Before bringing home a new puppy, there are a few things that you need to do to make their homecoming as comfortable and as safe as possible. Preparing and going through your new puppy checklist will also decrease the amount of stress you as a pet owner will have to go through. Here are some of the most important items and to-dos to help you prepare to welcome home that new bundle of fur.
To compose this new puppy checklist, we've asked a number of people on our editorial team about adopting new puppies, and they ranked these to-dos in order of importance. Most pet owners mentioned these are the things they wish they would've done or knew in advance, before bringing the dog home, to avoid problems in the future.
1. Find a Vet
Your veterinarian is hopefully going to be a part of your dog’s life for a very long time to come so it’s important to do your research and find a local vet before you bring a new puppy home. You'll need to visit a vet clinic shortly after, but sometimes there are unpredictable issues that arise and you don't want to be searching for a vet in panic.
Ask friends with dogs for their recommendations, read online reviews and feedback for local veterinary clinics, and go and tour the veterinary facility and meet the vet. It's the first thing to do on your new puppy checklist, and it'll ensure that you have a veterinarian lined up to give your new dog a complete health check as soon as you bring them home.
Look for a vet who you are comfortable talking to, who makes you feel at ease, and whose clients speak highly of when asked for a referral.
2. Read Up on Your Breed
Whether you are adopting a mixed breed or purchasing a purebred dog (hopefully from a reputable breeder), you undoubtedly have some idea of what breed of dog you are interested in bringing home. So the next item on your new puppy checklist before you bring your new pup home is to read up on that dog's breed or breeds to find out a little more about what to expect. This will help you to determine whether you are choosing the right breed for you and prepare you for puppyhood.
There is plenty of breed information available online for free. You can also visit your local bookstore or library and check out some breed-specific books. If you've already found a vet, you can briefly discuss this with them. Pay particular attention to things like breed size, exercise requirements, common medical concerns, trainability, sociability, and adaptability. These key characteristics will help to determine if you are looking for a compatible breed for you.
3. Buy the Basics
Following your research, the next new puppy checklist stop is getting the essentials. Before your new puppy comes home, you’ll want to buy some of the basic necessities. We have previously published a full 22-item Puppy Starterpack, but not all are needed in the beginning, so don’t go crazy with your purchases. Some of the most essential items that we recommend are:
- (Optional) A dog crate if you will be crate training
- (Optional) A baby gate or pet gate to block stairways or secure your non-crated puppy while you’re out
- A stainless-steel food and water bowl (we recommend bowls with a non-slip base and to not use plastic or other type of bowls; stainless-steel is best)
- A single bag of good quality puppy food matching the same brand they are currently being fed (ask about this at the shelter or breeder)
- An appropriately sized dog collar
- A dog leash and a slip leash
- A dog harness (if you know your new puppy’s measurements)
- (Optional) A dog bed and/or dog crate pad
- A couple of puppy-safe toys (we suggest durable puppy toys as well as a freezable chew toy to relieve teething pain)
- Grooming supplies to desensitize your puppy to grooming early on (we suggest a brush, toothbrush and dog-friendly toothpaste, ear wipes, gentle dog shampoo)
- (Optional) Small puppy training treats, preferably low-calorie and healthy.
You're likely have already researched how much a dog cost and what other things you'll need to buy throughout your pup's life, year after year. The above new puppy checklist items are only the very essential stuff that are best bought before you bring your dog home, or on the same day.
4. Buy Monthly Preventatives
A crucial step in your new puppy checklist is ensuring your new dog's health. Depending on how old your puppy is, you want to have monthly preventatives ready for their protection against heartworm, fleas, ticks, and worms. Depending on your approach to monthly preventatives you may need to wait for your first vet appointment to get these items, so discuss this with your veterinarian that you've already picked.
Pay particular attention to your new puppy’s age and weight as this will influence the type of preventative recommended. The environment your dog will spend most time in will also influence this. While it's good that you familiarize yourself with these things, if you’re unsure about any preventatives like flea treatments and dewormers, it’s perfectly fine to wait until your first vet appointment to talk to your vet first.
