Finding Your Feet as a First-Time Dog Owner
Every new dog owner wants to give their pup a happy life filled with love, companionship, and fun.
If you’re considering bringing home a canine, you’re likely excited—and a little overwhelmed.
We’re the first to admit that dogs are a big responsibility, especially in the beginning. Ask any dog owner about the initial growing pains, however, and they’ll almost always tell you the rewards are well worth the work.
At Breed Advisor, we’re passionate about helping first-time dog owners navigate the new and exciting world of dog ownership.
From pet-proofing your house to bringing home your pup and establishing a daily routine, this article will cover many topics that will relieve some of the stress associated with becoming a pet parent. We hope the information provided here will make the process a more enjoyable one.
Like bringing home a new baby, you might recall the first several weeks of dog ownership as a bit of a haze. Fortunately, your pup will grow and learn quickly, and shower you with an unlimited supply of unconditional love and gratitude for giving him a forever home.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about owning a dog. Whether you need a complete overview, or you have a specific dog-related question, read on!
Below, you’ll find loads of helpful information broken down into four easy-to-navigate categories, including:
- Choosing a Dog
- Bringing Your Canine Home
- Raising a Great Dog
- Properly Caring for Your Pup
Our ultimate goal is to make your transition into pet ownership an easy and enjoyable one. Let’s get started!
Choosing a Dog
You may have a specific dog breed in mind, or you might be open to suggestions. Some folks are drawn to larger breeds, while others prefer smaller pups. We understand that physical appearance is often a driving factor when it comes to choosing a dog, but we highly encourage future pup parents to consider the following factors before selecting a four-legged family member:
- Take your living space into account, as well as your outdoor space. Larger dogs and working breeds need lots of room to explore, play, and be active. Do you have a yard or access to a nearby dog park? These are important considerations.
- Consider your lifestyle. If you have limited time at home and prefer a cuddly companion, opt for a breed that is content with plenty of downtime. If you’re active and would like to include your pup in fun activities, an energetic breed is your best bet.
- Check into breeds that meet your family’s needs. If you have young children, we recommend mellow breeds in lieu of aggressive breeds. Allergy sufferers do best with less-allergenic pups, but it’s important to keep in mind that no breed is completely hypoallergenic.
- Consider how much time you can devote to your dog. Even beyond the first few weeks, dogs require ongoing training, grooming, and a daily dose of together time. They also need exercise, and time devoted to play. Some breeds require lots of training and frequent grooming and/or medical care, so carefully researching the needs of multiple breeds will help you make a good choice!
For more tips on selecting the perfect dog for you and your family, check out our helpful guide: How to Choose the Right Dog Breed.
Bringing Your Canine Home
While it’s important to choose a dog that will fit into your current lifestyle, it’s also essential to consider the future before making an ultimate decision. According to PetMD, dogs typically live anywhere from 8 to 11 years, so prospective dog owners should be ready and willing to make a long term commitment.
Once you’ve chosen a pup, you’ll need to pick up a few supplies before introducing your pooch to his new home, all of which can be found at your local pet store or online:
- A collar and leash: Take these along when you pick up your pup. Some shelters and breeders do send new pet parents home with basic supplies, so check beforehand to see if these items are provided.
- Food and water bowls: Place the bowls where you plan to keep them to avoid confusing your pet.
- Food and treats: Opt for high-quality food that contains meats, grains, veggies, and fruits. Unsure which brand to purchase? Check out this page. Treats should also be rich in nutrients and low-calorie.
- Dog bed: Your pup will appreciate having his own little corner in your home. Spruce up his spot with a comfy, supportive bed.
- Carrier and/or crate: Your puppy or adult dog will need lots of wiggle room, so be sure to invest in a crate or carrier that’s roomy. You may need to upgrade as your canine grows.
- Preventative medications: Check with the shelter or breeder to see if your dog has been given flea/tick prevention and/or heartworm medication. If not, speak with your pet’s veterinarian for personalized recommendations.
- Toys: Pick up an assortment of toys to determine which types your pup likes best. Try rotating toys to help stave off boredom.
Curious about the cost of owning a dog? We break it down here: What is the True Cost of Owning a Dog?
Ahead of bringing your pup home, you’ll want to prepare every room he’ll have access to. It’s important to thoroughly dog-proof your house prior to his arrival. The following checklist will make the process quick and easy:
- Choose a dedicated area for your dog’s food and water bowls. Avoid high-traffic areas to ensure your pup can eat and drink in peace.
- Select a spot for your dog’s bed and/or crate. We recommend a quiet place that’s not completely isolated.
- Install any necessary gates and/or pet stairs. This will help cut down on the commotion after bringing your furbaby home.
- Scour your home for household cleaners and store them out of reach. Many cleaners are hazardous to pets, so it’s best to choose products that are pet-safe.
- Tuck away loose cords, as your dog might mistake them for chew toys.
- Place all breakables in a safe place, especially if your dog is large or a high-energy breed.
- Make sure your houseplants aren’t accessible, as many plants are toxic to pups. For detailed information and a list of toxic plants, visit the ASPCA
- Pick up toys, clothes, and other belongings. Do a quick sweep of your home for clothing items, shoes and slippers, children’s toys, and any other items you prefer to keep slobber-free.
