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10 Tips for New Dog Owners

You’ve decided to take the plunge and you’re bringing a new dog home––congratulations! While welcoming a new furry friend into your home is exciting, it also can be a little daunting at first, especially if you’re a first-time dog owner. As with any animal, it’s important to prepare ahead of time to get an idea of what to expect when welcoming a puppy or adult dog into your home.

1. Puppy Proof Your Home

Even if you’re adopting an older dog from a shelter like the ASPCA, new environments can pique his/her curiosity. Be sure to clear the floor of any tangled electrical cords, poisonous houseplants, and miscellaneous items that would be easy for a dog to chew or swallow.

To prevent any damage to your household items, it’s best to assume your new dog won’t know which items are their toys and which are the family’s work papers, decor, etc. Make sure you have a crate or expandable pen ready for your pooch’s arrival.

2. Prepare for Housetraining

Housetraining your adopted adult dog or puppy requires a lot of patience, consistency, and commitment. As a new dog owner, you should start at the beginning of the recommended crate training process––no matter the pup’s age––to assess his/her ability to “hold it.” Confine them in a dog crate when you are not around to supervise. While you are home, take your dog out of the crate and give treats each time they go potty outside.

If you plan to be out of the house for several hours, set up dog potty pads in their crate, so your dog has an “acceptable” place to go while you’re away. If there are any accidents inside or outside of the crate when your dog is unsupervised, clean the bedding and surrounding areas so it is free of any urine or feces scents (lingering scents can lead to repeat accidents).

3. Make Sure You Have the Right Dog Food

Your dog's diet is the foundation of his/her health, so it’s important to choose the right food from the very beginning. With so many dog foods on the market to consider, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed––canned, raw, dry, grain-free, and more. One rule of thumb: if your dog is doing well with a certain type of dog food, then it's probably just fine to stick with (as long as it is complete and balanced).

If you are unsure about the differences in nutritional requirements between puppies and adults, be sure to consult your vet about recommended nutrients for dogs, along with the recommended amount by weight and age. Large breed dogs and puppies have different nutritional requirements than small breed dogs and puppies.

4. Ensure Your New Pup Is Healthy

Shelters take in animals with varying backgrounds––some of whom have not been previously vaccinated. If your new dog is from a breeder, he/she may have been born and raised thus far outdoors, surrounded by other animals of multiple breeds. Despite the best efforts of shelter workers and/or breeders, viruses can be spread and may occasionally go home with adopted dogs. If you already have other pets at home, make sure they are up-to-date on their shots and in good general health before introducing your new pooch.

Be sure to have your adult dog or puppy examined at the vet as soon as possible after you bring him/her home. Your new dog may need specific booster vaccinations, a fecal exam to check for intestinal parasites, and a blood panel to use as a “baseline” and to check internal organ function.

5. Come up With a Routine, and Stick With It

Dogs are creatures of habit. If you're a new dog parent, it's important to establish a routine for your dog right away to help him/her know what's expected in the household. The goal is to condition your new family member to eat, sleep, play, and relieve himself at times that work for the entire household’s schedule. If consistency isn’t established from the get go, you may run into behavioral issues later down the line.

Here are some common routine-related questions to consider:

  • Who will walk the dog first thing in the morning?
  • Who will feed the dog at night?
  • Will the dog be allowed on the furniture?
  • Where will the dog rest?
  • Are there any rooms in the house that are off-limits?

6. Prepare for Behavioral Issues

A new dog (especially a puppy) doesn’t know your rules immediately upon arrival––consider them like a toddler waking around the house in the first couple of months. Expect a few house training accidents, exploratory behaviors like sniffing, and maybe a few chewed up shoes here or there.

At one time, the dog may have had a housetraining schedule and list of commands, but these are likely different in your house. It will take a little time for your new dog to learn your house rules and boundaries, so patience is key.

7. Know Which Foods Your Dog Can and Cannot Eat

When you bring a new dog into your home (which the new dog perceives as a huge new play area), he/she will likely be curious around your kitchen cupboards, garbage bins, etc. because of the strong scents. It’s crucial to know that some foods are safe for humans to eat, but may be toxic and potentially deadly for dogs.

Before giving your dog a piece of your dinner, do your research to learn which foods can send your dog straight to the emergency vet. Be mindful that even healthy foods fed in excess can lead to health problems.

8. Supervise, Supervise, Supervise

Remember when we mentioned that, regardless of your adopted dog’s age, you should consider them like a toddler walking around the house for a while? This is especially true in the first two-three months of ownership, when you’re understanding how your dog acts around other animals, people, and by him/herself.

You can catch any bad behavior waiting to happen and redirect your puppy or adult dog to the action you want them to do instead. For example, if your dog is about to pee on the carpet or sink his teeth into the sofa cushion, you can catch him in the moment and bring him outside or give him a chew toy.

9. Set up a Puppy Room or “Safe Space” for When You Can’t Supervise

While you’re working through the initial stages of housetraining and establishing a consistent routine, it’s best to keep an eye on your dog when you’re home, and crate him/her when you’re not. In order to keep everyone in a household safe, happy, and healthy, you should proactively manage the environment and situation to avoid ongoing accidents.

This space (like a crate or puppy pen) will eventually become a place the dog knows he/she can go to in situations of stress or loneliness. By providing your dog a specific area to escape to when needed, they’ll learn to self-soothe and become more confident when confronted with stressful situations (e.g. a thunderstorm).

10. Practice Socialization

The first year of puppyhood is crucial for socialization. Puppies are most sensitive and receptive to new experiences in this time frame, so the earlier that you get your dog socialized with other pups and humans, the better.

If you’ve adopted an adult dog that wasn’t properly socialized as a baby, there are a few actions you can take to encourage better behavior around others. Try taking your dog for daily walks to expose him/her to new sights, sounds, smells, etc. Slowly work your way up to a dog park by walking around the perimeter and watching other dogs from a distance.

If your new dog does not respond well to your socialization methods over time, contact a professional trainer or a dog behavior specialist.

Again, congratulations on your new furry friend! Remember to stay patient, be consistent, and create a calm, loving environment with lots of positive reinforcement. If you practice this article’s 10 tips, you will have a happy, confident and well-balanced dog in no time.

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