If you are bringing home your very first puppy or dog, it is inevitable that you are going to encounter some hurdles along the way. There are some things you can do which can help make things go a little smoother, and also assist you in creating a special bond with your beloved fur baby that will last a lifetime. Here are my top 10 tips for new dog owners.
- Do a Background Check
It’s important for new dog owners to find a breed that will fit with their lifestyle and environment. If possible, research your dog’s breed or the breeds that are in their family background. It might tell you about their specific needs and temperament. Ask about their medical history and get as much documentation as you can.
Spending some time with your dog’s family, both the canine and the two-legged variety, can give you some idea of what you might expect when it comes to behavior. Of course, this isn’t always possible. If you’re really curious or don’t have access to your dog’s previous owners, you can purchase a dog DNA testing kit that can give you information on your dog’s breed and any genetic conditions they may have.
If you do have the opportunity to speak with your dog’s previous owners, these are some questions you might want to ask:
- Do the parents have any health problems?
- How old is the dog?
- What kind of temperament do they have?
- How much activity are they used to, and how much do they need?
- What kind of training have they had?
- What kind of discipline techniques work?
- Has the dog had experience with other animals or children?
- How much time do they spend inside or outside?
- What kind of food have they been eating and how much?
- Do they have any special likes or dislikes?
- Has the dog been spayed or neutered?
- Have they been treated for parasites and when?
- Is the dog up to date on her shots?
- Keep Your Records Handy
If your dog is from a shelter, you might not know a lot about their background. Get what you can, but now that they’ve found their forever home, you’ll need to keep track of certain things from now on, including:
- When you got them, and\or how old they were
- Trips to the vet, health problems, vaccinations, and medications
- Behavior in different situations, like at the groomers or a kennel
This information should be shared with your vet or anyone else who might spend time with your dog, like a house-sitter. It’s often easier to keep it on your phone so you’ll always have it with you.
- Book a Vet Check-up
Don’t wait for a problem to find a veterinarian. It isn’t something you want to do when you’re pressed for time, and you might not want to go with the first one in the phone book or whoever’s closest.
Look for a place where the technicians are certified and licensed with good online reviews. Ask about prices and common pet-care practices too, like pain relief and if students might be using your pet for practice.
- Get the Right Dog Supplies
Research what you really need for your dog based on age, breed, and activity level. There are millions of products on the market and a lot of people out there happy to sell you something, so make your purchasing decisions wisely. Start with the basics.
Your dog will need:
- a leash
- a collar and\or harness
- a few toys, especially for chewing
- bowls for food and water
- puppy pads for accidents or indoor training
- food and treats
- grooming items
- a place to sleep
- a safe place to get outdoor exercise
- Take Advantage of a Dog Crate
It might look like a cage to you, but a good metal or soft dog crate is a den for your pooch. It can be used for training and to prevent behavior problems, but it should never be used as a punishment. Dogs don’t want to go to the bathroom in their den, so it’s great for house training and to stop them from destroying things at night or when you aren’t home.
If you need to travel, a crate can be a safe, familiar way to transport your dog in a car or other vehicle, too. Used too much though, or the wrong way, and your dog will be afraid of her crate.
Your crate should be large enough for your dog to stand up in and turn around at her adult size, but not so large that she can go to the bathroom at one end and sleep at the other. If she’s a puppy, you can always block part off.
The crate needs to be a place to rest, so don’t leave your dog in the crate too long. Puppies under six months, or dogs who aren’t house trained, shouldn’t be crated for more than three or four hours. If the dog seems depressed, anxious, or hyper, she might need more exercise or attention. You may need to look into a pet sitter or doggy daycare.
- Pick the Right Dog Grooming Items
You’ll need a toothbrush, and you’ll have to get your dog using it. As much as you might wish there was a shortcut, plaque sprays, dental water additives and chew treats aren’t adequate replacements. If you don’t even know how to start brushing dog’s teeth, ask for your veterinarian’s help.
You’ll need the right brush for your dog’s hair too. Some tasks can be outsourced to a professional groomer, and that might be easier for nail clipping, washing, shaving, and trimming. They have tools and expertise that most dog owners don’t, especially if this is your first dog.
- Expertise in Reading Dog Food Labels
Your dog’s diet should fit her age, breed, size, and activity level. Finding high-quality food can be a real challenge, though. More than half of all dog owners find their dog’s nutritional needs more confusing than their own, according to a survey by Purina.
Dogs with diets that are full of grains, potatoes, and byproducts are generally not very healthy. Just because it says natural or grain-free on the label, that doesn’t make it healthy. It could be full of peas, lentils, and chickpeas, which aren’t any better.
Carbohydrate diets spike blood sugar, glucagon, and cortisol, causing obesity and diabetes. The high temperatures used to make such foods add cancerous byproducts too. This has driven many dog owners to try raw food diets, but the bacteria from uncooked meat can be a health hazard for the human owners.
Preparing a home-made diet isn’t easy either, and inexperienced new dog owners may actually leave their pet with nutritional deficiencies by cooking the wrong recipes. The wrong ingredients can also make your dog sick. Ask your vet for advice, or better yet, seek the guidance of a canine nutritionist. You can also do your own research on the dog food brands you’re considering. Be sure to find out:
- how it’s made
- where it’s made
- what ingredients are used and where they are sourced
- how much is appropriate for your dog’s breed, size, age and level of activity
- Assume Your Dog Isn’t House Trained
You don’t want to depend on the last owner’s honesty. Skills are sometimes lost when dogs are under stress or in a new environment. It’s better to assume that you and your dog are going to need to learn the rules of house training together.
You can do this two different ways:
- reward the dog for doing what you want
- prevent mistakes from happening by being proactive
These same principles apply to any kind of dog training, actually. Take the dog out regularly during the day, so both of you get into a set routine. Generally, you can expect your puppy to “hold it” for a number of hours equal to how many months old she is, or up to 4–8 hours for an older dog.
To begin, you’ll want to make a habit of taking the dog out at these times (at least):
- as soon as you get home
- after eating
- after naps
- before playing
- before bed
- Enroll Your Dog in Obedience School
New dog owners have no need to reinvent the wheel. Signing your dog up for obedience class is probably the easiest way for you both to learn together, and it will give you the skills you need to cope with different situations.
It will also help to socialize your dog to be less afraid of strangers and other animals. Obedience classes aren’t just for puppies or young dogs either, and they are a fun thing to do together that helps build your bond.
- Know When You Could Use Some Help
Learning about your dog is a life-long adventure that doesn’t end after the first few months. No one likes to be taken for granted in a relationship, even dogs. Don’t wait for problems to become ingrained.
If you aren’t happy, it’s up to you to do something about it. Ask your veterinarian, dog groomer, trainer, or another dog owner for advice, or read up on the subject.