4 (Other) Best Things to Do for Your Dog

What is there besides socialization, housetraining, exercise, good food, and veterinary care? The Dog Trainer has 4 other important ways to look out for your dog’s well-being.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #236


You already know the best things to do for your dog: Socialize your puppy. Housetrain. Teach good manners. Spay her or neuter him. Vaccinate against infectious diseases and get regular checkups. Supply plenty of exercise that suits your particular dog. Give him or her the best food you can afford. Never buy an animal from a pet store and, in fact, never buy anything from a pet store that sells animals.

Well, The Dog Trainer is going on a little hiatus, because I need some time off leash. And to occupy your mind in my absence, here are the 4 other best things you can do for dogs.

Tip #1: Get Help Quick for Behavior Problems

If you have the tiniest inkling that your dog might have a behavior problem, get qualified help now. It is so, so tempting to believe worrisome events are one-offs, and to tell ourselves that the problem will go away; nothing really bad would ever happen. “Zippy hides behind my legs and cowers when he hears a car backfire, but he’ll get over it.” “Puppalini growled when I petted her, but she’s only 10 weeks old – she’ll grow out of it.”

Fears are behavioral kudzu – left unchecked, they proliferate. Fear of one kind of sharp, loud noise can turn into fear of all sudden noises. Fear of the garbage can on the corner three blocks down can grow into fear of walking in the direction where the garbage can was last seen. Worse yet, sometimes these fears spread almost overnight.

As for that puppy growl, many of us cringe at calling it aggression. So okay, don’t label it. But it expresses discomfort with handling, which is a big problem in and of itself given that we generally like touching our companion dogs and also need to take them to the vet.

It’s also an early doggy experiment with going on the offensive when uncomfortable. If it works and you withdraw, Puppalini is likely to try the experiment again. On the other hand, if you go on the offensive in return, then from Puppalini’s point of view you’re escalating. She may cave to you in the moment, but watch out next time. Believe me, it is much much easier to escape this trap if you get competent help pronto. It also costs you less in money and heartbreak.

Tip #2: Learn to Read Dogs’ Body Language

This is such a biggie. I find it physically painful sometimes to see dogs left tied up outside shops and cafés while their people do business inside. Yes, some dogs seem to just be lounging. But not the majority. Some of them stand gazing fixedly in the direction their guardian left in. Others sit hunched in, looking as if they want to be as small and inconspicuous as possible. Still others lunge and bark as other dogs pass – after all, they’re tied up and can’t escape. Of course, the person who has tied the dog up sees only the party the dog throws when he or she returns. But maybe if that same person were alert to the signals sent by other tied dogs, they’d reconsider their own habits. Hey, I can hope, right?

Humans who pay attention to dog body language not only save dogs plenty of misery, they also prevent bites. When the dog who’s “fine with kids” is really standing there stiffly with his mouth closed and his facial muscles as tight as a fundamentalist’s at a conference of atheists, you the Dog Reader can bail that dog out before somebody gets hurt.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).