5. Make an Identification Tag
Even if you haven’t yet named your new puppy, put “ID tag” on your new puppy checklist. You need to get an identification tag made with your own name, address, and phone number and attach it to your puppy’s new collar so that they’re “tagged” as soon as you pick them up from the shelter or breeder.
You can find identification tags at most big name pet stores or if you prefer a custom design tag, you can visit online marketplaces like Amazon or Etsy.com to have one made to your specifications and be more unique.
6. Buy a Car Harness
Something that a large number of pet owners ignore until it's too late is the protection of their pups in moving vehicles. A car harness with a seatbelt clip is a must if you won’t be crating your dog while traveling in a car, so put that down on your new puppy checklist and make sure to get it before or right after the dog comes home.
Unfortunately, there's not a lot to choose from, and we've previously done an extensive analysis of crash-tested car harnesses for dogs. We recommend the Sleepypod Clickit Terrain Harness, the ZuGoPet Rocketeer Pack, and the Sleepypod Clickit Sport as your options. Depending on your preferences, you may also want to invest in a back-seat cover to keep your car seat as free from dog hair as possible.
There are many different car safety products available, but if you've read our article on car safety harnesses for dogs, you will know that car harnesses have proven to be the safest method of car restraint – above crates, car seats and other choices. You don’t have to pick one of our recommended brands, but whatever brand you do choose, make sure that you review crash safety testing data before purchase.
7. Get Any Necessary Clothing
Most dogs don’t require clothing of any type, but this comes down to your research of the breed and the type of dog you're adopting or buying. For example, if your new puppy has a skin condition that thins their coat, has a low body weight, is suffering a condition that affects their ability to control their body temperature, or if they just have a short thin coat and it’s cold outside, then invest in a dog sweater or warm dog coat to help them to maintain their body temperature.
Pick something that fits your pup and the environment. We've got a list of best dog sweaters and coats, but generally the most well-respected brand is Gooby. The company has a number of options, but our editors have used and prefer their “Big Dog Vest” and I've bought it for my Labrador that had to be shaved for medical imaging.
8. Buy Poop Bags
A must for any future dog owner's new puppy checklist is to invest in eco-friendly and biodegradable poop bags before your pooch comes home. There's a large number of brands you can try. For their convenience, we like the handled poop bags from Pogi’s or Earth Rated companies because they’re easy to tie and they’re earth-friendly.
You don’t have to choose our favorite poop bag options because there's many other alternatives that are just as good. You can pick scented bags and bags without handles, but it's certainly very recommended to boy eco-friendly bags.
9. Research Local Trainers, Obedience Classes
Obedience training is a must for any dog – it gives you a chance to bond with your puppy, it lets your puppy socialize with other dogs and strangers, and it helps your puppy to understand what is expected of them which is crucial when you don’t speak the same language. So put that down somewhere towards the end of your new puppy checklist.
When researching training options for your new dog, know that you probably won’t be able to attend classes right away (at least until your dog has had their full series of puppy vaccinations). This will give you time to research the different dog trainers local to you, their methods of teaching, and help you to decide which is the best class for you and your new puppy.
Note: If your new puppy has any behavioral concerns and requires one on one training with a canine behavioral expert or if you have received specific training instructions from your adoption agency or breeder, please remember to follow those recommendations.
10. Locate Your Local Emergency Vet
You've already found a veterinarian for regular visits as part of your first to-dos on the new puppy checklist and hopefully you won’t need to use your local emergency vet at any point during your dog’s lifetime. However, it’s crucial that you have one selected.
Emergency vets are different from your local vet clinic that you go to for scheduled visits. Puppy emergency situations can come up at any time during a dog's lifetime, but when your new dog is very young, it’s especially critical to seek emergency treatment immediately to prevent complications due to puppy's immature immune system, low body weight, and small size.
We recommend researching emergency vet clinics in the same way that you researched your veterinary clinic – Google “emergency vet near me“, ask around for friends' recommendations, read reviews, and visit the clinic yourself. Once you have selected an emergency vet clinic that’s right for you, keep their address and phone number on your refrigerator, saved in your cell phone, mapped in your car’s GPS and as part of your pet first aid kit. This way you will always have the information you need at the drop of a hat.
