Like most people, I consider myself a good pet owner. I have a specific set of “pet parenting” values that I came by through trial and error, professional advice and a vague collection of arguably false premises picked up from friends, family and the internet. Not surprisingly, I make mistakes, and I was shocked to learn that some of them were actually harming my relationship with my pets.
Here are six signs you could be a toxic pet parent.
1. The word your pet hears most frequently is “no”
Negative reinforcement is easy to fall back on. It makes sense to scold your dog for jumping on the couch, counter surfing, begging, pulling on the leash or for simply getting under your feet. Unfortunately, when we only use negative reinforcement training, it is not just toxic — it also is not always effective at solving the problem. Positive reinforcement training is a much healthier and effective method of getting your pup’s behavior in order.
2. You change the rules on a regular basis
Animals are smart. They figure out what we want and generally try to please us. When we change up the rules, we confuse them. Allowing your dog on the couch every other Tuesday but yelling at them for joining you on Wednesdays is distressing. Your dog doesn’t understand why some days she is allowed up but others she is not, even if it makes perfect sense to you (that is, your partner is not home). Decide on your rules, and stick to them.
3. Your daily routine is as random as the lottery
Just because your life is hectic doesn’t mean your pets’ lives need to be. Our pets thrive on a routine, whether the routine is as simple as regular feeding times and a daily walk or broken down into scheduled cuddle time, nap time and car rides. If you work irregular hours, there are things you can do to ensure that your pets still enjoy the comfort of a routine. Invest in an automatic timed feeder, or pay a neighborhood kid to walk your dog every morning. Your animals will thank you.
4. You make excuses for your pet’s bad behavior
Making excuses for your pet’s behavior instead of addressing the problem is toxic. It could also result in someone getting hurt. If you know your dog has fear aggression, for instance, don’t make excuses for him. Instead, make sure he is not put in situations where this behavior is triggered, and talk with a trainer to work through the issue with positive reinforcements.
5. You are a human treat dispenser
I love treats. My dog loves treats. If I ate all the treats I wanted, I would be very unhealthy. The same goes for my dog. Overeating can lead to serious health problems, like obesity, pancreatitis and diabetes. It also gives your dog the wrong idea about rewards. Saving treats for special occasions and for training will deepen your bond with your pet and also improve their quality of life.
6. You skip daily exercise
When you forget to hit the gym, you might notice it in a little extra cushion around your middle. When your dog misses his daily walk, he loses out on mental and physical stimulation, which can manifest itself in destructive behaviors, obesity, health problems and depression. Probably the most toxic thing we as pet owners can do to our pets is deprive them of exercise. Sadly, this is something that most of us do on a regular basis. If you don’t have time for a walk, try to at least make time for a short play session, or make alternate arrangements, like putting your pup in a doggy day care.
Recognizing that some of your behaviors are toxic to your relationship with your pet is not something to be ashamed of as long as you try to fix them. Luckily these traits are easy to correct, which means you are one step closer to having a happy and healthy relationship with your four-legged friends.
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