No dog care advice can be exhaustive, but we compiled a comprehensive guide to address issues you may encounter as a new dog owner. Knowing how to be a responsible pet owner does not happen automatically. Even if you have owned several dogs in the past, we inserted reminders and tips we feel might be helpful for every experience level.
Prepare Before You Get Your Dog
A dog requires mental and emotional preparation on your part. Your relationship with your dog can be among the most gratifying you ever have.
Recognize the Commitment
A dog, like a child, requires a long-term commitment. This obligation must satisfy the financial and emotional needs of your pet. Moreover, owning a dog necessitates you provide him with basic comforts.
Evaluate Your Lifestyle
First and foremost, you must assess whether your lifestyle can reasonably accommodate a dog. Can you afford dog food, health care, and equipment on an ongoing basis?
If you work long hours every week or travel out of town for long stretches, you may not be able to fit a dog into your routine. Dogs are social, and your prolonged absences will deprive your pet of a vital need for pack interaction.
Determine your level of activity and think about your hobbies. Make an honest evaluation. Do you like to go hiking every weekend or running each morning? Are certain days of the week your down times where you just want to chill at your computer? Which of your activities are you willing to include your dog in?
You want a dog who is happy with what you like to do. Once you analyze your patterns, research canine breeds to determine which personality type best matches you.
You can consider mixed breeds also and even “designer dogs” like Labradoodles.
How many people are in your household will affect what type of dog you should consider. Do you have children? Some dogs are too large and rambunctious to trust around small kids. Others are too small and fragile to be safe or secure around toddlers. Terriers by nature have a strong prey drive, and even small ones can be snappy with babies and very young children.
Another consideration is that certain dogs are shy. They do better with fewer people living in the home. Still, other dogs are best suited for a single owner and may always be somewhat aloof with other family members.
If you have other pets, it will be easier if you bring in a new dog who is naturally social. For example, an Alaskan Malamute may not be the best choice if you have an established group of Jack Russells. Malamutes are large with aggressive tendencies towards other animals. Jack Russells are small and energetic.
If you have cats, seek out breeds known to be accepting and gracious around these animals.
We strongly caution against leaving cats, children, or small dogs unattended with large dogs. Disagreement can lead to devastating consequences for smaller individuals.
Choose a Breed That Fits Your Dog Profile
Once you have analyzed your lifestyle, you are ready to research the different breeds that might fit your needs. Everyone has their breed preferences, but try not to force an inappropriate pet into your current situation. An unhappy dog is dangerous and creates a miserable owner.
Working breeds are generally great for active singles or couples. Herding breeds like border collies and German shepherds are social and highly trainable. They can be rather intense for small children. Guard dogs similarly have high focus and energy for active lifestyles. However, most are large dogs which can preclude their suitability for tiny children.
Working dogs tend not to be suitable for apartment living unless you have the means to provide abundant exercise or a job. Guard dogs and herding breeds do well with older children and will protect entire families.
Toy breeds like Chihuahuas and poodles often do best with a single owner and as solitary pets. Children usually do not know how to handle them.
If you are looking for a good family dog, sporting dogs like retrievers, hounds, setters, and spaniels always seem to take everything in stride. Beagles and Labrador retrievers are some of the most adaptable dogs, happy with small children and solitary adults alike.
Standard poodles, bulldogs, and corgis do well with families and children. Make sure to take grooming and health concerns into account. Be mindful that bulldogs and herding breeds can have assertive personalities.
Giant breeds like Great Danes and Newfoundlands can make good laid-back family pets. Their size does not mean they will tolerate kids climbing all over them.
Temperament is one of the most important characteristics of a dog. Genetics plays a crucial role in temperament and attitude in canines. Once again, breeding can play a significant role in how a dog interacts with his environment and other beings.
Often your breeder can recommend different puppies in his litters based on how their temperaments mesh with your energy or lifestyle. Some breeders will perform personality tests and try to match you with the most compatible personality for your needs.
Know certain breed characteristics and use caution with dogs that are overly shy, skittish, or aggressive. Some undesirable traits begin to surface at a very young age.
While some breeds are predisposed to be aggressive or dominant, individuals of all types exhibit a few unique personality traits. Some dogs are naturally more confident, aggressive, or alpha, while others are more submissive or easy-going. If you have limited time, patience, or firmness, stay away from alpha dogs. If you are imposing in stature, a timid dog probably will not be right for you.
