Dog Parenting 101 - A Complete Guide For First-Time Dog Owners
It doesn't matter if it's a puppy or a fully-grown adult. Welcoming a new dog to your home is one of the most meaningful decisions you can make in your life. If it’s your first time, however, it could get pretty overwhelming. Here’s a handy guide to help ease your experience as a first-time dog parent.
Preparing Your Home
Whether you’re bringing home a juvenile puppy or a fully trained pet, you'll need to prepare almost the same way. If it’s the first time the dog is going to be in your home, expect an adjustment period.
Put Away Breakables and Precious Items
An English Bulldog lying on a rug. (Source)
When dogs experience a place for the first time, their curiosity will always reign. They will want to scout and sniff every nook and cranny of your home.
They'll definitely interact with whatever they find interesting. Unlucky for you, that might mean they end up accidentally breaking a thing or two.
Before you bring home your puppy for the first time, evaluate your home. Determine what things you can set aside for the time being.
Keeping your beloved items safe will keep you from unnecessary frustrations. It may also keep your dog safe from harm.
Eventually, you'll strengthen your bond with your dog and have more confidence in them. When you get there, you can reintroduce the items you put away without fear that your dog will break them.
Remove Toxic Plants
A Boxer sniffing on some fresh lavender. (Source)
Dogs will put anything in their mouths so it’s important that they don’t have access to things that will harm them.
Among the most important things to check your home for are plants that are toxic to dogs. Apparently, they are more common than you might think.
Make sure your home is safe enough for the newest addition to your family. Check out ASPCA’s comprehensive list of toxic plants for dogs.
Plan Their Potty
A dog peeing on a tree. (Source)
Before your dog sets paw in your home, decide on where their toilet will be.
If you have a yard, that would be the ideal place. If you don’t, you can teach your dog to go potty during their morning and evening walks, just make sure to slip on their dog walking harness and dog leash. If you live in an apartment or won’t have the ability to take your dog out at least twice a day, you can also opt for potty pads.
No matter where you’d like them to do their business, accept that accidents will happen.
That's true at least in the first few weeks until you’ve successfully house-trained them. Be prepared to clean up plenty of messes but don’t worry! It all becomes worth it.
Things to Buy for Your Home
A black Labradoodle shopping at a pet store. (Source)
- Crate - Your dog’s crate will be their safe, personal space in your home.
- Bed - Whether you place it inside the crate or somewhere else, the dog bed will keep them comfortable.
- Blanket - If you live in a cold area or you have a dog that feels cold easily, get a blanket they can snuggle with to keep warm.
- Potty items - You’ll need poop bags, scoopers, and other cleaning materials. If you’re house-training indoors, you’ll also need potty pads. Also, consider potty training sprays, which might make the process easier.
- Cleaning Essentials - Make sure you get cleaning sprays specifically for dog messes. Dogs like to do their business in the same place. So, don't let them smell even a trace of their accident in the middle of your living room. They might make that their permanent toilet.
- Food Dish & Water Bowl - Find the right dish and bowl for the size of your pup. If you have a big dog, you might need something to elevate the bowls to the correct height.
Dog Tag and Identification
A young Dalmatian with a proper dog tag. (Source)
Ask the previous carer if your dog is microchipped. If they are, make sure you get instructions on how to update the information. If they’re not microchipped, decide if that’s something you want to do or if it’s something your community requires.
Whether or not your dog is microchipped, it’s a good idea to secure an identification tag to their collar.
The dog tag should contain their name, your phone number, and your home city. That will be extremely helpful in the unlikely event that you lose your dog.
It’s also a good idea to include the date when they received their latest rabies vaccine. That will show anyone who finds them that they’re up-to-date on their shots.
Feeding Your New Dog
A Beagle feeding on kibble. (Source)
Different dogs will have different feeding requirements.
Puppies less than 6 months old should be fed thrice a day. Those older than 6 month can be fed once in the morning and then once in the evening.
Dogs over one year old can generally tolerate once-a-day feeding. But, it’s usually better to feed them two smaller meals rather than a single large one daily. This is to avoid any bloating and digestion problems.
Whether you’re adopting or purchasing your new dog, ask the previous carer about how they’re being fed so far.
In many cases, they’ll also give you a small portion of your dog’s current dog food. That way, you can continue to give the same kind or change it gradually. Abruptly changing your dog’s diet might cause some stomach problems. So, it’s good to transition slowly.
One thing to note is that not all kibble are created equal. Don’t decide based on price alone. Sometimes, the cheaper options have filler carbohydrates.
That will require you to give larger quantities, costing you more in the long run. Opt for high quality dog food and follow the weight-based chart in the package. Then, observe how they respond and adjust portions as you see fit.
Dog Clothes and Accessories
A French Bulldog in a Pupreme dog hoodie. (Source)
Apart from getting a dog collar and harness, you might want to look into getting some dog clothes. Clothes, such as a dog hoodie, are not only fashionable but also functional.
