Karen B. London
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If I’d Known Then What I Know Now
What would YOU do differently?

It’s common to hear people who train dogs say things along the lines of, “You have to ruin one dog before you know enough to get it right with other dogs.” I don’t think first dogs are “ruined” by a lack of experience, but I do believe that subsequent dogs often benefit from what we learn along the way that helps us do better by our dogs.


Who among us doesn’t think back to former dogs and wish we’d known then what we know now? For my part, when I look back on my experiences with my first dog I wish had known more about nutrition. I did my best to feed him high quality food, but I could do far better now with what I’ve learned since then.


I also wish I had been more skilled at canine massage and other bodywork. I regularly massage dogs, but like any other skill, it takes practice. I practiced on my first dog, learning a lot in the process, but I’m better at it now than I was then. In his older years, he had some pain and discomfort in his legs and hips. Though I did everything I could to ease his suffering with medical help and what I could do for him at home, I can’t help but think that I could have made him feel better now than I was able to then.


What do you know now that you wish you had known with a previous dog? 



Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by TheCushionLady | May 12 2011 |

I didn't know how quickly 14 years would go. I was a kid (at first) and I wish I had never moaned about having to walk him. I wish I had held him close and spent more time with him. Believe me, twenty years later my dogs are totally cherished and never taken for granted. I appreciate every minute I spend with them.

Submitted by Frances | May 12 2011 |

I wish I had known to follow my instincts, and to leave the class that was stressing us both at once; that I had understood that getting cross and joining in the barking myself just made it worse; that time together is fleeting and sometimes very short, and it is so very important to recognise happiness when it is in your hands.

Submitted by Liz | May 12 2011 |

I wish I'd known that a dog could be highly trained without pain and force.

Submitted by Anne Craig | May 12 2011 |

I wish I had known more about good nutrition and proper weight control. I also wish I had understood that dogs can get diabetes and suffer many of the same illnesses we do when proper diet and exercise are not followed. I lost a dachshund at age 7 that was the love of my life. The five who own me now, get high quality food, weight is carefully monitored and exercise is part of the routine. They even have their own playground.

Submitted by TexunNC | May 12 2011 |

I wish I'd understood then what I know now about nutrition - lost my girl to cancer at such an early age (7) and I know I could have bought her a few more years had I just understood how vitally important nutrition is to their over-all well-being

Submitted by Nancy | December 24 2011 |

TexunNC: My Australian Cattle Dog was only 8 when diagnosed with lymphoma and we lost him 3 wks later despite trying chemo. He was on only expensive human grade dog foods and home made, too. Don't beat yourself up for losing a dog at an early age. Sometimes it just happens no matter how hard you try to give them the best life. It is heartbreaking to lose a younger dog, just as it is hard to lose an old dog.

Submitted by Michelle | May 12 2011 |

I wish I had known to start with shaping and agility instead of lure/reward training. I have an awesomely well-behaved dog, but getting her to try shaping has been a real challenge. Next time I'll begin with shaping right away!

Submitted by Lauren Norwood | May 12 2011 |

I wish I had known more about positive training methods when I was younger. Negative reinforcement and physical corrections (Koehler method) were popular for awhile, and although they may work well on some dogs, many dogs don't have the temperament to withstand these "old-fashioned" techniques.

I wish I had known more about proper nutrition and vet care. Had I known more about nutrition, I would've been feeding Wellness Core long ago, not Pedigree and Cycle. Same thing with vaccines...

I wish my PARENTS had known more about the facts behind pet stores and puppy mills. Two of my dogs were born in puppy mills in the midwest. One we purchased from a mall pet shop, the other from a local broker. (I learned of this after the fact.) Fortunately, they never had any hereditary disorders or behavior problems sometimes associated with poor breeding, but now that I know the truth, I do not support pet stores or brokers in any way.

Submitted by Cindy | May 12 2011 |

Several years ago, we rescued a two year old GSD who turned out to be dog and human reactive. Along the way we learned a lot about dog behavior and training. After the died, we swore the next dog would be one, be a puppy so we could "do it right" and two, not a GSD. So we ended up adopting a half GSD puppy, who turned out to be only dog reactive. We're not making any specific demands of the third one. Should be a charm tho...right? :)

Submitted by Phuong | May 12 2011 |

I wish I would have know that dogs become such huge parts of our lives, and are truly family members. At first, I wanted to keep my dog in her kennel downstairs while we slept - since she was a puppy, she cried and cried and cried. At the time, she was my first dog, and it totally annoyed me. Luckily my husband begged to bring her kennel upstairs.
She's five years old now, and I just feel AWFUL every time I think about it. She had just been taken from her mother, was scared and lonely in the dark. I will NEVER do that again!

Submitted by KJMoss | May 12 2011 |

I wish I'd known more about socializing my first dog with other dogs. She was a great dog and was wonderful with people, but I know if she had been socialized better she could have gone more places with me. My dogs since have all been socialized well and had a much fuller life for it.

Submitted by Candace | June 7 2011 |

I wish I had known when was the right time to have my dog humanely euthanized. Guy was a fantastic dog and healthy for much of his life. Just after he turned 15, he became frail and couldn’t hold down his food. We took him to the vet, who put him on an IV and kept him at the clinic. The next day I brought him boiled chicken and hamburger, and he ate it. I was ecstatic, especially when he stood up. Wobbly but upright. Our vet said he could go home. Both my husband and I were working that evening, and I asked would it be better under those circumstances for him to stay at the clinic. The vet agreed. We received a call early the next morning from another vet who said Guy had declined overnight. He was whimpering when we saw him and clearly suffering. I felt I had betrayed him, the dog who had been so wonderful to us, by failing to spare him those last 12 hours.

One of the very sad realities of being a responsible pet owner is that we are likely to face a time when we must have our pet put to sleep. But I now know it is more humane, and what our dogs deserve from us, that we consider what suffering – even if it is a few hours – may occur if we err in that decision.

I am volunteer at an animal shelter (see www.dogwalkerdiaries.com), and I meet many people who have dealt with the loss of a pet. It is always painful, period. My hope is that we, as caretakers, know what's right, and when.

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