Homeless and unwanted dogs often make excellent family pets. Adopting a dog enables you to give a pet a second chance at a forever home. Many are pure-breeds, but quite a few are also of mixed descent. Figuring out personality relies on more of a hands-on assessment because these dogs may have unclear backgrounds and questionable breeding. Sometimes mixed breeds have fewer extremes in personality.
Your personality is just as important as your dog’s when it comes to training. Do you have the patience to work with a stubborn, bull-headed dog? Bulldogs and some terriers can pose real challenges with their willfulness. Do you have the authority to deal with a large independent mind? Some herding breeds were genetically selected to make their own decisions. Do dogs perceive strength in you? Can you provide firm guidance to an independent dog? It would help if you had these qualities for many breeds like the Kuvasz.
Even highly trainable dogs need constant reminders and reassurances that you are a good leader. Again, researching breed predilections will help you select the most amenable dog for your personality. Training establishes a pack bond which will keep your dog a happy and suitable member of your family. You can read more about dog training below.
Living Area Considerations
Not all small dogs will be happy in a small apartment, and not every large breed needs a huge yard. Again, breed research can be key to finding an appropriate dog for your living situation. St.Bernards are not as active as some dogs, but their huge size warrants caution keeping them in confined areas. On the other hand, Schipperkes weigh under 20 pounds but need strenuous exercise.
If you are unsure about the activity of a certain breed or group of dogs, research its background. If the dog you are considering was originally bred to guard goats in the Siberian tundra, assume he is an active, robust dog regardless of his size.
Some residential properties have size limits. This will, of course, dictate what kind of dog you can have. Knowing how large breeds can get is pertinent if you are considering a puppy. Be aware that some landlords have both height and weight restrictions.
One last important thing to ask yourself is, “What are the rules of your residence regarding dogs?” Many apartments and other rented properties are constantly tightening regulations that forbid certain breeds and breed mixes. Pit bulls, bulldogs, Rottweilers, Dobermans, and boxers could all be on the same list of prohibited dogs. Moreover, your bylaws could ban any dogs that even resemble them. Restrictions reference to any number of reasons, including tendencies towards aggression, destruction of property, and disturbance to others (i.e. barking and howling).
Reach Out to Breeders
Your breeder can be an invaluable resource to you if you can establish a good rapport with him or her. Breeders are usually very passionate and knowledgeable about their respective breeds. They often have a good sense of which dogs will fit into which households. If local, they can provide you information about where to buy your dog food and which veterinarian to use.
Find out which, if any, registries your new dog may belong to and what it means.
Once you select a type of dog, reach out to your breeder about the health, temperament, and size of each parent. Obtain any vaccination and examination records on the pups and results of any tests on the adults.
Learn Everything About the Breeder
Find out what you can about your breeder. How many dogs do they have? How often do they breed their females? Do the dogs get breaks between litters? When does a female get to retire? Where do the dogs stay and how do they live? Does the breeder to care for his dogs genuinely or does he just run a money-making operation or puppy mill? Visit the breeder if you can. Determine if the dogs seem happy and well cared for. Ensure your breeder has regular interactions with a veterinarian for every litter. Your pup should have received one or two sets of vaccinations and have been before you bring it home.
Become a Dog Owner
You have finally decided on your ideal dog and have even picked one out. You are ready to move from dog lover to dog ownership. The transition is important to ensure a long-term relationship with your new friend.
Get Your Agreement in Writing
Whether you obtain your puppy from a humane society or your best friend who had an accidental litter, make sure you establish all agreements in writing. During the euphoria of new dog hysteria, it is difficult to imagine anything going wrong. Written contracts prevent confusion of terms if they by necessity come up later.
First, make sure you receive a receipt or bill of sale. It is never the entire story, but it will help prove a dog belongs to you.
Double check that you understand any return policies. Many contracts have clauses that enable a puppy’s return if he becomes sick within a set amount of time. It may be heart-wrenching to consider returning a dog once you have fallen in love. Contracts protect you against impossible circumstances such as serious viruses and heart defects. It is better to have them in place before you need to make any tough decisions.
Contracts concerning pure-breed dogs should include any certifications pertinent to the breed in question. These are not limited to hip and eye certificates.
Another standard issue that some breeders place in contracts is future use of the dog. This can range anywhere from what kind of home and yard you provide for your pet to whether you can ever breed or show him.