Additionally, there are plenty of serious reasons why dogs benefit from wearing clothes. While most of it has to do with protecting them from extreme weather, there’s no reason why their puppy clothes shouldn’t reflect the latest styles in dog apparel. Choose wisely to keep them comfortable but don’t forget to have some fun!
Another important purchase you might consider making is for the perfect dog harness. While collars are standard accessories, there are many reasons why dog harnesses are necessary.
Not only are there more stylish choices available but they also give you more security and control during walks. For some dogs, harnesses are also a safer choice.
Health and Medical Requirements
A white GSD at the vet’s office. (Source)
If there’s nothing obviously wrong with your new puppy, wait a week before you take them to the vet. That will give them time to adjust to their new family and new home without the added stress of a vet visit.
The shelter or the breeder where your new dog came from should give you your dog’s updated health record. That should tell you what vaccines your dog still needs.
Core Vaccines for Dogs
Generally, dogs must receive the following vaccines:
- Canine Parvovirus – A highly contagious virus that affects the gastrointestinal tract. Dogs affected by this can die within 2 to 3 days.
- Distemper – A fatal virus that affects the gastrointestinal, nervous, and respiratory systems.
- Canine Hepatitis – A serious virus that attacks the liver and affects the kidneys, eyes, and blood vessels.
- Rabies – A fatal virus that affects the nervous system. An infected animal typically transmits it by biting. In some states and countries, rabies vaccination is legally required.
Additional Vaccines for Dogs
The following vaccines are optional. Getting them would depend on your dog’s environment and exposure risk. You and your trusted vet should decide on whether it’s a good idea to vaccinate against these diseases.
- Bordetella bronchiseptica – Infectious bacteria that affects the respiratory system. It is one of the causes of a common illness called “kennel cough.”
- Borrelia burgdorferi –Bacteria that causes Lyme disease in dogs. This is typically transmitted by ticks.
- Leptospira bacteria – Bacteria that causes leptospirosis. This is typically transmitted through contact with infected waters.
The frequency and timing of all vaccines will depend on your vet’s evaluation.
Usually, this depends on the potency of the vaccine itself. Your dog’s age, lifestyle, environment, and medical history will also factor in.
When your puppy has adjusted to their new living situation, ask your local vet to do a general check-up. This involves a physical examination where your vet will feel your puppy's different body parts.
They’ll also use a stethoscope to listen to your pup’s heartbeat and breathing. Lastly, they'll check your dog's ears, teeth, and genitals.
Vets will make recommendations on your puppy’s care based on this general check-up.
Make sure to ask about oral hygiene, dietary suggestions, and parasite preventives. Your vet will also be able to give you grooming tips to keep your puppy healthy.
Bathing and Grooming
A white dog getting a blow dry. (Source)
Different dogs will have different grooming requirements. For example, caring for Poodles will be unlike caring for French Bulldogs or Pugs. Most of the difference is because of the texture of their coats.
A Golden Retriever getting a bath. (Source)
Dogs don’t need to bathe as often as you might think. In fact, the ASPCA recommends that you give your dog a bath at least once every three months.
Of course, this really depends on many factors including your dog’s lifestyle and health.
If they suffer from skin conditions or spend a lot of time outdoors, you might need to bathe them more often. The schedule is something you can decide with your vet.
No matter how often you decide to bathe your pet, make sure you use a shampoo that’s made specifically for them. Human shampoo may have chemicals that could irritate your dog’s skin.
After each bath, make sure to dry them as thoroughly as you can. Pay special attention to the ears and folds to avoid infections.
Related: How To Wash Dog Laundry
Dog running away with a bristle brush. (Source)
Brushing helps spread your dog’s natural oils throughout their coat. It’s important to do this regularly to keep their hair in good condition. It will also help keep their skin healthy. Additionally, this is a great way to bond as well as check for fleas and ticks.
How often you need to brush your dog’s hair really depends on your dog’s coat. It’s always best to consult with your vet but here’s a general guide:
A Whippet showing its healthy teeth and gums. (Source)
Bacteria and plaque can quickly form on your dog’s teeth. If you don’t clean it regularly, they’ll end up with tartar.
That can cause a variety of serious oral problems. Among them are tooth loss, receding gums, and gingivitis.
Generally, it’s recommended for you to brush your dog’s teeth at least twice or thrice a week.
Use toothpaste that’s formulated for dogs. And, experiment with various tools to see which works best for you and your pup.
There are dog toothbrushes, which are different from human toothbrushes. They have longer handles, smaller brush heads, and softer bristles. There are also brushes that go over your finger to give you more control.
A Bernese Mountain Dog showing off its perfectly trimmed nails. (Source)
How quickly nails grow varies per individual dog and their lifestyle. Because of that, there's really no standard schedule.
Walking on pavement helps file nails down. So, dogs that spend a lot of time outside require trimming less frequently.
Generally, you know they’re due for a trim when their nails start clicking on the floor as they walk.
