A reader asked me about tips for first time dog owners. While I can’t predict every problem a dog owner may face, I have compiled a list of suggestions and reminders for people who have decided to become dog owners.
–Be aware you are making a long-term commitment. The oldest dog in history is said to have lived between 29 and 32 years (depending on who you believe).
–Check with your landlord to make sure dogs (and different sizes and breeds) are okay. If you own, you may still need to check with your insurance company.
–Research breeds. Most people have soft spots for certain breeds, but that doesn’t mean they’re the best choice for you, or for your environment.
–Consider adopting an adult. Puppies are adorable, but they’re also a pain in the bum. Seriously. To this day I remember potty training Lana and I shudder. Made me miserable. Then there’s teething. Even more importantly, if you choose to adopt an adult, there won’t be any surprise personality shifts as they grow.
-Once you have an idea of age and breed (or mix) you want to look for, come up with a list of questions to ask about the dogs you meet to help determine if they would be a good fit for your lifestyle. (Stay tuned for a post of recommended questions!)
–For indoor dogs: Dog proof your home. Hide power cords, provide plenty of acceptable outlets for chewing (like bones and toys), get rid of small things your dog could swallow, and move anything poisonous to dogs out of reach. Invest in a crate for when you aren’t home or can’t supervise. (Lana used to chew chairs and walls. You can’t get rid of those, so sometimes you need to crate!)
–Will your dog be living outdoors? Then make sure (s)he has a dry, temperature controlled place to sleep. If it gets too cold or hot, you need to make room inside for your dog to sleep, at the very least. Maybe a bed in the laundry room or garage. Dogs are just as susceptible to heatstroke and frostbite as humans. Make sure you have a fence that can contain them (remember that some dogs are climbers, some are diggers, and some are perfectly content to not wander – you have no idea which you’ll get unless your rescue knows). Also, make sure they always have access to fresh, clean food and water. That means keeping their bowls under a shelter. I have seen a food bowl kept outdoors that grew maggots because it wasn’t protected from the elements. No dog should be exposed to that. Remove all dog-poisonous plants.
–Outdoor dogs are still social animals and need to be played with and given attention/love daily. Some dogs would do better outdoors than others, but they all need attention on a daily basis.
–Do not keep your dog on a chain or rope. This is not as simple as a dog living indoors versus a dog living outdoors. This is an entirely different issue. Dogs on chains are infamously more aggressive because they are tethered. It’s not a good life for them and it is very unsafe for you and your neighbors.
–Do not buy a dog for someone else as a surprise, even if you’re sure they want a dog. They need to pick out a dog they have a bond with. Your taste in dogs may not be their taste! (Though, it’s totally sweet to take them to the shelter and let them pick out a dog, even if you pay the adoption fee!)
–Give your dog some time to settle. It’s in a new place with new people and may be confused or even scared. Once they get used to everything, they will come out of their shell. In the meantime, tone down your excitement to avoid increasing their fear. Also, if they seem uncomfortable, don’t try to give them back right away. Give them time.
–Invest in dog supplies. You need a collar, ID tag, a leash (I DO NOT recommend retractable leashes), food, bowls, a bed, a crate, toys, shampoo, toothbrush and tooth paste, a brush, nail clippers (or a groomer’s business card), and training supplies (special collars, treats, etc.).
–Find a vet. You need to trust your vet. And you should! They spend many years in school. Don’t ever forget that. They became vets because they truly love animals. They won’t steer you wrong.
–Get your dog up to date on shots, if they’re not already.
–Get them spayed or neutered, if not already. I cannot be more serious. A fixed dog is SO MUCH EASIER to live with and train. Even if it’s not to prevent pet overpopulation, you should do it to make your own life more pleasant.
–Get heartworm and flea/tick preventative. It doesn’t matter if your dog will live inside. In the grand scheme of things, it is so much cheaper to prevent than to treat. Not to mention, heartworms are deadly if left untreated. And as for fleas and ticks? They can spread diseases to both your dog and you, and frankly they’re just gross. You don’t want them making their way into your lawn or your home.
–Microchip your dog. If they run away and their collar slips off, the microchip will be their ticket home.
–Ask your vet as many questions as you want. You are paying them lots of money to share their knowledge.
–Locate an after hours emergency vet.
–Find a trainer. This may not be necessary if you’ve adopted and older, well-behaved, already trained dog. (In which case, lucky you!) However, I still believe every owner should go through at least a basic obedience class at least once. And yes, I mean the owner, more than the dog. Good trainers won’t train your dog for you – they’ll teach YOU how to teach your dog. They’ll explain dog body language and different methods of training, based on science and personal experience.
-Puppy classes are a great resource! They’ll teach your puppy basic manners and give them a chance to socialize with other dogs and people. This is so very important to raising a well-rounded and happy dog.
-Training strengthens the bond between owner and dog, no matter how old the dog is.
-If you take a training class once, you can use that knowledge for every dog you have in the future.
-Do you remember that post I wrote about tricks every dog should know? Well, you should make sure your dog knows them!
–Look for a daycare or boarding facility, or a pet sitter or dog walker. Maybe you don’t want to pay for daycare or a dog walker – that’s alright! But you never know if you need to go out of town.
–Consider pet insurance. This is a very personal decision only you can make for yourself. You may never need it or it may save your dog’s life. My only recommendation is that you think about it.
-If you want, you can look for a local groomer. I’ve never had a dog that required professional grooming, but some do!
–Get into the habit of caring for your dog’s continual health needs. Clipping nails, cleaning ears, and brushing teeth are essential to keeping up your dog’s health and happiness.
–Keep an eye on your dog’s weight, and adjust amount of food and exercise if needed.
–Keep your dog physically stimulated. To live harmoniously with your dog, they need to have outlets for their energy and their desire to chew. Depending on your dog’s energy level, they may need a simple walk a day or they may do best with agility classes, daily runs, or trips to an off-leash dog park. To satisfy your dog’s desire to chew, invest in toys. Just remember to supervise, as some dogs will shred toys and then eat the pieces, which can be very dangerous.
-They also need to be mentally stimulated. To do this, you can practice training or even play games with your dog. Lana loves hide and go seek, searching for treats/toys, and playing with puzzle toys designed to keep her mind working. (These can be purchased at PetSmart, Petco, etc.) Of course, certain breeds (think smarter dogs) need more mental stimulation than others.
–Pick up your dog’s poop! At the very least, do so in public areas, where unsuspecting neighbors could step on a landmine. Plus, it’s bad for the environment.
–Brush and bathe your dog every once in a while. Certain breeds need brushing often, some may rarely need it at all. As for bathing, I recommend doing it when your dog is dirty or smelly. If you wash them too often, you strip the natural oils from their coat and their skin may become dry and irritated.
Owning a dog takes a lot of work. Some may develop health problems or behavioral problems, which makes it even more difficult. If you’re lucky, you may even get one who is abnormally easy to care for. But, if you’re not that fortunate, I hope this list helps at least the average first time dog owner!