Sometimes your breeder will call for evaluation later in your dog’s life to assess its suitability for breeding. In such cases, breeders often stipulate terms like whether they get a puppy from future litters your dog produces. You need to honestly decide if you want this amount of ongoing involvement with your breeder.
Some contracts require you to spay or neuter your dog within a specific time frame. Often breeders spay and neuter puppies before you take one.
Should I Register My Dog?
In a few cases, you may be required to register your dog. Showing and breeding a qualified dog can bring an additional avenue of joy to pet ownership. If you have an interest in these activities, research which registries pertain to the breed you are considering. Not all breeds are registered with the American Kennel Club, and some can be registered with multiple groups. Otherwise, these types of registrations are optional.
However, you should register your dog with any relevant microchipping or other identification and location agencies. This could prove vital if you ever become separated from your pet.
Get Ready and Bring Your New Dog Home
The big day has finally arrived, and you can barely contain your excitement. You are ready to open your home to your new puppy or dog.
Buy Dog Essentials
- High-quality dog food – take into consideration any food allergies or hypersensitivity.
- Collar and leash – make sure these are of good quality materials and appropriate fit. Certain breeds and certain tracheal conditions require a harness rather than a neck collar.
- Grooming tools – make sure you have medicated shampoos if necessary. Purchase brushes appropriate for coat length and thickness. I personally would leave clipping to professional groomers.
- Beds – your dog may sleep next to you, but he requires the option to have his own bed. You can research quality dog beds on the market or make your own.
- Dog kennel or crate – crates can be an indispensable training tool for some dogs. For other dogs, it provides security or privacy.
Having specific schedules will keep you organized and help establish a routine for your dogs. Canines are adaptable, but they enjoy a basic pattern they can rely on from day to day.
- Feeding – feed your dog at the same time every day.
- Changing water – keep it clean and fresh. As a good rule of thumb, your dog should get at least 1 ounce of water daily for each pound he weighs.
- Exercising – you will quickly ascertain how much walking your dog needs to be content. Come up with a minimum and any extra can be a treat.
- Cleanup – schedule cleaning the yard, your pet’ bedding, food and water bowls, and toys.
- Grooming – set aside time to bathe your dog, whether weekly or monthly. You should brush your dog multiple times a week and even brush his teeth.
Dog-Proof Your Home
Even if you are welcoming an adult dog, you do not know his proclivities. He may eat plastic bags or socks. Make sure to remove all hazards from reach. Think like a dog who can dig, burrow, and nudge things open. Check countertops and tabletops.
Introduce Your Dog to People and Other Pets
Introduction of your dog to people in your household is relatively easy if the humans are educated about proper canine etiquette.
- Allow the dog freedom and enable him to become used to your presence. Most well-socialized dogs will readily approach you.
- Learn canine body language – look for tenseness in the set of the tail, restlessness in the eyes, tightness of the lips and erect hairs along the back. Use caution with any dog who has a known history of abuse or who is obviously fearful.
- Approach petting a dog from the sides and underneath, never over the top of the head. All movements should be slow and deliberate. Avoid grabbing motions.
You can employ a few ways to introduce dogs to one another. We discuss a couple.
The first method employs the use of kennels or crates and a separate room. It relies on your dog’s prioritization of scent over vision. You introduce the dogs by placing scent articles (items belonging to the unfamiliar animal) in the kennel with the dogs. They become familiar with each other through their sense of smell, never seeing each other until later. They take turns roaming the house or spending time in their kennels with the other dog’s scent prominent everywhere. This method eliminates the initial posturing that leads to so much tension when dogs first meet.
When introducing your dog to another dog, both animals should be on a loose leash. A neutral place away from home may work best. Allow them to sniff each other and carefully read body language. Be ready to make a quick leash correction or intervention.
Be conscious of the fact that males are generally larger, more territorial, and aggressive than females. This is not true of all breeds. It is especially true of unaltered animals.
It may take several days before you can trust two dogs for extended periods in the same room. Puppies may be easier, but adult dogs can be somewhat intolerant of their antics.
Proceed with extreme caution when introducing adult dogs and cats. Even a small dog is dangerous for a cat. On the other hand, aggressive or frightened cats may lash out and cause scratches on the eye’s surface. Introduce animals over days to weeks if necessary and be as cautious as possible about leaving them alone together. Again, puppies can be easier if the cat is tolerant.
Take Care for Your Dog’s Health and Well-Being
Locate and establish a relationship between your new dog and a veterinarian right away. Many contracts require a timely physical examination within a few days of new ownership anyway.
