20 Ways Your Behavior May Be Confusing Your Dog – And What You Should Be Doing Differently

As any animal-lover will tell you, having a dog around the house can be a lot of fun. But did you know that certain human behaviors throughout the day have the potential to bewilder your canine friend? You might not even be aware that you’re doing it! So to help you keep your pooch unperturbed, we’ve taken a closer look at 20 of these confusing actions.

20. Leaving them alone

You’d be hard-pressed to name a more social animal than a dog: they just love having company! But there will be times when their owners need to step away for a period. Maybe they’ve gone to work or headed out for some shopping. Shouldn’t be a problem right? Well, tell that to their pooches.

You see, when certain dogs are left by themselves, they don’t know if their owner will be coming back or not. The canines should get out of that mindset as time goes on, but it doesn’t always happen. So yes, that might explain why your dog happily greets you after a few hours of separation. You haven’t abandoned them!

19. Playtime nibbles

Puppies are always learning from their daily interactions with humans, so we have a responsibility to steer them down the right path. Then again, that’s not as easy as it sounds. For instance, during playtime we might encourage the young dogs to lightly chew our hands if they get excited.

In truth that’s a big no-no and animal expert and vet doctor Antje Joslin explained why on the Insider website. She said, “If gently nipping your hand in play is okay, the puppy won’t know that it’s not okay to bite a child or other person that’s trying to pet them.” Yikes. To prevent that from happening, just call playtime off when they attempt to gnaw you again. The message should be clear.


18. Inconsistent rules

If you own a dog, then household rules are an absolute must. Without them, there’d be utter chaos! And it’s just as important to uphold those regulations as time goes on. After all, that’s the only way your canine friend will learn what it can and can’t do. So that’s why inconsistencies have the potential to cause big problems.

For example, you might let your dog rest on the sofa one day, but get angry at them for being a couch potato on another occasion. That can really throw pooches off, as now they won’t know what to do. The steadiness of rules give our faithful friends a lot of reassurance, while inconsistencies can lead to distress and panic.


17. Tug-of-war

With a whole host of games to choose from, playtime with your dog should be pretty enjoyable. But here’s the thing – one of those activities could plant an unwelcome seed in the canine’s mind. We’re referring to tug-of-war sessions. To fully explain, Dr. Joslin opened up to Insider.

Dr. Joslin noted, “Though this kind of play is fun for both the puppy and the parent, it’s also very confusing. For example, if tug-of-war is okay in play, then why is it wrong if the puppy wants to play tug-of-war with the socks on your feet?” So rather than supporting that behavior during playtime, offer your pooch a treat to release the object.


16. Loving hugs

Who doesn’t love a hug every now and again? It can be the perfect pick-me-up! Mind you, young dogs might not be so appreciative of the gesture. Why’s that? Well, when a canine gets restrained by a different pooch, the outcome isn’t always positive. For instance, it could signal the beginning of a physical scrap.

The close contact also prevents the dog from making a speedy getaway if it so desires. So when you think about your loving dog-hug more closely, it shouldn’t be too surprising if your pooch can’t sense the positive intentions that you’re trying to convey. Can your mutt honestly tell the difference? You could try to show your affection in another way.


15. Soothing words in times of stress

When a loved one’s going through times of great stress, we automatically try to calm them down with words of reassurance. “It’ll be okay, you’ll be fine,” – stuff like that. So if your dog is showing signs of anxiety or fear, you might instinctively decide to adopt a similar strategy. That’s not a good idea, though.

To explain why, a vet named Heather Venkat spoke to Insider. She said, “You can actually make your dog think it’s good to be scared if you pet them and say, ‘Good boy.’ You’re actually encouraging fearful behavior through sweet talk and petting.” In place of the calming words, you could attempt to help your pooch through their issues.


14. Not going for walks

Exercise is an absolute must for dogs, and they usually get their daily dose through walks with their owners. That activity is pretty good for the humans too! But what happens if you neglect those important strolls? How are canines affected by it? Well, they can become extremely restless, which is bad news for your house.

You see, unstimulated dogs have a tendency to dig and gnaw more. It’s not even done out of spite – they just want something to do! Yet those actions can cause owners to get angry, upsetting their pooch in the process. So quite simply, don’t skimp on the walks. It wouldn’t be fair on either of you.


13. Watch your hands

It’s fair to say that our hands get a workout every single day. They’re constantly in use. And that’s especially true if you own a dog. From feeding your beloved pet to giving them plenty of fuss, it’s a very “handsy” job. Yet certain canines might view your appendages in a negative light.

After all, we also utilize our hands to do things that dogs don’t like – such as cutting their claws, giving them medication or just brushing their hair. All this means that some poor pooches can become pretty anxious whenever your extremities get too close. To ease that problem, use positive incentives while you’re training them.


12. Unequal attention

For some animal-lovers, one dog at home just isn’t enough. But as you start to add new faces to your household, you’ve got to find a balancing act when it comes to handing out attention. If you don’t, you could inadvertently cause a serious issue. Canines really take that stuff to heart!

To give you an idea of what we mean, Dr. Venkat provided a couple of examples. She told Insider, “If you always take one pet for car rides or give them treats more than the other, the other dog may become depressed.” So you’ve got to offer all of your pooches an indistinguishable amount of fuss.


11. The food situation

It goes without saying that animals and humans have their own set ways when it comes to eating food. Dogs are very particular in that respect, as their instinct drives them to search out snacks wherever they may be. It could be leftovers in a trashcan, or a sandwich in your lunch pail.

Keeping that in mind, younger canines are sure to be confused when their owners tell them off for such behavior. Given that it’s ingrained in their species, they don’t know any better. If anything, dogs might be equally baffled as to why us humans aren’t pulling food from the trash for a snack! Still, a spot of dog-training could iron out any wrinkles.


