Tips for a First Time Dog Owner
Getting your first dog is hugely exciting. From the minute you decide to add a four-legged friend to your family, it is an enormous learning curve. Our top tips for a first time dog owner aim to help you feel prepared and the process be positive.
Making the decision:
Should I get a dog? If you are reading this you have probably already decided to go ahead but do be sure that a dog can fit into, and indeed enrich, your life before taking the plunge. Consider your time, family and financial flexibility. This guards against the potential heartbreak of having to rehome a dog at a later date.
Puppy or rescue?
Next to decide what breed and age of dog suits your family, lifestyle, space, finances etc? Are you are able to offer a rescue dog a home? When you have settled on whether you will rescue an older dog or would like a puppy, you can find a reputable rescue shelter or breeder and begin the journey of finding your new best friend.
Building the bond:
Once you have found your pet, whether a puppy or older dog, you need to begin the bonding process. At a rescue shelter this may be visiting for a walk, or with a breeder you should be able to go and meet your puppy at their home. If you have children in the family, they will need to learn how to live with a dog/ puppy so need to be involved. Similarly, if you have another pet, introducing a second dog to the family needs careful consideration.
Getting the kit:
There are things that you will need for your new recruit. For pet dogs or a puppy, your will need;
- A good quality harness and/ or collar- I found that using a harness with my pups was the best way to teach them to walk well on their leads but other owners prefer using a collar. This is a matter of personal preference.
- Security tag – this should display your contact number(s), postcode, and your surname. ‘I am chipped’ and/ or ‘I am neutered’ may also be included.
- Lead- I personally dislike retractable leads for safety reasons and prefer using a sturdy, adjustable training lead.
- Toys- safe, quality things to chew, toss and catch.
- Coat/ fleece- only if appropriate for the weather and breed
- Bed or crate- more about this below!
- Food – from visiting the dog or puppy and communication with the shelter or breeder, you can find out what food they are used to. Have the same food ready for them. Changing their food suddenly is not recommended and can make them poorly.
- Poop bags- hundreds of them! We try and buy biodegradable ones.
- Puppy suitable treats- the training begins straight away!
- Water bowl- they should have access to clean, fresh water at all times.
- A good quality puppy book- these are great for giving advice on how to toilet train etc. For behaviour, love the positive approach of the Dog Guardian.
Choose a place for their den:
Your dog will need a quiet, safe space to call their own so choose a den. Some owners opt for crate training their puppy, others prefer to allow their dog the run of a safety checked room which contains a bed. This is a very personal decision and should suit your own circumstances.
If your puppy or dog is going to have short periods of time alone and will not be in a crate, be sure that the space they are left in is safe and secure. Puppy’s are nosy and curious and will explore and chew in order to learn about the world. Remove anything that may fall on them or hurt them (wires, etc.). Stair gates can be useful to help contain your puppy and create safe spaces.
Find a great vet:
Older dogs should already be immunised and chipped, but your puppy will need to visit the vet for these soon after arriving home. Find a good vet by asking local friends for a recommendation. Local Facebook groups can be useful for this. Organise your pet insurance if you intend to have this- you can often get a free period of insurance when you first immunise your puppy at your vets.
Bringing your dog home:
Collecting your puppy or dog is so exciting! Prepare a safe way for them to travel to their new home, for example using a car harness. Expect their first car journey to be a little strange for them. Some dogs may be car sick so travel with tissues and wipes in case. Offer calm reassurance to your dog if they are anxious. Consider getting a puppy food and toy pack to make your puppy feel more comfortable on their first journey.
Your dog’s first night at home away from their usual surroundings will be stressful for them. Expect some disruption and be prepared to give your pup or dog time to settle. Adopt your chosen routines (more about this below) with consistency and plenty of positive reinforcement.
Agree ground rules with your family before your collect your dog so that puppy training is consistent from the first day. Your routines need to suit your adult dog – a puppy jumping up and licking visitors faces may be cute but how will it be received when an adult dog behaves this way? Start as you mean to go on with your new pet. Things you may wish to consider and agree on are;
- Where will your dog will be allowed to go in the house?
- Where do you expect them to sleep?
- Will they be allowed to get on the sofas and beds?
- When and where will you feed them? Who is responsible for feeding?
- Will you allow your dog near the table when you are eating?
- Are you OK with your dog jumping up to greet people or do you want them to greet calmly?
- Who will walk them and when?
You will be able to ask advice on issues like feeding from a good shelter or breeder. Find out what your dog has been used to. You can then choose to continue good habits. Persevere. Training takes time and patience so be calm with your puppy. They are making sense of a whole new world and need your love and understanding. Puppy training classes are invaluable for a first time dog owner.
On to toilet issues. Puppy’s wee a lot. We took our 8 week old puppy out every 20 minutes! Prepare to take the pup outside very regularly at first and give plenty of opportunity for them to have success. Rewards their success with praise, and ignoring mistakes. Remember they want to please you but are learning. Some owners use puppy pads to help with training. More advise for those experiencing their puppy or dog peeing in the house here.
As a new owner, I did not know the safe foods my dog was allowed to eat and those that could be harmful. Be aware of harmful foods, particularly if you have children that may drop food on the floor for greedy pups will steal! Knowing ‘no go’ foods will be be a life line and save no end of worry and vets bills. Trust me!
DIY health checks:
Begin the process of giving your dog regular health checks at home straight away so that they become used to being touched gently. Make it a loving experience for you and your dog- it’s the perfect excuse for a cuddle isn’t it?
Some time alone:
Try to build in short bursts of time when your puppy or dog is left alone. This is particularly important if your lifestyle requires them to be on their own. Leave them in a safe, secure space calmly, and return to them with the same calm approach. If you need to be away from them for more than a short burst of time, consider finding a good quality pet sitter or walker.
Play with your new friend:
Before puppies can go out to explore, they have boundless energy. Help them to use this energy with some mentally stimulating sniffy games. You can also carry your pup outside at first to let them see the world. Try and get them to see as many different social situations as possible, for example; cars, buses, joggers, other dogs, people with hats, people with glasses, cats etc. This can help them learn to tolerate the world we choose to put them in.
Beware! Pups can be very nibbly and their teeth are sharp. This is not aggression but merely inexperience and exploration. We found that the best way to stop this was this; when pup makes contact with their teeth, make a sharp, high pitched sound, stand up and fold your arms, turning away from puppy until they calm down. No praise or attentions for unwanted behaviour and lots of praise for desirable behaviour.
This is particularly important if you have children. Train your children and puppy to play nicely with each other and respect each other’s space. Make sure that your dog or puppy is able to have quiet, uninterrupted rest time when they need it. Puppies sleep lots and need to rest. They also need to be left in peace when they have food or treats.
Training and socialising:
Getting involved with training classes has many benefits. It can help you (as a first time dog owner) learn basic commands and techniques. It also offers you both socialisation opportunities. You may also consider buying a good quality training book to help you teach basic commands such as sit, stay etc. Joining Facebooks groups to glean advice from experienced dog owners can also be hugely supportive as a first timer.
Give time and patience:
Your dog will give your endless affection, time and devotion- it is in their nature. Reward your new best friend by ensuring that their needs are met. Regular exercise routines, quality food, patience, time and love will result in a content, healthy and happy dog. Their needs are really quite simple.
The first time dog owner:
We hope that you have a wonderful time as a first time dog owner. Do let us know your experience of embarking on this incredible journey in the comments below.
New whippet owner? See our whippy tips here.