6. Skimping on Exercise
Why This Is a Mistake: Pets have pent-up energy that needs to be unleashed through physical activity. Otherwise it will be channeled into barking, jumping, or even hostile behavior.
How to Avoid It: “Walk your dog at least twice a day for a minimum of 30 minutes each time,” says Cesar Millan, host of the program The Dog Whisperer, on the National Geographic Channel. “To your dog, that’s a primal activity — birds fly, fish swim, and dogs walk.”
Pamela Reid, vice president of the ASPCA’s Animal-Behavior Center in Urbana, Illinois, recommends that dogs get at least 40 minutes of aerobic exercise daily. “Dogs need more exercise than people do,” says Reid. Try running or biking with your dog or playing fetch or Frisbee. With a cat, “you can’t take her jogging, but before and after work, give her 10 to 20 minutes of playtime,” says Reid.
7. Neglecting to Keep Your Pet Mentally Active
Why This Is a Mistake: Bored pets are more likely to get into trouble, filling their time with odd projects — like tearing toilet paper into confetti.
How to Avoid It: Give your pets something to do. For a dog, that can mean having him hunt for food. Place a meal or treats in spots around the house for him to sniff out, or “feed him out of a food-dispensing puzzle toy instead of his bowl,” says Andrea Arden.
Keep a cat engaged with simple amusements, like a feather or a toy mouse dangling from a string. “You can stimulate your cat visually by placing a bird feeder outside a window, setting a lava lamp on a shelf, or turning on the TV when you’re not home,” says Arden Moore, author of The Cat Behavior Answer Book (Storey Books, $15, www.amazon.com).
8. Leaving a Pet Alone for Too Long
Why This Is a Mistake: Pets, like people, don’t thrive in solitary confinement. A lack of proper companionship can lead to separation anxiety and a host of destructive behaviors.
How to Avoid It: “You wouldn’t leave a baby at home for eight hours, so don’t leave a puppy alone, either,” says Reid. Hire someone to watch him or drop him off at a doggie day-care center. Your puppy will need to learn how to be alone for a few hours each day, however, so “it’s important to teach him to self-pacify almost immediately,” says Andrea Arden. Put him in a crate (or leash him to a stable object) a foot or two away from you, then gradually increase the distance over the course of a week. Then make sure that he spends escalating amounts of time alone in his crate or confined to a room. Break up the day for dogs of any age with a visit from a dog walker or a neighbor, and give your pet access to toys and visual stimuli.
Unlike puppies, kittens can be left alone, but it’s important that they also have access to toys and visual stimuli.