness, such as diabetes or kidney problems, and should be brought to your vet’s attention.

4. Leaving him outdoors too long

Dogs are greatly impacted by cold and heat, and can suffer tremendous damage to their health if left in inappropriate conditions, such as outdoors in extreme heat or bitter cold. Dogs must have protection from the elements, especially in accordance with their breed type. “The humane housing issue has become more scrutinized than ever, and state lawmakers are cracking down on regulations and penalties for inappropriate and inhumane animal housing situations,” stays Dr. Stas. If you know of someone who leaves their dog out in all weathers, contact your local Humane Society and report the situation.

5. Yelling instead of teaching

Training a puppy or improperly-socialized adult dog can be a big endeavor. Most of us can probably admit we’ve shouted at our dogs at least once during the process, perhaps without even realizing we’re doing it. It’s important to know, however, that dogs react more strongly to the volume and tone of a voice than they do to the actual words. This means using a firm, steady set of vocal commands when training. Yelling only causes stress and fear.

6. Not recognizing canine boredom

When a dog isn’t challenged with toys, play times, exercise and interaction with humans or other dogs, he can become depressed and badly behaved. “This can be a breed-specific issue,” notes Dr. Stas. “Identifying the breeds that require more cognitive stimulation is important and can help avoid a lot of behavioral and anxiety-related issues.” Breeds such as border collies and Australian shepherds, for example, need plenty of mental and physical stimulation in order to remain happy and well-adjusted.

7. Overlooking small changes in health

Because dogs can’t talk like we do, they can’t tell us how they’re feeling. And they’re also good at hiding discomfort – it’s a natural instinct that evolved to protect them from predators. This means you have to be vigilant and take notice of any alterations in your dog’s behavior that might signal pain or illness. Pay close attention to any changes in his activity or energy levels, his playfulness, gait, appetite, etc. Even a very small shift could indicate a larger issue. “Any changes in a dog’s routine or comfort level should be brought to a veterinarian’s attention right away,” says Dr. Stas.

8. Leaving hazardous items within his reach

It’s easy to do. You’re cleaning the furniture or snacking on a handful of raisins when the phone rings and you go to answer it, leaving the cleaner or food behind you. But remember that many common things inside the home are toxic to dogs – these include raisins, grapes, chocolate, onions and artificial sweeteners, as well as household cleaners and many ornamental plants. “Toxin exposure is common and avoidable,” says Dr. Stas. “The ASPCA website has some great resources on toxic plants and household items.”

9. Forgetting to trim toenails

Left to grow too long, a dog’s nails can bend his toes upwards and make it difficult for him to walk properly. Canine nails can grow quickly, so don’t forget to check them often and either trim them yourself or ask your vet or groomer to do it. To get your dog used to having his nails trimmed, start him from an early age, and use praise and treats to make it a positive experience. Many dogs also have dewclaws that are never worn down with activity because they don’t touch the ground. These nails can actually grow around in a circle and into the dog’s leg.

10. Not checking his paws after walks

Going for walks is a dog’s idea of paradise. However, rocks, twigs, glass and other debris can easily get lodged in his paws, between the toes. “If a dog is limping, always check the paw first, as it’s the most common site for injury,” advises Dr. Stas.

11. Not providing breed-specific exercise

Exercise is essential for all dogs. However, the type of exercise depends greatly on the breed of dog. By forcing one type of dog to fit into another’s exercise category, health can be compromised. Before adopting a dog, do some research into the exercise his breed or mix of breeds requires. If you love long hikes, don’t adopt a pug or a Shih tzu. If you live in a small apartment with no yard, a Siberian husky or German shepherd probably isn’t the best choice.

12. Being unprepared for health emergencies

Accidents and other health emergencies will happen, but depending on when the crisis strikes, you may not be able to contact your regular vet. “The majority of general practice veterinarians have limited ability to provide after-hours emergency services,” says Dr. Stas.  “They refer emergencies to local emergency hospitals that are appropriately staffed 24 hours a day,” Be proactive and have a plan in place to prevent a serious outcome if your dog gets sick or injured. Have a canine first aid kit on hand, along with phone numbers for emergency veterinarians within the closest possible distance.

Dog parenting is a tricky business — and everyone makes mistakes! Just take heed of this list and do your best to keep your pet as happy and healthy as he can be.


Erin Mullen is a freelance writer and entrepreneur living in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. She recently graduated from Saint Vincent College and enjoys spending her free time in the outdoors with her boxers, Emma and Elsa.