To trim your dog’s nails, you can choose among the available tools. The most common ones are scissor-type clippers, guillotine-type clippers, and electric nail grinders. You may also want to use an emery board to smoothen rough edges after every cut.
A vet examining a military German Shepherd’s ear. (Source)
Never probe inside your dog’s ear canal. Doing so can cause injury and infection. To properly care for your dog’s ears, all you need to do is a regular inspection.
If the ears appear dirty, take a cotton ball that’s dampened with a liquid ear cleaner. Then, gently wipe the dirt in the direction opposite of the ear canal.
You can always ask your vet for a more thorough inspection and cleaning if your dog ever needs it.
Exercising and Training
A woman jogging with her dog. (Source)
Ample exercise is crucial to having a well-behaved dog. Without exercise, they can easily get bored.They'll use up their pent up energy on destructive behavior.
This might include being hyperactive indoors and chewing on your things. They might also bark incessantly and bug you for attention.
Daily Exercise Requirements
Your dog’s exercise requirements will depend on a variety of things. This includes their age, breed, and health condition.
Puppies generally have more energy than adults. But, they won’t be able to tolerate long sessions of intense exercise.
A 3-month-old puppy might need no more than two 15-minute exercise sessions per day. On the other hand, a 6-month-old might require around 30 minutes of exercise, twice a day.
Once dogs turn 1, they’re considered as adults. They will either need more exercise or less, depending on their breed.
Here’s a rough guide for how much exercise the typical adult dog really needs based on their breed:
For adult dogs, you can meet the minimum daily exercise requirement all in one go. But, there’s also benefit to cutting it into two sessions per day.
Remember that this is just a basic recommendation. It’ll be up to you to observe your dog and adjust based on how they respond.
Generally, dogs are more easily trained after exercise. This is because they’ve already expended their pent-up energy.
It's true that you can hire a dog trainer for basic obedience. But, there are plenty of benefits to training your dog yourself. It could be a very fulfilling activity for you and it’s definitely a great bonding experience.
The trick to training your own dog is discovering exactly what motivates them the most.
Like most dogs, food is probably what drives your puppy. Pick up some high quality training treats and use them as rewards whenever they get things right. Other dogs are more motivated by toys or even by petting and scratches.
No matter what it is, try to figure it out because it’ll be the most valuable training tool you can have.
A black Labrador Retriever and her plush gorilla. (Source)
Dog toys may seem like a luxury but they’re actually very important in having a well-behaved dog. Generally, it’s recommended for you to have four kinds of toys:
- Chew toys – These help address a dog’s natural tendency to chew. By giving them something of their own to chew, you keep them from destroying your own stuff. Chew toys also give them something to do when they’re bored.
- Playtime toys – These are used only during active play and are not meant for chewing all day long. These include fetch balls, frisbees, and similar toys.
- Comfort toys – These might bring a sense of security, especially for dogs with separation anxiety. They include dog plush toys, blankets, and squeaky toys.
- Interactive toys – These help with mental stimulation. They might include puzzle toys, treat-dispensing toys, and tetherballs.
Introducing Your Family
A dog meeting the kids in his new family for the first time. (Source)
If you’re sharing your home with other people, it’s important to avoid overwhelming the dog.
Keep in mind that simply being in a new place could make them scared and anxious. The best way to introduce your new dog to their human family is to gather everyone in one place and keep the dog in a loose leash.
Make sure everyone is calm and ask them to wait for the dog to approach them and not the other way around.
A very good way for human family members to meet a new dog for the first time is to first take it for a walk. This gets rid of their excess energy and will make it easier to control them.
Then, give each family member a high value treat to hold. If the dog approaches them, they hand over the treat. This helps the dog associate positive feelings with each one.
Family boding time with the kids and dog. (Source)
Throughout the entire introduction, keep in mind that you’re in control. Make sure you observe the dog’s body language. A wagging tail is generally a good sign. If they look excited, relaxed, and eager to play, keep at it because the dog is comfortable and being social.
On the other hand, if their tail is stiff and their ears are folded back, you might want to take the dog out of the situation and try even more slowly next time. Other obvious signs of discomfort are pulling back or even growling or being aggressive.
In any case, the leash will help you exercise control. Respond according to what you feel is best for the dog.
Introducing Other Pets
An orange cat and a black dog cozying up to each other. (Source)
If you have cats and other social pets, supervise heavily and observe how each animal reacts to one another. There’s a chance that resident pets will be territorial and unwelcoming to newcomers.
In that case, keep them apart and give them a few minutes at a time to interact with each other. Separate them as soon as you observe signs of discomfort or aggression.
The most important thing to do when introducing resident pets to your new dog is to keep calm. Chances are that the animals will take their cue from you.
If they see that you’re calm and eager for them to interact, they’re more likely to feel safe and trust each other.
At this point, you have everything from vaccination to dog apparel covered.
It’s time to relax and enjoy the joys as well as the pains of being a new dog parent.
For most things, you just need to trust your gut. At the end of the day, your love for your new companion will give you the right instincts to give them the best care possible.