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Tips for a First Time Dog Owner

BY: DAN DELAGRANGE | 3.23.2017 |

My wife and I will never forget the day we brought home our puppy, Taco. Mind-numbingly cute, he wiggled his way around our apartment, getting a lay of the land and quizzically peeking up at us as we ate our celebratory pizza. Later, he peed on the floor and scream-cried during his first night in his crate.

Getting a dog for the first time is, of course, a happy occasion. But there are definitely some curve balls not every first time dog owner sees coming; pups need more than just kibble, walks, and check-ins with the vet. Read through these tips to help ensure the furry new addition to your family is as healthy, safe, and happy as possible. 

Stockpile the Essentials, But Carefully

Along with proofing your home, you'll want to stock up on required items before bringing your dog home. If you think it's an obvious need, then it probably is: food and water dishes, puppy pads, waste bags, and a collar, leash, and harness are all go-to items.

There are some essentials that need some extra thought, though. Will you be crate training your dog? Be sure to get one that'll accommodate his size and growth, but isn't too big.

Where will he sleep at night and during midday naps? Taco loves sleeping in his crate at night, but he also rocks his doggy bed for cat naps. Go for a dog bed that matches your pup's snoozing style (Does he curl up or stretch out?) and personality (Does he like feeling sheltered and secure?).

Tips from Our Dog-Owning Editors:

  • "Make sure to invest in a sturdy leash and get a rubber Kong toy to fill treats with when you're not at home." - Patrick Winegar

  • "Crate training creates a stable environment for the dog to call their own, separates them from any other animals in the household, and helps with potty training." - Natalie O'Brien

  • "Got a shedder? Get a Furminator [deshedding brush]. I have a golden, and that thing saved my life." - Patrick Wisniewski

Get Toys that Are Both Fun and Practical

Whether you go for a rope tug, a ball for fetch, or a plush squeaker, dog toys are a big part of raising a happy dog.

But toys do more than simply entertain your dog. Dogs need toys. Not only can they make for a good source of exercise, but certain toys fulfill a dog's biological drives and instincts. Chew toys, for instance, give your pooch an approved outlet (i.e. not the couch) on which to satisfy their instinctual drive to gnaw on something. And treat-dispensing toys can serve as great tools when training your dog to associate good play with rewards.

Tips from Our Dog-Owning Editors:

  • "My older dog loves soft toys, but my younger dog loves to rip soft toys' guts out. They meet in the middle and play with animals woven out of rope." - Amelia Buzzell

  • "If your dog tears a hole in a plush toy, take the toy away immediately. You'll avoid having the dog swallow stuffing and [you] might teach him about being gentle with toys." - Patrick Wisniewski

  • "I'd like to say that my dog's favorite toy is the mega-sized Kong I bought or a tug rope. But, to be honest, we found a deflated basketball on the street one day and she doesn't go an hour without giving it a loving shake." - Adi Potashnick

Don't Rush Baths

First and foremost: make sure your dog's comfortable. The last thing a first time dog owner wants is a pooch who's not only wet, but scared of being wet. Get him used to the experience in baby steps—like letting the water run off your hand and onto his back while reassuring him with a soothing voice.

You'll also want to use shampoo designed for dogs. Since their skin has a different pH balance than ours, dogs need soap specifically made to soothe their skin and clean their coats.

As for the bathing process itself, take it slow. Massage the shampoo into your dog's coat deliberately, avoiding their eyes. When it's time to rinse, be sure those suds are gone, as they can cause dry skin. You should also avoid getting water in your dog's ears, as it's a recipe for nasty infections. And be just as careful when drying: use clean, soft towels, and be gentle on your pup's face and ears. For example, we use a washcloth to dry our dog's face (he's a pug, so the extra attention to those face folds is crucial).

Tips from Our Dog-Owning Editors:

  • "We have a lab mix with short hair, so she needs minimal grooming. And shampooing her too often, even if she stinks, is bad for her coat and skin." - Jolene Gilbert-Bruno

  • "Wear a poncho. This is not a drill." - Amelia Buzzell

  • "Make bath time as fun as you can. Give out treats like 'treat dispenser' is your job title." - Patrick Wisniewski


Use Walks As Obedience Practice

Walks are just as important as food, baths, and playtime are to a dog. Dog walking is also when obedience training is perhaps most crucial.

It can be frustrating to walk a dog who's misbehaving—pulling on his leash, barking at other dogs, eating random things off the ground—but as your dog's leader, you need to focus. Use this time to practice commands such as "stay," "watch me," or "come." Use a calm yet assertive tone, and reward him when he obeys. It'll help make your time with your dog outside more enjoyable for both of you, and it could end up being critical in an emergency (a dog wiggling out of his harness, for example).

Tips from Our Dog-Owning Editors:

  • "Bring treats. Use them all the time. Try to teach your dog where to walk, how not to pull, and make it worth their while to listen to you." - Adi Potashnick

  • "Never forget poop bags! And be sure to protect your pup's paws if you'll be walking through salty streets during the winter." - Brooke Gabriel

  • "A lot of dogs—especially puppies—need to learn how to walk on a leash, which is not something everybody knows." - Lacey Wright

Pamper that Pup!

Your dog's part of your family, and, since dog owners are less likely to get heart disease, he can literally make you a healthier, better person. That level of companionship deserves reward. Don't be shy about filling your pup's wardrobe with spiffy clothes and costumes (there are even doggy sunglasses!), tricking out his food station with a bubbling pet water fountain, or spoiling him even when you're not there with a treat-dispensing camera. Your dog will thank you by being the cutest, most loyal companion you'll ever have (human partner excluded).

Tips from Our Dog-Owning Editors:

  • "We got [a fancy dog bed] after she had surgery because we felt she deserved a nice bed to recover on. It's actually made with Tempurpedic materials. That's nicer than my bed." - Brooke Gabriel

  • "When he was a puppy, we put a dinosaur costume on him. He was more of a fan of that, but mostly because he liked to chew on the straps." - Patrick Wisniewski

  • "A reindeer hat with jingle bells on it has been the MVP of Christmas since 2010." - Amelia Buzzell

Guide Staff Writer
BY: Dan Delagrange Guide Staff Writer