10. Timing their training treats

There’s no denying the fact that training a dog can be a very challenging experience. Then again, it’s incredibly rewarding when you manage to pull something off successfully. Yet one aspect of this delicate process has the potential to be overlooked – and it’s not as innocuous as you might think.

Emma Bowdrey, who’s a canine behavioral expert, informed Insider, “When doing something like training your dog to sit, it’s so important to praise them or give a treat at the right moment. If you give a treat too soon, they’ll simply learn to hover. If you wait too long, the dog will attempt some other behavior to see if that gets them the treat.”


9. Forcing them to meet other dogs

Throughout our lives, we’ll meet plenty of shy people at school or at work. Each one is sure to be dealing with their bashfulness in their own way – whatever works for them, right? It’s slightly different with reticent dogs, though. In those situations, their owners have to take charge and aid them.

But you’ve got to be careful how you handle it. Dog trainer Bowdrey told Insider, “Forcing a shy dog into social situations with other dogs will often confuse them and intensify their fear.” So what can you do? Well, the best course of action is to gently introduce your pooch to their fellow canines proximity-wise, edging them physically closer over time.


8. Shaking a finger

Alongside verbal commands, you’ve got to use physical signals to communicate with dogs as well. Yes, it can seem like a hassle, but you’re not Dr. Dolittle. Anyway, one motion in particular could leave your pooch both confused and anxious, even if you didn’t mean it. What could it be?

As it turns out, dogs associate wagging fingers with feelings of annoyance from their owners. Simply put, in their minds that motion usually precedes a telling-off. The website Healthy Pets actually described it as a “universal stress-inducer for dogs,” so unless you’re about to discipline your canine, watch those digits.


7. The keywords

Unsurprisingly, keywords are absolutely crucial if you’ve got a dog at home. Thanks to their training, phrases like “sit” or “fetch” should yield the desired results. But for those of you who are going through the aforementioned process right now, an animal expert has some very important advice to share.

Animal medic Sara Ochoa informed Insider, “When training your dog, try to stick to the same keywords. It can be puzzling for a dog when you ask them to ‘go potty’ one day and ‘go pee’ the next day.” Instead of mixing it up, you’ve just got to ensure that each term is as short and sweet as you can make it.


6. Staring at dogs you don’t know

Sometimes it can be very difficult to look away from a pair of puppy-dog eyes. They’re so precious! Mind you, as alluring as it might be, you’ve got to be careful around canines that you don’t know. In fact, you really shouldn’t stare at them at all. Nothing good can come from it.

You see, according to website iheartdogs, certain dogs interpret prolonged eye-contact with strangers as provocation. And that’s obviously bad news if you want to make a positive impression. Subsequently they could become distressed, so you’d be at a disadvantage in earning their trust. Just look at the floor instead. Or anything else for that matter!


5. Visual drive

No matter how emotionally close we get to our pets, there are still fundamental differences in the ways we approach our lives. For instance, dogs are driven by their sense of smell. They’ve got incredible noses, so trips outside are absolutely perfect for them. Yet it’s not like that for humans.

Sure, we can appreciate pleasant scents, but it doesn’t drive us every day. Instead, we rely on our eyes – and that no doubt confuses our canine friends. After all, why are we getting so much enjoyment out of that colorful, flashing box in the lounge when we could be sniffing the garden air?


4. Scolding past mistakes

Discipline is very important to maintain if you own a dog – they’ll run wild without it! Then again, you’ve got to be mindful of when your pet makes mistakes in the house too. By ignoring that simple fact, you could be doing more harm than good as you tell them off.

Dr. Venkat went into more detail during her chat with Insider. She explained, “Your dog cannot make the connection that you are mad about what he did earlier that day, and will think you are punishing him for no good reason.” To swerve that situation in the future, it might be an idea to put safeguards in place that help prevent repetition of the error.


3. Not rewarding obedience

Obedience is a funny old thing with dogs. Sure, they’ll listen to your commands and instructions, but the compliance doesn’t come for free. You see, canines want to be rewarded for their deeds. Now for some pooches, that desire can be quenched with a bit of fuss, while others seek headier prizes.

If you follow through with that, obedience shouldn’t be an issue. Mind you, not all owners are built that way. In fact, they might withhold any kind of treat for their dog’s efforts. And as a result, the canine could decide to stop listening altogether and develop behavioral problems. So when it comes to treating your pooch properly, there’s a straightforward question you should be asking yourself. In a nutshell, “What’s in it for them?”


2. Punishing them for their animal instinct

Yes, dogs are a man’s best friend, but we can’t forget one important thing – they’re still animals. No matter how much time you spend with your pooch, their instincts won’t just disappear. On that topic, Dr. Ochoa made an interesting point while talking to the Insider website.

Dr. Ochoa noted, “Dogs aren’t humans with fur, and they’re going to roll in the mud and do things that normal dogs do. Don’t scold them for acting like a dog.” So remember, the next time your pet decides to get up close and personal with the dirt outside, hold your tongue.


1. Confusing names

Choosing your dog’s name can be a lot of fun, but certain monikers are capable of causing issues. After all, you’ve got to remember that your pet needs to recognize the title. And that’s not the only thing you have to consider. Dr. Joslin shared her views on this matter during her chat with Insider.

Dr. Joslin explained, “You will want the name to start with a letter that has a sharp, distinct sound. A name that starts with a ‘D,’ ‘T,’ or ‘K’ sound will be easy for your dog to learn. Avoid any names that sound similar or rhyme with the most common dog commands. Names that sound like ‘sit,’ ‘stay,’ ‘heel,’ ‘no,’ and ‘come’ could easily confuse your pup.”