Preventative maintenance is always superior to treating diseases or health issues. Make sure your dog receives regular examinations. Keep in contact with your veterinarian about questions or concerns regarding your pet’s health needs.
With the growing controversies about certain vaccinations, your veterinarian is an excellent source to formulate an appropriate protocol for your pet. With the resurgence of some serious diseases, it is impossible to eliminate vaccinations from your dog’s regimen.
Heartworms threaten dogs in most areas since they are carried by mosquitoes. Testing for them and preventing them is easy and should be part of routine care.
If you have no plans to breed your dog, you should spay her or neuter him. Altering dogs Spaying or neutering) improves wandering tendencies, prevents certain health issues like testicular or mammary gland cancer, and decreases aggression.
Research your breed to determine any predilections for certain ailments such as diabetes, allergies, bloat, and hip dysplasia. Talk freely about any health concerns with your veterinarian.
Feed Your Dog a Healthy Diet
If you are having a problem selecting a proper diet from the plethora of available dog food, despair not. We can present a general overview, but you can also use your breeder, groomer, a friend who is a dog owner or a veterinarian as resources.
Raw diets are potentially the most wholesome way to feed your dog, but they are also the most time-intensive. You will need to perform extensive research and still enlist the help of a veterinarian or a pet nutritionist. Finding quality ingredients is easy enough. The challenge is providing balance with appropriate vitamins and minerals and eradicating potential pathogens in raw meats.
Assessing Commercial Diets
It is easy to become overwhelmed by the brightly-colored bags and long aisles of dog food. The only important factor, however, is how food can optimize the health of your pet.
- Study the label – the information you need may take some effort to find, but it is somewhere on the label. If it is too difficult to analyze a particular dog food, move on to the next one.
- Try to find impartial dog food reviews – customer reviews tell you mostly about palatability and effects on the skin and digestive system. These can be quite valuable.
- Assess the ingredients – food you give to your dog should have reliable and untainted content. A meat protein from a sustainable source should ideally be the top ingredient in dog food. Look at the top 5 ingredients as these will be in the highest quantities and the most important providers of proteins and carbohydrates. Then search for the fat source, which should also be animal.
- Take a glance at the list of vitamins and minerals – make sure the company makes an effort to list some and check that you recognize at least a few of them.
- Remember any special dietary needs your dog may have – choose limited ingredients, no grain, or sensitive stomach diets if required. Contact your veterinarian for guidance or recommendations for your dog.
Keep Your Dog Safe
You are responsible for the welfare of your dog, but you are also liable for anything he or she may do under your care. That means you must safeguard the public from any destructive or aggressive tendencies your dog may have.
Identification is paramount to reuniting you with your dog if he somehow becomes lost.
- Tattoos – used to be more common before microchips. They are performed under anesthesia and can be spotted immediately if someone finds your dog.
- ID tags – do not underestimate the power of simple dog tags on your pet’s collar or harness. If someone recovers your dog, that is usually the first place they look.
- Microchipping – an invaluable tool because they do not wear away or fade and they cannot become lost. Microchipping may also prevent your dog from being trafficked for research or other uses as most facilities now scan incoming animals. Microchipping is the single best chance you can give yourself to relocate a lost dog.
Protection From the Elements
Providing your dog protection from the elements is a basic need. Even an outside dog needs shelter from the sun, wind, and precipitation. Winter breeds can withstand cold weather but need support in subzero temperatures and protection from windchill. Insulated dog houses can offer comfort in the cold and heat. Sometimes it is appropriate to simply bring a dog into the house. Usually, senior dogs and puppies need more protection from the elements than adults.
If your dog spends a large portion of his time outside, make sure you have a fence that keeps him inside boundaries.
You have an additional burden if you are on notice that your dog is aggressive. Your dog could be in grave danger if he injures a person, pet, or livestock. State and local municipalities seem to have less tolerance for canine infractions than they may have in the past.
Dogs that escape just to run also face threats from other dogs, possibly wild animals, and vehicles.
Traveling With Your Dog
When you travel with your pet, be sure you bring his essentials. It is important to feed the food he usually eats. If in a car, always keep your dog on a leash. Many dogs escape at rest stops.
When flying, have your dog examined. You can ask your veterinarian about any measures you can take to reduce your dog’s anxiety or soothe his motion sickness. Be sure your friend is healthy enough to travel by plane. Arm yourself with knowledge about his whereabouts if he is not with you at every step. For example, you need to know if he will be in cargo and what the condition will be.
