So you’ve decided to get a dog. What next? If you’ve never had a dog before, the whole enterprise can be overwhelming. Maybe you’re wishing you could take Dogs 101 (or Puppies 101, for that matter). What are the best toys ? What kind of food should you feed your dog? What do you need when you’re taking care of a puppy?
Getting a puppy or dog will change your life for the better. Don’t be intimidated by all the new stuff to learn. Read on for the basics, and you’ll be ready to take on this adventure.
Dogs 101: Life Is about to Get Awesome
1. Prepare Your Home
First off, make sure your home is ready. We recommend setting up a designated “dog zone” where the dog’s crate, bed, and toys can live. Depending on the size of your home and whether or not certain areas will be “off limits,” you may need to set up some baby gates.
If you’re bringing home a puppy, you’ll need to puppy-proof your home to keep them safe:
- Keep electrical cords covered or secured
- Stow shoes, socks, and other chewable delights in puppy-proof cupboards or closets
- Keep trash and recycling lidded or behind closed doors where curious pups can’t go scavenging
You should also prepare people to welcome their new furry family member. Before your dog comes home, have a family meeting and make sure everyone is on the same page about dog care and consistent training.
2. Gather Supplies—But Not Too Many!
With so many dog products available, it can be hard to know where to start. From essentials like a leash and collar, to fun stuff like treats and toys, it can feel like there are a million choices for new pet parents!
The most important dog supplies to invest in right away are:
- A collar and leash
- Poop bags
- A dog bed, and an appropriately-sized crate if you plan to crate train
- Food and water bowls
- High-quality dog food (the shelter or breeder should give you a starter portion of food so you can gradually transition your pup to your brand of choice. Read our dog food guide to learn all about how to choose the right food for your dog).
What kind of toys should you get your new dog? It depends on the dog! Some take to tennis balls right away, while others go nuts for chew toys. Some dogs are extremely treat-motivated and will do anything for a biscuit, while others want only the stinkiest, meatiest treat.
It’s tempting to load up on toys and treats for your new dog, but it’s generally a good idea to get to know your dog before spending a lot of money. Have a few different types of toys on hand to start, and as you find out what your dog likes, you can start growing the collection.
3. Find a Veterinarian
Choosing a vet can be one of the most intimidating parts of new pet parenthood, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. We recommend finding a vet before your new dog comes home so you’ll be all set from the start.
The best way to find a veterinarian is through a combination of research and word-of-mouth. Ask your friends with pets where they go, and read online reviews to get a feel for vets’ expertise and bedside manner. Our guide to choosing a veterinarian can help you make the right decision for your dog.
Once your new puppy or dog is home, schedule a “getting to know you” vet visit to familiarize your dog with the place and people. Even if your dog doesn’t have immediate veterinary needs, it’s a good idea to establish a relationship with the vet right away so you’ll both be comfortable when more urgent vet needs arise.
4. House Training
Whether you’ve adopted an adult dog or brought home a brand-new puppy, you’ll need to have a house training plan in place. Even adult dogs who are already potty-trained sometimes need a refresher course in a new environment.
Here’s a crash-course on house-training your puppy or dog:
- Establish a schedule. A consistent feeding schedule will lead to a consistent elimination schedule. In general, puppies can “hold it” one hour for every month of life. Adult dogs can last longer, but tend to do best with a potty break every three to five hours.
- Choose a cue phrase. “Go potty” is the classic, but you have options!
- Pick a potty spot and take your dog there every time you go outside initially. This will help connect the cue to the action and place.
- Always praise them for getting it right, and never punish them for getting it wrong.
Above all, when it comes to house training a new canine family member: be patient. You got this.
5. Obedience Training = the Ultimate in Dogs 101
Really, this should be Dogs 201! We can’t recommend taking a training class with your dog enough. It’s not just about obedience; it’s one of the best ways to bond with your dog.
Taking an obedience class at your local animal shelter or training school is the very best way for you, a new dog parent, to learn about your dog and dog behavior in general. Think of it as Puppy 101, a one-stop shop for getting to know your new pet.
In basic obedience class, you and your dog will learn a few primary skills:
- Loose-leash walking
After you learn the basics, you can continue taking advanced classes and working at home to increase skills and obedience. Training your dog will help you learn to trust and listen to one another, and it can be a whole lot of fun!
Dogs 101: Further Reading
So you’ve nailed Dogs 101. Check out these other great posts for even more specifics.
- Essential New Puppy Checklist
- The 7 Basic Must-Haves for Training Your Dog
- An Illustrated Guide to Dog Behavior
- How to Bond with your Rescue Dog
- True Story: I Got a New Puppy, and Then I Cried All Night
Congratulations on the new addition to your family—you’re gonna do great!
Top image via flickr/robbersdog