According to research by the American Humane Association, one in every ten pets adopted from a shelter is returned within six months. Sometimes this is for unforeseen reasons, such as money troubles, or the health of the owners. But very often, it’s due to behavioral issues with the pet that could have been avoided. Here are five common mistakes of new pet owners that can lead to undesirable behaviors.
Not Researching Breeds
Many people choose the breed they want based on the cuteness factor alone. There’s nothing wrong with taking appearance into account, but not all breeds are created equal — temperament, energy, grooming needs, and behavior can vary massively. Some breeds are more likely to set off allergies, such as German shepherds. Before you get a pet, make sure the breed you want is suitable for your living situation and lifestyle, but keep in mind that purebreds aren’t the only way to go. A specific breed might be known for a certain temperament, but that doesn’t mean it will always act that way. Shelters have plenty of cute, loving mixed breed dogs waiting for a forever home. While you might be looking for a certain appearance, Dr. Emily Weiss of the ASPCA says there are many families looking for a dog with particular characteristics as opposed to looks, making mixed breeds an excellent option. “Say they want a dog who is smart or good with kids. That opens the door to dogs in the shelter who behave that certain way and gets them away from appearances to behaviors,” Weiss says.
Forgetting to Pet Proof Your Home
Until your pet is house trained – and even afterwards – keep in mind that they can’t destroy things they can’t access. The internet is rife with stories from new pet owners who didn’t pet proof their home. Cats scratching up furniture, dogs chewing through shoes, pets going through trash. Sadly, some of these stories are tragic, such as pets chewing through cables or consuming hazardous substances. Pet proof your home in much the same way you would for a child — remove choking hazards, cover up electrical cables, and hide dangerous items like medication. Also, keep expensive items out of reach until your pet is trained. For more information, have a look at this guide by Houzz.
Smothering Your Pet in the First Few Days
Moving to a new house with a new group of people is a very confusing experience. Both dogs and cats need attention and interaction, but in the first few days, you need to go easy and let them adjust on their own. This is especially true of rescue pets. For cats, you should start them off in one room and let them get comfortable there, before showing them more of the house. Give an adult cat 3 weeks before you let it outside, and a kitten 6 months. For dogs, be calm and assertive — they need more interaction than cats, but ignore them unless they come to you first. In both cases, let the pet get used to the residents of the home for a few days before introducing them to friends.
Not Teaching Kids how to Act Around Your Pet
Even well-behaved dogs will become aggressive if they feel scared, confused, or agitated. Cats are generally more temperamental and if they are not in the mood to be petted, they may take a swipe at people who persist in trying. Teach your children how to behave around your pet before it arrives. This means knowing not to grab or squeeze the pet, or pull on their ears or tail. They should also learn to interpret signals from their pet — for example, cats with flat ears, wagging tails, or who are hissing do not want interaction and should be left alone.
Not Exercising Your Pet Enough
Another common mistake is not giving your pet enough exercise, a mistake that often stems from not researching breeds enough. In dogs, lack of exercise leads to excess energy. This might manifest itself in rough play, barking, or destructive behavior. Dogs need at least one walk each day to be mentally stable, and high-energy breeds will need more — if you can’t keep that up, hire a dog walker to help you. You also need to play with them regularly — not just for exercise but to help you bond. Cats also need exercise, so remember to play with them, especially if you keep them indoors. Cats don’t play fetch, but a remote controlled mouse will do the same job. You can also hide treats in high places to encourage climbing.
It can be heartbreaking to have to return a pet to the shelter — not only for you, but for the pet, too. That’s why the first few weeks are really important. By doing your homework, setting up your house properly, and helping your pet settle in, you’ll go a long way towards a long, happy life together with your new pet.