10 Nuggets of Wisdom for First-Time Dog Owners
Life with a dog is nothing short of magical—but for new pet parents, it is also overwhelming in equal measure. If you’re welcoming a four-legged friend into your home for the first time ever, there are probably a ton of things racing through your mind. You may be wondering how to best care for your animal, what to do when Fido makes your slippers lunch, and whether you can take on this incredible responsibility at all.
But as hard as being a new dog parent can be, you’re going to be just fine, if not a little on edge every now and again. Once you make it over that learning curve, though, you’ll learn to detect and understand your fur-baby’s needs, desires, and unique behavioral patterns. It won’t be easy, but it does become manageable, especially when there’s someone to hold your hand through it all. Well, new dog moms and dads, we’re here for you!
We’re sharing 10 nuggets of wisdom that will make the adjustment period a little less “ruff.”
1. Give Your Dog Time to Adjust
Welcoming a dog into your home isn’t just hard on you—it is also hard on the dog itself. Dogs are territorial by nature, and when they’re moved from a familiar place to a new one, it can be a terrifying experience for them. It may take several days or even months for your dog to fully adjust. Understand this is not a failure on your part. With time, patience, and preparation, your dog will come around.
That being said…
2. Be Prepared
The saying, “better ready than sorry,” has never rang more true when adopting a dog. Preparation is required, and ensuring your home is ready for its new tenant begins with the right items. While you need not spend a ton of money, it’s crucial to have the necessities within reach.
Necessities may include, but aren’t limited to:
- Dog food
- Food and water bowls
- A collar or harness with a leash
- Poop bags
- Play toys to chew, tug on, or chase
- A crate, bed, or doghouse
With these items on hand, you will take your home from dog-less to dog-friendly in no time.
3. Dog-Proof Your Home
You may have the basics down-pat to make your home dog-friendly, but is it dog-proof? Take a quick scan of your dog’s soon-to-be environment. Make sure all restricted areas in your home are zoned off and your most prized possessions are out of paws’ reach. Most importantly, ensure that there’s nothing in your home, like poisonous plants or dangerous objects, to cause your dog any harm.
4. Develop a Routine for Your Dog—& Stick To It
Every pet owner worth their salt knows that dogs love structure. Building a daily routine will help your dog develop a sense of security in its new home. Plus, it will strengthen and enhance the relationship between you and your dog. Create a schedule for everything, from mealtime and walks to bedtime and even playtime, and stick with it! That way, you and your dog get into a rhythm and know what to expect from one another.
5. Make Training a Part of Your Dog’s Schedule
Training is imperative with a new dog. This will not only teach it what it can and can’t do, but it also establishes you as its pack leader—which is key to setting healthy boundaries. Whether you’re teaching your dog basic obedience skills or how to use the potty, always use positive reinforcement, rewarding it with treats or toys to reward for a job well done. With this method, your dog is more likely to repeat the same behavior over (and over) again.
6. Don’t Forget to Include Exercise, Too!
Whether you’re taking home an energetic puppy or a senior-aged dog who prefers naps to games of fetch, adequate exercise is a must. The amount of activity your dog needs often depends on its age, breed, and current state of health. For most dogs, it’s recommended they exercise at least once per day unless the vet says otherwise. This will not only allow your dog to relieve itself outside but also keep it healthy and happy.
7. Nip Unwanted Behaviors in the Bud
Setbacks come part and parcel with adopting a new dog. Maybe it wet the rug or chewed through your favorite pair of shoes. Whatever it is, your first instinct might be to punish your dog for preventing destructive behaviors from becoming habits. Often, though, it’s easier to avoid behavioral issues altogether through proper training (see #5) and dog-proofing your home (see #3). When you have all your bases covered, it’ll leave little to no room for misbehavior.
Just remember, no dog is perfect—and neither are you. Like most things, it’ll take time and patience to turn unwanted behaviors into better ones.
8. Find a Vet You and Your Dog Trust
Next to you, a veterinarian is the most special relationship your dog should have. Look for a licensed vet specializing in dog care. He or she should be located nearby, in case of an emergency, and within your budget. You might also want to ask for recommendations from friends and family members. Most importantly, you and your dog should be comfortable around its potential vet. That way, your dog gets the care it absolutely deserves.
9. Be a Responsible Dog Owner
You might be ready to welcome a dog into your life, but once you say “yes,” it’s a years-long commitment. You must provide your dog access to quality food and adequate exercise as well as veterinary care and training. Not only that, but you’re also responsible for your dog’s actions outside your home. Be sure to familiarize yourself with local rules and regulations around dog ownership. Your dog is as much part of the community as you are, after all.
10. Enjoy the Process
This goes without saying, but we think it bears repeating: enjoy the process rather than attach importance to being the perfect “parent.” There will be many things you’ll get right, but most of the time, you’ll be learning on the job, so don’t sweat the small stuff—even seasoned dog owners make mistakes! If you treat your dog with the utmost love and respect, you’re already off to a great start.
The Last Note
Becoming a new dog owner is exciting, but it can also be exhausting and unsettling. If you are struggling with the transition, ask your dog’s breeder or any member of the shelter or rescue group from which it came. You may also reach out to a veterinarian if you have any pressing concerns regarding your dog’s health. The resources for first-time dog owners are plenty and can provide you with all the help you need. All you have to do is ask!