tips for new dog owners

I‘ve been a dog owner for over 20 years and have adopted and rescued many, many dogs in the past.

And let me tell you straight away, owning a dog is an exciting adventure but also a big responsibility.

If you are an aspiring dog owner who has decided to adopt from a shelter, good for you!

Just make sure you're prepared for this new adventure that you're jumping into by following these tips for first-time dog owners.


But First, Before You Adopt a Pup…

Your planning should begin months before you bring your new pet home.

You're about to be responsible for the feeding and daily care of another living being.

It's something that you should not take lightly because many other pet owners sadly already do.

But, figuring out how to best care for a new dog is not the first step.

Before you do anything else, be sure that you choose the right dog.

  • What breed of dog will best suit your lifestyle?
  • Will a small or large breed be the best fit for your home and situation?
  • Do you want an active dog or a snuggle bug that will lie with you on the couch?

Such questions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to choosing the best dog.

You could take an online quiz, talk to other pet owners, do online research on the best and worst breeds for first-time owners, and read books on the subject.

Once you've chosen a breed that you think will fit in nicely in your home, it's time to prepare for your new pet.

Figure out what responsibilities will be involved in your new dog care and who will perform each task, especially if you're adopting as a couple.

Discuss the new addition with your entire family and ensure everyone understands what is involved in caring for dogs.

Consider doing research on the most important aspects of pet care. Literature on dog training, the basics of grooming, and key dog health/care will be extremely helpful to first-time dog owners.

If you're sure that you're ready to take on the responsibility of a dog, the tips will make things a little easier for you and your new pup.

15 Tips for First-Time Dog Owners

Tip #1: Do a Background Check

It's important for new dog owners to find a breed that will fit with their lifestyle and environment.

Do research first of your dog's breed or the breeds that are in their family background.

This will give you a big picture of their specific needs and temperament.

Ask the breeder or the rescue staff about the dog's 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 she may have.

ALSO READ: What Breed Is My Dog? Here are 4 Easy Ways to Find Out

If you do have the opportunity to speak with your dog's previous owners, these are some questions you might want to ask:

  • Have they or their parents had 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 does she spend inside or outside?
  • What kind of food has she been eating, and how much?
  • Does she have any special likes or dislikes?
  • Has the dog been spayed or neutered?
  • Has she been treated for parasites, and when?
  • Is the dog up to date on her shots?

Tip #2: Keep Your Records Handy

If your dog is from a shelter, you might not know much about her background.

Get what you can, but now that she's found her forever home.

You'll need to keep track of certain things from now on, including:

  • When you got her, and how old she was
  • Trips to the vet, health problems, vaccinations, and medications
  • Behavior in different situations, like at the groomer or a kennel

This information should be kept in a way that makes it easy to share 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.

Tip #3 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 use your pet for practice.

Tip #4 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 are happy to sell you something, so make your purchasing decisions wisely.

Start with the basics. Your dog will need:

  • a leash
  • a collar and 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

Tip #5 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 also needs to be a place to rest, not a punishment or place of confinement.

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.

Tip #6 Help Your Dog Adjust to Seasonal Changes

Samantha has done a podcast with a veterinarian discussing how the needs of a dog change with seasons, particularly their nutritional requirements, but many pet owners are unaware of this.

But feeding isn't the only change to watch out for.

Your dog's hair determines not only her grooming needs but also how you need to prepare for changes in the weather.

Dog sweaters aren't just cute little fashion items, although some new dog owners may think so.

Short-haired and some smaller dogs need help to deal with the cold, and some dogs are at risk for overheating outside in the summer.

Other apparel items, like jackets and boots, may also be a necessity if you live in a colder climate.

You'll also need to consider the weather in your region when deciding whether or not to leave your pet outside for extended periods of time.

Based on the climate, you may need a well-insulated dog house, an outdoor kennel, or an awning for shade.

Tip #7 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 your 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 the tools and expertise that most dog owners lack, especially if this is your first dog.

Tip #8 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 they can be a health hazard for human owners because they can spread bacteria from uncooked meat around the home.

Preparing a homemade diet isn't easy either, and inexperienced new dog owners may actually leave their pets 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

Tip #9 Know Animal Laws and Bylaws

There are a number of dog-related laws first-time owners should be aware of.

For example, new dog owners may not realize that registering their dog is mandatory in many states so you may need a pet licence.

You also might consider microchipping or registering your dog with a recovery service.

Knowing the laws and bylaws that apply to dog owners in your area can save you a lot of trouble down the road.

Tip #10 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 too.

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 in 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

Tip #11 Dog Training Isn't Just for Fun Tricks

New dog owners need to start basic obedience training, like learning to sit and stay, when the dog is just 8-10 weeks old.

Ideally, it should begin as soon as you bring your new pet home. For the best results, practice regularly.

  • when you come home
  • before eating
  • before going outside

This will help the dog learn basic manners, like not begging or jumping up on people.

Teaching your pet to sit when you open the door can keep her from running outside unpredictably, too.

Behavior problems are the most common reason for re-homing or putting a dog down, but the problem often starts with the owner.

It's up to you to teach your dog how to behave and to reward her for doing what you want.

Taking 10–15 minutes every day to train your dog will make both of you happier in the long run.

Don't think of it as a chore. It can be quality time together.

Tip #12 Start with Sensible Expectations and Rules

If your family will be new dog owners, spend some time learning about dog behavior, discipline, and training.

Decide with everyone in the house:

  • what the rules for the dog are
  • how to deal with bad behavior
  • how to reward good behavior
  • what kind of discipline will be used
  • who is responsible for what, and when

Tip #13 Set a Regular Routine with Specific Times

Dogs need activity and exercise every day.

As pack animals, they aren't meant to be alone for too long.

Schedule time for walking, playing, training, and just spending time together with every member of the family.

It will help with behavior issues too.

A bored, isolated dog is only going to cause problems.

The most proactive thing you can do is to make sure activity and social needs are being met.

Tip #14 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 it's a fun thing to do together that helps build your bond.

Tip #15 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.

READ NEXT: You've Adopted A Puppy. Now What?

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Best Tips For New Dog Owners

James has been a certified veterinary technician for the last 8 years in Birmingham, UK. After working with many dogs, he's changed his focus to writing, building businesses and researching subjects on canines and products created for dogs.