ALSO READ: 15 Must-Know Tips for New Dog Owners
11. Talk to Your Family Members
Whether you have small children at home or even adults who have never had a dog before, it’s important to sit down as a family and talk about what it means to have a dog at home. In fact, show them this new puppy checklist and make sure they review it in full. A long conversation about dog care and adoption is good, but it's particularly necessary to touch on these specific topics during that conversation:
Who will be responsible and for what duties when taking care of the new puppy? Making everyone part of caring for this new dog will reinforce the importance of taking responsibility, making commitments, and caring for living creatures.
Talk about the special needs of a new puppy and what everyone can do to help to accommodate those needs. For example, puppies need a lot of sleep during the day so it’s important not to keep waking them just to play with them. Then, review the new puppy checklist and see if anyone has any input or cautions.
For everyone's health and safety, talk with your family about canine body language. Pull up some videos on YouTube that explain different types of dog's body language and make sure that everyone is familiar with the different signals that your new puppy may display and what they mean. For example, when your new puppy holds their ears back and flat against their head and their tail is tucked underneath their body, it’s a sign that they are afraid and might display aggression. Once you have covered these different signals and what they mean, talk about what the response should be. For example, if your puppy displays signs of being afraid when your child is screaming loudly, your child should notice those signs and stop screaming loudly.
While this part of new puppy checklist comes at the end and can be done on the day of bringing home your new dog, it's crucial that everyone is familiar with these and other aspects of caring for a dog properly.
12. Research Pet Insurance
Pet insurance isn’t something most pet owners think about when they’re getting a brand new and healthy puppy, but it’s important to consider now before your puppy gets older. There are many different pet insurance companies and different types of insurance plans available, so spend some time researching which plan would be best for you.
Read pet insurance reviews from users of the different insurance policy companies, compare plans to each other, and ask for recommendations for pet insurance options from friends and family. Not all pet owners will need pet insurance and it depends on your case, so check this pet insurance infographic to decide whether it's for you, and how to pick the best provider for your specific situation.
When comparing pet insurance plans, make sure to consider any pre-existing conditions, medical conditions that are prevalent in your dog’s breed, your monthly premium, your plan’s deductible, and the type of coverage you want to purchase. There are two types of coverage available from most pet insurance companies: full coverage for routine and emergency care (more expensive), and emergency coverage only (cheaper).
The biggest determining factor in which of the above plans is right for you is going to be your monthly dog budget. Keep in mind too that you can often purchase “add-ons” to extend specific pet insurance coverage. For example, we often choose an insurance rider (add-on) for cancer coverage because it extends the covered amount for treatment and adds very little to your monthly bill.
13. (Optional) Training Aids
As separate part of your new puppy checklist to buying the essentials, dog training aids may or may not be necessary. Depending on how you want to approach your dog’s training, there are multiple training aids that can be beneficial and help you do this task much easier and quicker. These include potty chimes or doorbells, clickers, pee pads, and extended long-run leashes, just to name a few.
14. Choose a Name
It might sound like a trivial part of your new puppy checklist and bringing home your freshly adopted dog, but it’s important to condition your dog to respond to their name as soon as possible. By deciding on a name for your new puppy before they come home, you can start exposing them to that name as soon as you leave the shelter or breeder.
15. Plan for Exercise
Exercise isn’t just a chore – it’s a crucial part of your puppy’s healthy development, mental and physical well-being. Plan out what type of daily exercise you will provide your dog, who will be responsible for providing that exercise, and if the main trainer is ill, who will take over?
Your dog's exercise and playtime needs, mental stimulation requirements and more will depend on the breed, specific age and health condition of the dog. This is part of your new puppy checklist “breed research” aspect mentioned above, but it's good to create a separate doggy exercise plan and put that in writing.
If this is the first time you've considered a new puppy checklist and it looks overwhelming, do not panic. It's true that bringing a new dog home requires plenty of pre-planning, but you've already ahead of many other pet owners who make this decision on impulse and do not prepare well.
With a little organization, you will soon have your new pup safely home and settled in with a regular routine in place, and it won't take longer than a week or two.