Avoid these common mistakes and keep your four-legged friend happy, healthy, and well-behaved
Nancy Newberry1. Buying a Pet Spontaneously
Why This Is a Mistake: That doggie in the window may be darling, but he might not be the right fit for your family or lifestyle. And a mismatch could lead to frustration and heartbreak.
How to Avoid It: Fully inform yourself before you bring home a pet. Every dog or cat has its own needs, and some of those needs are specific to the breed. Terriers tend to dig; Abyssinians explore and climb. If there's a breed that interests you, read up on it (try the website of the American Kennel Club, at www.akc.org, or the Cat Fanciers Association, at www.cfainc.org), talk to owners, and get to know someone else's Border collie or Persian.
That said, not every dog or cat is typical of its breed, so learn as much as you can about a potential pet. "At a shelter, ask about the pet's history, health, and temperament," says Stephanie Shain, a director at the Humane Society of the United States. When dealing with a breeder, you should be shown where the pet was raised and be allowed to meet his mother and father. (Learn more on How to Choose a Pet.)
2. Skipping Obedience Training
Why This Is a Mistake: Bad habits, which often develop quickly, can be difficult to train out of a pet. So unless you have the know-how to school an animal, you need the help of a professional.
How to Avoid It: Even before a puppy starts formal training, you can teach him simple commands, such as sit and stay. A puppy can begin formal training at eight weeks (and ideally before 12 weeks), after he has had his shots. "Between the ages of 8 and 16 weeks, puppies readily absorb information about the world around them," says Andrea Arden, a dog trainer and the author of Dog-Friendly Training (Hungry Minds, $19, www.amazon.com). To help a dog stick with good behaviors, every few years take him for a refresher course with a trainer. (Find one in your area at the website of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, www.apdt.com.)
Learn How to Handle Pesky Pets.
3. Being Inconsistent with the Rules
Why This Is a Mistake: If one child lets Fifi on the bed and another punishes her for it, the animal is bound to be confused. Bad behavior is an inevitable result.
How to Avoid It: Make sure everyone in your household knows -- and follows -- the rules when it comes to training your pet. "The whole family needs to agree on what they do and don't want the cat or dog to do," says Arden. "You want your dog to sit before eating a treat? You don't want your kitten to pounce on your hands? Then figure out a system that will help your pet succeed." Pets thrive with a sense of order, so discuss with your family when yours should be fed, exercised, and even given a treat. (View Solutions to the Most Vexing Pet Problems.)