Even the most harmless habits, such as putting your dog’s food bowl on the floor, playing hide-and-seek, rushing your dog’s walks, and getting overly excited to see your dog, can physically and emotionally hurt your dog. Or, at least cause them immense stress and anxiety.
In fact, these are all habits most dog owners do on a daily basis, so if you’re an offender, don’t feel too bad. We’ll reveal these potentially-harmful human habits, and what to do instead.
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1. Rushing Your Dog’s Walks
Here’s one of the most common ones first. And that’s when you rush your dog’s walks. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m guilty of this. When your dog takes his sweet time to smell every single flower, trace of animal urine, or piece of garbage along the way, it can be a little annoying at times.
So instead, we pull them back on the path, and drag them along to match our walking pace. Yes, walking is a great way to provide daily exercise for your dog, but you’re forgetting about something just as important. Mental stimulation.
When dogs sniff intriguing odors, say hello to other dogs, and take in the views, this is vital for the dog’s mental health. You see… mental stimulation keeps their minds active, engaged, and healthy. It also enhances their cognitive abilities.
But most importantly, it reduces anxiety and stress, while keeping your dog emotionally balanced. Here’s a pro-tip. Letting your dog take their sweet time with their walks will make it less likely they tear up your favorite pair of shoes while you’re out.
2. Eating From the Food Bowl on the Floor
This next one may be the most common mistake dog owners make, especially if you have a larger dog. And that’s when you let your dog eat out of a food bowl on the floor. How bad could this be? I mean – everyone does it right?
Most owners will place their dog’s bowl on the kitchen floor so that any mess can be easily cleaned up. It makes a lot of sense. But when food bowls are placed on the floor, medium to large sized dogs are being forced to lean over farther while balancing their bodies, just to eat their daily meals.
They may seem okay at first, but it puts a ton of pressure on your dog’s front paws and joints. And as your dog ages, they may be severely limited in mobility…with some dogs going as far as developing arthritis.
This angle at which larger dogs need to bend down to eat, also increases their chances of swallowing air, along with their food. And with enough air being swallowed, it can lead to “bloat” – a dangerous gastric issue that will escalate to rapid deterioration and death, if not properly treated.
The good news is that there’s an easy fix to this. Simply raise your dog’s food bowl with a box or step stool! But if you have the cash, you can also buy a raised dog bowl. This will put them in a better position to eat in comfort.
3. Forcing Your Hugs on the Dog
Another potentially harmful human behavior you might be overlooking is when you force your hugs on your dog. How can something as affectionate as a hug… harm our dogs? After all, snuggling up with your dog may be a great way for you to reduce stress and anxiety.
However, it doesn’t have the same effect on your dog. According to a recent study, most dogs actually show some signs of stress when being hugged by humans.
Stanley Coren, a renowned canine psychologist, examined 250 random photos of dogs being hugged by their owners.
What he found was that out of the 250 pictures, 81.6% of the dogs looked like they were displaying at least one sign of discomfort, stress or anxiety. Only 7.6% of dogs looked like they enjoyed it, while the remaining 10.8% looked neutral.
Coren concluded that most dog owners have no idea how to look for signs of stress in their pets. The most common ones include: when your dog shows the “whites” of their eyes, also known as the “side eyes” or “half moon eyes.”
Or when you see the lowering or pinning back of your dogs’ ears. Another sign is when your dog turns his head away from what’s bothering him. And there’s also lip licking, which is another clear sign of stress in dogs.
So if you spot any of these behaviors while hugging your dog, you’re likely causing them distress. While some dogs tolerate hugs, it doesn’t mean they enjoy them.
If you want to show your dog some love, we suggest gently petting them on their backs, scratching their bellies, or even giving them positive praises.
4. Head Patting a Dog
But what about petting dogs on their heads? Like with hugs, some dogs can tolerate this, but this tends to cause more anxiety than comfort. According to Dr. Burstyn, the one thing you should never ever do is immediately start patting a dog’s head.
