There is no better feeling than welcoming a new pet into the family. In the first few weeks, everything is fun and love is in the air. It’s downright addictive. Those first few weeks are also critical to setting up your new pet for a successful integration into the home. Here are some of the most common mistakes pet parents make and how to avoid them:
Pet Parenting Mistake: Not Paying Attention to Your Pet
The more closely you observe your pet from the very beginning, the more easily you will be able to discern behavioral changes or health issues. Dogs that are new to a home will try to figure out how things work there by experimenting, and it’s important to remember that dogs will repeat whatever has worked for them (even if it didn’t work for you). So, if you aren’t paying attention, and they do something, such as chewing the carpet, and it feels good, it is rewarded in their minds.
Any behavior that is rewarding becomes more likely to be repeated in the future. If you aren’t paying attention and giving feedback when they are exploring their new home, you may find a behavior pattern developing that you didn’t intend. For the first few days, at least, it’s a good idea to keep to the mindset of puppy training even if they aren’t puppies. This means constant supervision until you begin to trust each other.
Pet Parenting Mistake: Not Using the Right Equipment
Having the right equipment can make all the difference when training, walking and handling your pet. Here’s what you need to have right from the get go:
A collar, harness and leash: Unless you’ve brought home a young puppy, most dogs will be familiar with collars, leashes and harnesses. The thing you’ll want to check first is the suitability of the equipment for the kind of dog you have. For example, brachycephalic (or “short-headed”) dogs like Pugs or French Bulldogs should be wearing harnesses for walking. It’s hard for them to breathe normally because of their short faces, and putting pressure on the windpipe with collar and leash makes it even more difficult.
Use a standard, six-foot leash (not a retractable leash) for walks, especially in urban environments. Make sure the collars fit properly, and that any harnesses are sturdy, don’t stretch too much and aren’t easy to wriggle out of. For safety’s sake, for your first few walks, attach the leash to the collar and the harness until you learn more about your dogs reaction to outdoor sights and sounds and your new pup builds some trust in you. If your dog needs a muzzle (for safety around other pets/people, vet visits, or because he will hoover up everything on the ground during a walk), start acclimating them to its use with positive reinforcement methods after he’s settled in to the family.
A cat litter box: It’s easier to get a new kitten to use litter boxes that fit your decor and budget, but for rescued or rehomed cats you may have a trial-and-error period before reaching a consensus about the number and type of boxes and litter. Watch your cat carefully for the first month or so to make sure she isn’t stealthily using the coat closet or your favorite potted plant as her toilet. Try to put the litter box close to where your new cat likes to go potty; a little compromise is better than scrubbing cat urine out of your rugs every day.
Crates and carriers: If your pets aren’t used to being crated or put into carriers, start acclimating them with positive reinforcement methods. Some pets may prefer crates and carriers with solid sides, while others will need to see what is going on. The key is getting them used to the crates/carriers before you need them, either for going to the vet or in an emergency situation.
Pet Parenting Mistake: Inconsistency
Your new pets won’t know the house rules when they join the family, so it’s up to you to decide what behavior is and isn’t acceptable. If you don’t want your cats on the kitchen counters or your dogs on the sofa, be consistent with your rule enforcement and do it in real time so that your pet makes that connection. Food and praise are great motivators, so be sure to reward your pet appropriately.
Tip: It can be very difficult to get the timing right when learning how to train new behaviors, and you run the risk of inadvertently reinforcing undesirable behavior if you get it wrong. A few hours with a professional trainer to learn puppy training pointers or cat behavior tips, along with the ins and outs of kitten and puppy socialization, can set everyone in the family up for success.
Pet Parenting Mistake: Avoiding the Veterinarian
The best way to keep little health issues from turning into big, expensive medical problems is to stay on top of scheduled veterinary visits. You don’t want your pets to be at risk for catching illnesses like kennel cough or Lyme disease, and you don’t want to discover the day before leaving for a trip that your dog doesn’t have the appropriate shots for a boarding stay. If you think your pet is ill, it’s always best to take them to the vet before small issues get out of hand; your vet will be able to diagnose and treat ailments and recommend appropriate next steps to keep your pets happy and healthy.
Tip: If you travel with your pet, you’ll need up-to-date vaccination records and health certificates. Find a good way to store those records, along with current photos, descriptions of your pets, and updated microchip details so that they’re easily accessible. This information is indispensable if your pet gets lost.
As always, do your homework before implementing any changes to your pet’s care, and consult with qualified pet professionals if something seems “off” or in the event of an emergency.
A graduate of The University of Chicago, Melanie worked in academia and finance for many years before joining the companion animal community. She believes that a good education fosters compassion, informed advocacy, and a deeper understanding of animals as they really are. She is passionate about effective communication, and in addition to her freelance writing and editing gigs she has a burgeoning career as an instructional designer. Melanie lives in Chicago with her overlords—a flock of super-smart companion parrots and a Chi-Puggle mix named Hattie.