Make Time For Your Dog
One of the most important needs you can satisfy for your dogs is to spend quality time with him. A dog’s role and position in a pack are vital to his survival in the wild. For a pet dog, you and your family become his pack. Without frequent contact and bonding activities with his pack members, dogs become anxious and displaced. They can manifest this with destructive behaviors.
Being in the same room with your dog is not necessarily spending time with him. Ignoring a dog is not always a bad thing, but you also need to carve out time to interact with him.
- Play with your dog – break the ice with his favorite ball or another kind of toy. Dogs also enjoy chase games, which will enable you to incorporate some exercise into your quality bonding time.
- Exercise together – this is an excellent bonding activity, whether you take your dog for an extended walk, play with him at a dog park, or take him with you on your morning jogs. Turning your dog out into the yard every day will not sufficiently meet his exercise requirements.
- Dog activities – you and your dog can find great satisfaction in mutual accomplishments like agility, field trials, or dog shows.
- Massage or pet your dog – brush him if he enjoys it.
Socialize Your Puppy
Expose your puppy early to as much as possible of his world. Once he receives his final vaccination booster, he should be going on walks where he will see dogs, strange people, loud noises, and funny smells. Take him downtown. Let him meet a few friendly dogs face to face. Let him romp in the small dog area of a closely monitored dog park. The more puppies see early in life, the less reactive and fearful they may be as adults.
Get your puppy used to visitors to your home early. This could save you grief later. You probably have had experience with a friend who has to lock their dog in another room when they host a party. Even guard dogs need to get used to the fact that you may invite guests into your home. What if you have a cousin fly in from England? Your dog needs to be capable of behaving in a confident and amenable manner with your guests.
If you research the subject, you will find that dogs bred to guard do just that with minimal training. Socializing your Akita will not make him less up to the task of guarding if the need arises.
Train Your Dog
Dogs like to know what is expected of them. It goes back to understanding their roles in the pack hierarchy. Training makes life much simpler for your dog and for you. This is not meant to say all dogs are highly trainable because you will find many who are not.
Commence training with basic commands that could potentially save your dog’s life. Your canine friend should come, sit, and stay immediately on command. He should also lie down, although this is difficult to enforce with dominant types. Ideally, a well-trained dog should always be looking to you for guidance and approval when in public. He should walk beside you and slightly behind (heel), moving and stopping as you do. Real success comes when your dog can stay at attention even off leash.
Some people advocate the use of a crate and others utilize puppy pads to teach puppies to eliminate appropriately. With persistence and positive reinforcement, most dogs become housetrained in a few weeks maximum. If your dog has an accident in the house or another place you deemed inappropriate, avoid the common pitfalls.
- Do not scold your dog when you come home and find a mess – your dog will only associate your yelling with your arrival home, not with his undesirable behavior.
- Avoid striking your dog – dogs fail to understand this human behavior, let alone associate it with anything they have done. If you watch dogs in the wild, punishment is meted out swiftly and immediately after the infraction. It is also usually over almost as soon as it begins.
- Do not rub your dog’s face or nose in a mess – it accomplishes nothing but confusion and distress for your dog.
Positive reinforcement facilitates learning more than any form of punishment, even if you catch your dog in the act of inappropriate behavior.
Once you establish basic obedience and trust with your dog, you can progress quite naturally to advanced forms of training.
- Field trials
- Breed shows
Respect Law and Others
Leash laws exist to protect persons and their property. They also keep your dog safe and out of trouble. Leash laws and at leash regulations may impose stiff fines. However, the most costly penalties come if your dog causes property damage or threatens someone or another dog while in violation.
You should not require a law to tell you to clean up after your pet, but here we are. On a serious note, adhering to this one law will make your neighborhood very happy. Pet waste is a top-ranked annoyance on top of its attraction of flies and potential to harbor parasites.
Apartment life calls for even more consideration of others than villas on sprawling lawns. If your dog tends to bark or howl, you could be on the hook with your neighbors and your landlord. Training and exercise are a couple of the most effective means to reign in excessive vocalization. Make sure your dog does not suffer from separation anxiety because that needs to be addressed.
Learn how to be a responsible dog owner and reap the benefits of a content dog who feels a sense of order and importance. Social interactions, security, interactive bonding, and basic needs – these are the keys to canine health and happiness.