This action can be seen as a dominant or aggressive gesture. And for some dogs, head patting can be unsettling or even threatening, leading to feelings of discomfort or fear. Of course not all dogs are the same.
If you must pat your dog on the head, the important thing is to always be aware of those stress signs. But instead of the top of the head, the best place to start is under the dog’s chin. It’s less threatening and the dog will perceive it as a much gentler form of interaction.
5. Exposure to Strong Odors
Patting your dog in the wrong spots may cause stress, but it may not be as harmful as exposing your dog to strong scents. Most people don’t even realize all the strong odors in their home. But how does this hurt your dog?
Well, it’s important to know that a dog’s” sense of smell” is roughly 1,000 to 10,000 times more sensitive than a human’s. While we might perceive certain scents as mild, they can be quite unbearable for some dogs.
If someone has ever complained to you about your perfume or cologne, then the fragrance is likely way worse for your dog. Even every-day cleaning products can irritate your dog’s nose.
Everything from bleach, to all-purpose cleaning solutions, scented candles and air fresheners can cause your dog a significant amount of discomfort. And over the long term, constant exposure to these strong chemical odors can potentially lead to respiratory issues in your dog.
The good news is that there’s an easy solution. If you can, always go with pet-friendly or all-natural cleaning solutions.
Be mindful of the odors and scents you put into your home, and try to have good ventilation in your home to disperse and dilute the scents, while improving air quality. Opening windows and using fans can also help to remove strong odors from your environment.
6. Getting Too Excited to See Your Dog After an Absence
Now, this next habit may seem to be the most harmless, but it’s actually one of the most common habits in owners, and can lead to major long-term anxiety in your dog. And that’s when you get overly excited to see your dog after a period of absence.
You can unknowingly create separation anxiety in your dog, as your dog starts to become reliant on your presence. Getting emotional when you leave your dog will also have the same effect.
Your emotional reactions are what your dog recognizes. If you’re sad when you leave, but happy when you’re home, you could potentially reinforce their feelings of anxiety during your absence. Your dog will eventually learn that it’s a “bad thing” when you leave them.
And each time you leave the home, that anxiety becomes a reinforced behavior. But that’s not all. When you play games that involve you running away from your dog, you’re also reinforcing separation anxiety. as your dog is likely rewarded with positive praises when you’re caught or found.
However, there are ways to immediately take action in solving this issue. To reduce your dog’s stress and anxiety, you’ll need to change your approach when you reunite with, or leave your dog.
First, avoid saying too much. Something as simple as, “be a good boy today” is perfect. And when you return home, wait for your dog to settle down from all that excitement before greeting him.
It’ll be tough, as there’s nothing harder than ignoring your excited dog that’s greeting you with kisses and a wagging tail. But just understand that this is for your dog’s benefit in the long term.
7. Crates as a Punishment
And while this is indeed a common mistake, it may not be as critical of a mistake for new owners as this next one. Using your dog’s crate as a means of punishment will essentially destroy the entire purpose of using a crate.
To most dogs, the crate is supposed to be a safe haven. So when you’re out and about, they can retreat to their crates to find comfort, while easing any anxieties they have. At least, that’s what one of the main goals of crate training should be.
However, I see too many owners using crates as a form of punishment, as if your dog is a small child being sent to the corner of the room for a “time out.” To make matters worse, locking up your dog in isolation for a long period of time will confuse and upset your dog.
This deprives your dog of their basic needs, such as stretching, socializing, and relieving themselves. They will become lonely, depressed, withdrawn, and possibly develop other psychological problems. Make sure you use your dog’s crate as a safe space for your dog when you’re gone.
And never let them sit in there for too long. If you must leave the house for several hours, consider sending them to a doggy day care instead.
So which one of these potentially hurtful habits are you guilty of? For me, it’s #2, #3 and #6. Let us know in the comments section below!
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