5 Mistakes Every Dog Owner Makes (An Insider's Perspective)

In the entire world, only one species has thrown in with the human race: dogs. They fight in our wars, police our streets, and even live in our Whitest of Houses. But the average dog owner is weighed down by a lot of bullshit myths and terrible habits brought on by decades of people misunderstanding their pets.

My name is Mischa Oldman. I train dogs for a living, and you don't know as much about your best friend as you'd like to think ...

#5. Punishing a Dog Just Confuses Him

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It's fine that you're not an expert in dog training, but if you own a dog, you're going to wind up saddled with the task by default. And here's where I see most people screw it up: You punish the dog when he does something wrong.

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I'll never understand why people say "bad dog" in the one situation where "son of a bitch" is completely appropriate.

See, the larger problem is that most dog owners are inconsistent with their training -- sometimes they use the threat of punishment to get the dog to do what they want, sometimes they reward him, and sometimes they ignore the behavior because they don't feel like dealing with it at the time. The problem is that it leads to a dog with no freaking idea what to expect from his owner. At any given minute, you could be Treat Guy, Nothing Guy, or Asshole Who Chokes Him With a Leash.

You want to be Treat Guy. Science backs me up on this -- reward training helps dogs learn, and punishment makes them more likely to misbehave.

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And pizza training helps dogs render whole rooms unfit for human habitation.

It makes sense. Imagine you met an alien, one way smarter than you. Not some bumpy-headed Star Trek alien either -- a 30-foot slug with arms and 63 pairs of eyes. Since you're a reasonably smart creature yourself, you'd be able to recognize a few of its gestures and expressions. But any sort of fruitful communication would be an uphill battle. You'd need to devote every ounce of your attention, empathy, and resourcefulness to cobbling together some mutual understanding. Now, imagine trying to do that while someone chokes the shit out of you with metal spikes.

Fuck, imagine trying to do any complex mental task with that happening to your throat -- only the most disciplined/kinky of kids could possibly pass algebra under those conditions. Yet somehow people think choke chains are a useful tool for dogs. The reality is simple: Hurting your dog during training just causes him to associate "pain" with "you." Humans can put punishment in context ("I put mayonnaise in dad's shampoo and mom paddled my ass raw"), but dogs have associative memories. Screaming like a lunatic doesn't cause your dog to think "Holy shit, I'd better stop pooping on his bed." It makes him think "Holy shit, this person is crazy."

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"She must be angry at the duvet for being so coarse on my butthole."

That's why dogs learn best with positive reinforcement -- if you're always the good guy, your dogs will want to do stuff for you. It's not just that rewards make the dogs better pets; it's that they make them learn better. But doing it this way also takes patience. You have to watch and reward good behaviors when they happen, rather than just react in rage when the dog does something you don't like. But hey, that's why you're the human in the relationship, right?

And while we're on the subject ...

#4. Talking to Your Dog Just Confuses Him Even More

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It's perfectly natural to talk to your dog. We all love spilling dark secrets to our dogs about hidden obsessions, racist thoughts, and our least socially acceptable fetishes. Capable of neither judgment nor calling the police, canines are a perfect bathroom wall for the truck stop graffiti of our minds. But keep that shit to yourself while you're training them. It only messes with their little doggy brains.

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Despite being a German shepherd, he speaks only Austrian.

Dogs can come to understand some words, obviously -- they know their names, and they can learn what "sit" means. But we tend to wildly overestimate their vocabularies. And using a bunch of new words with your dog while teaching him commands is a surefire way to screw him up. To understand why, try doing long division while a Japanese man shouts at your ear.

And yes, you can actually train your dog without using a single word. Dogs use their noses for everything, right from the moment they're born. So for instance, if you want your dog to learn to sit, hold a treat in front of his nose. Now bring it up over his head and watch his butt drop on its own. Once your dog starts to figure this out, but before the grim specter of canine obesity sets in, you start cutting down on the treats. Sight is the second sense a young puppy starts to use. Before long, the motion of your hand will be enough to make him sit. You can do the whole thing without uttering a single word.

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Except the inevitable "dawwwww..."

In fact, it's better if you do -- I actually ban the word "sit" from my classes until the dogs are at the point of mastering the above method. "Sit" is only three letters to us, but to a dog it's the freaking Bible in Sanskrit. If you start jabbering at your pup before he's mastered the trick, he'll associate that word with "confusion," not the act of planting his ass on the ground.

And once again, science agrees: Saying new words while you train dogs slows down their learning. It's just not the way they're used to doing it -- that's the key difference between a real dog and, say, a cartoon dog.

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There are other key differences, but they mostly involve nipples and orifices.

#3. Fancy Dog Food Is Purely for Your Benefit

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So you obviously want the best for your dog, or else you wouldn't be reading this. And as such, every week or two you lurch through the pet aisle and, even though money is tight, you know that instead of the $4 bag of kibble, you have to buy that tiny $11 bag of medicinal kibble. It's loaded with glucosamine to fight off arthritis and multivitamins to ward away ... dog scurvy, or something. Plus, the ingredients list reads like your last Thanksgiving: dried cranberries, turkey, sweet potatoes -- how'd they turn all that into a hard little pebble, anyway?

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The Large Hadron Collider?

Well, I've got some good news for you: That expensive dog food is almost always bullshit. You can walk away from the rich-people-dog aisle without guilt. Glucosamine has either very little benefit or absolutely none at all, depending on which study you read. The same is true with multivitamins, fish oil, lysine, and a whole host of other additives. The few that are beneficial usually show up in such small doses that they might as well be homeopathic. And the vitamins that do appear in high doses, like calcium, can actually give your dog goddamn rickets.

Oh, and you see how they have food for adult dogs and separate food for seniors? Well, I do orientations for new dog owners with puppies, and the point I try to drive home is that good food is just good food. A healthy meal for me now would have been a healthy meal for me as a teenager and will still be a healthy meal for me as an old man. Barring some sort of allergy, all that matters is making sure your dog eats good food. All that fancy food for your "aging" or "senior" mutt? According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials, there is no distinction made between the needs of a senior dog and an adult dog. It's up to the manufacturer to include whatever he wants in that "senior" mix, which probably means a ton of ground Sizzler coupons as "roughage."

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These are actually made of ground bones*! (*from wharf rats)

And since all dogs are members of the same damn species, there's no reason to believe your "large breed" food is any more appropriate for your schnauzer than that special schnauzer mix.

As for all of the other healthy-sounding ingredients that would be right at home on your own plate, scientists haven't done enough research yet to establish any strong link between human nutrition and dog nutrition. But so far there is zero evidence to suggest that healthy human foods like cranberries and almonds have any benefit to our furry companions.

"Of course dogs need guava. Now hold that near one of the vats and let's call this a day."

In fact, there's no reason to believe your cat's food wouldn't suit Mr. Stinkynose just fine: The first five ingredients in a bag of food for either species are pretty much the same (and anything after "sodium" on that ingredient list might as well not be in there at all -- some dude at the factory just waved a bag of saffron near the kibble-cauldron so they could add that sucker to the label and charge an extra $3.50).

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