Creating a Welcoming Environment
A warm and welcoming space will help your dog adapt to his humble abode. You can make his homecoming a happy one with the following tips:
- Let your dog settle in before introducing him to loved ones. It may be tempting to invite family members, friends, and neighbors over to meet your new pet, but holding off for the first week or so is highly recommended. You and your family can spend this time getting acquainted with your pup. Meeting new people can be overwhelming for canines, so stick to immediate family at first.
- Take your dog on a tour. When you arrive home with your pup, show him around. Before going inside, take him on a tour of the yard, and show him where he’s expected to pee and poo. Once inside, focus on the areas that will be accessible to your pup. Acquaint him with the spots he’ll be eating and sleeping.
- Establish a routine and house rules right away. Your new pet will develop trust and feel more at ease if you implement rituals early. Sticking to regular feeding times, exercise time, playtime, snuggle time, and bathroom breaks will show your pooch he can count on you. Establishing house rules is also important, as inconsistencies will result in confusion for your canine.
- Acquaint your dog to your neighborhood. Dogs are curious, social creatures, so venturing outdoors will likely become a daily highlight. When you explore your neighborhood together, be sure to keep your pup on a leash and adhere to the rules and laws specific to your area.
Raising a Great Dog
Training a dog is an ongoing process. The most well-behaved pups are well-loved, well-trained, and typically raised in relatively consistent households.
The following tips will help you raise an amazing pup:
- Practice patience. If you’ve ever been in an unpredictable environment, you know how off-putting and nerve-wracking it can be. Dogs sense their owners’ emotions, picking up on subtle cues like gestures, body language, and facial expressions. When you become irritable, your pet will undoubtedly notice. Practicing patience will build trust between the two of you and allow your dog to relax.
- Train your dog to be safe. It’s essential to train your dog with safety in mind. Teach him to come when called and to go outside only with your permission. Pups can be impulsive, so implementing safety rules early on will help keep your dog safe.
- Don’t go it alone. Training a dog to be his absolute best takes a collaborative effort. At home, the entire family should be involved in the training process, and it’s incredibly important for each family member to be consistent. Dog training centers are an amazing resource for canines of all ages. We recommend checking reviews for local centers before enrolling your pup. We’re also massive fans of dog training extraordinaire Zak George. You can check out his wildly popular YouTube channel here.
- Use positive reinforcement. Just like humans, dogs thrive on praise and positive interaction. Treats and toys are great, but love and attention are even better! Dogs who are constantly scolded, and those who are raised in unpredictable environments, become fearful and confused. These canines often take out their frustration by withdrawing and exhibiting bad behavior.
Properly Caring for Your Pup
Taking good care of your pet will increase the chance of him living a healthy, happy life. You can help your pup live his best life with these tips:
- Make physical activity part of your daily routine. Being active on a regular basis is just as important for animals as it is for people. Make daily walks or jogs part of your daily routine, play fetch in the yard, or create a makeshift obstacle course indoors. Check out our recent article, 15 Fun Activities for You and Your Dog, for more ideas!
- Treat your dog to high-quality food. Your pet deserves nutrient-rich food and treats, so it’s important to opt for high-quality kibble and snacks. Avoid feeding your dog table scraps, and limit treats to 10% of your pup’s diet. Portion size is also an important consideration. Check with your pet’s veterinarian for recommended serving sizes. Additionally, make sure your dog always has access to clean, fresh water.
- Encourage socialization. Puppy playdates are an excellent way to introduce your dog to fellow canines. Aside from meeting other pups, socialization also involves adapting to society by familiarizing your pooch with various types of people, different environments, etc. The more you expand your pet’s world, the richer his life will become.
- Schedule regular checkups. Most dog experts recommend an annual veterinary exam. Puppies require more frequent visits for routine vaccines and checkups. Some breeds are prone to health conditions, which may require frequent examinations. Be sure to follow your vet’s recommendations regarding frequency of visits.
- Give your dog a job. Everyone needs to feel a sense of purpose, and this certainly doesn’t exclude canines. Dogs were initially bred to carry out specific jobs, so giving them a daily task (and praising them for it!) will give them a sense of purpose and pride.
- Get your dog spayed or neutered. To give your dog the best chance at living a long, healthy life, spaying or neutering is highly recommended. Pups who are fixed are generally healthier overall and exhibit fewer behavioral problems.
- Prioritize together time. Perhaps most importantly, your dog needs to know he’s loved and valued. By prioritizing your time together, you’ll show your pet that he’s an essential part of your life and family. There’s no substitute for quality time.
Need more advice on creating the best possible life for your dog? Check out this helpful article, which highlights 15 ways to enhance your dog’s health and happiness.
Taking it One Day at a Time
As with any new adventure, dog ownership involves a learning curve. Be patient with yourself and your pup. It’ll take time to get acquainted, establish a routine, and form a lifelong bond.
We’re here to help as you navigate daily life with your four-legged companion. If you’re considering multiple breeds, check out our Detailed Breed Guides to assist with the decision-making process. We also invite you to stop by our blog regularly for helpful hints, tried-and-true tips, and encouragement along the way.
Welcome to pup parenthood! There’s truly nothing like it.