Tips for the First–Time Dog Owner
You can be a first-time dog owner as an adult even though you grew up with dogs. It helps if you grew up with a dog as a child, but you still may need some tips. If you NEVER even had a dog growing up then you definitely need tips on what to do.
There is a lot to know and it takes time. Just remember the reasons you got a dog and focus on the safety and happiness of your dog. And you’ll get lots of joy in return.
The 17 first-time dog owner tips are grouped into categories with similar tips together. You don’t tend to see tips grouped in this way. I grouped the tips this way so that they are easier to understand and remember.
This group of tips is geared towards having your dog get along with everyone and everything. You need to get to know your dog and your dog needs to learn to trust you. The following five tips build-up to the vital importance of socialization.
Tip #1 Bond Right Away
Don’t adopt a dog right before you have a trip planned. You need a lot of personal one-on-one time to bond with him. Adopting a dog, then going on a trip would be too confusing and stressful for him. The goal here is to have your dog trust you. You want him calm and relaxed whenever he is with you.
You don’t know the dog and he doesn’t know you. He is in a new environment and is unsure of what is going on. Make him feel safe and secure thru attention and affection. Just go slow. Bond with your new dog through regular feeding times, grooming, walks and playing.
This is a feel-good type tip. Try sitting on the floor so that you are less of a threat. Use treats or toys to lure him to you if he does seem shy or scared. Basically, try to get him to play with you or to sit quietly near you as you pet him.
Do NOT use a rope and play “tug-of-war” as that creates a literal war between the two of you in his mind.
Eventually, you will have to walk him or let him out in your yard to go to the bathroom. The walks will not be fun if he doesn’t trust you and constantly pulls on the leash.
Bonding is so important. Do whatever it takes for him to feel comfortable and safe with you.
Tip #2 Learn How to Read a Dog’s Body Language
Fear. If you want your dog to be safe and happy, then at least learn to read when he is afraid. A dog that is afraid will adopt the flight or fight mentality.
If your dog hides from other dogs or people, then they are not happy and you need to work on socialization. But if they get aggressive in similar situations, then that is a big problem. Both situations are behavior issues that you need to change with training.
This is a big subject so I won’t go in detail, but I found one article and two videos that are very good if you want to learn more.
- Read Your Dog’s Body Language Like a Pro: Video is best but this article has good photos and supporting text.
- Understanding Dog Body Language Part 1: This is a great video with actual dogs showing the body language. Same with the link below.
- Understanding Dog Body Language Part 2
And by learning how to read your dog’s body language, you will be able to spot potential problems with other dogs. When in doubt, pull your dog away before an attack occurs.
Tip #3 Get Physical and Touch Your Dog
This is another way to bond with your dog and learn their body language. It also helps when you need to groom or inspect your dog. Dogs love attention so touching them is great. Plus as a first-time dog owner, petting and playing with your dog is the best part.
You will need to bathe and brush your dog so you want them to get used to being touched. Start slow and make it fun for them.
You should also inspect them for injuries or ticks if they keep scratching or biting a certain area. And since a problem area may be sensitive, you want them to be comfortable with you touching them.
Back off if you touch them and they don’t like it. If you suspect a problem and you can’t get close enough to inspect the spot, then consider making a vet appointment.
Once you have bonded with your dog and build a solid level of trust, then you can groom and inspect them when you need to.
Tip #4 Learn Your Dog’s Habits & Behavior
This tip is tied to tip #2 on reading their body language but also has training implications. Learn how your dog reacts to different situations, sounds, weather, etc.
For example, a lot of dog’s do not like being touched on their heads. Do you know if your dog is the same way? Is your dog fearful of meeting other dogs or people, or overly aggressive in those situations? Those are the things you have to learn.
Also, you want to stop bad behavior before it escalates. Is your dog tearing things up when you are out? Having “accidents”? Each problem has a solution but you have to be aware of all problem habits and behavior patterns.
Tip #5 Socialization
The end goal is to have your dog comfortable with other people and dogs. This is one of the most important things to do. I walk dogs that I can not allow to run into other dogs. They are either fearful of other dogs or become aggressive.
My dog is great with other dogs and people. That makes walking him quite enjoyable. He gets so excited when we run into a dog that he knows. That’s how you want your dog to be.
So you have bonded with your dog and he trusts you. You have learned how to read his body language and how to touch him and play with him. And all that helps you learn his behaviors and habits. Now it’s time to meet other people and dogs.
It would be great if you can find dog playmates for him in the neighborhood. Plus it’s a great way to meet other people. It’s best if both dogs are on a leash and in a neutral place. You also want to be relaxed or your dog will sense and how you feel and become apprehensive.
Let your dog approach and sniff the other dog, but pay attention to the other dog’s body language. Make sure your leash is taut, not slack. That way you can pull your dog away if there is a problem. I can tell right away if the other dogs are okay to approach. If you are a first-time dog owner, it won’t be so easy.
Also, do not introduce a lot of new people to your dog if he is the shy type. Too many two-legged tall creatures pawing at your dog can be overwhelming. So don’t throw an adoption party unless your dog is a total attention hog.
Discipline: For Dogs & First-Time Dog Owners
These first-time dog owner tips are for preventing problems before they happen, or to change behaviors so they don’t continue to happen. Let’s face it, dogs are animals so you can’t have them running wild.
Consider all these tips if you are having difficulties with your dog. And these tips are mostly for you.
Tip #6 Dog Obedience Training
Whether you want to try it at home or attend paid classes, training can make the difference for a dog with behavior problems. Nothing is more frustrating for a first-time dog owner that an unruly dog.
Here are some of the most common problems with dogs that require training to fix:
- Chewing on things you own, things that you don’t want to be chewed.
- Pulling on the leash when you walk her.
- Separation anxiety.
- Jumping to greet people.
- Barking way too much.
- Peeing in the house.
- Aggression toward people or other dogs.
I believe that the problems that occur outside while on the walk are the biggest problems. But then I don’t have children or a super nice house. Fortunately for me, I only had to deal with leash pulling while on walks with my dog. (Read my article on how to walk a dog that pulls.)
If you want to save money, then try the training yourself. If you want to save time, then sign up for obedience classes.
Tip #7 Create and Stick to a Routine & Schedule
The one word that best describes routines or schedules is structure. Dogs benefit from having structure and it helps build trust.
Your dog will trust you if you always feed them at the same time. The same goes for always walking them at the same time or any other activity like play time.
Creating a regular schedule can help you as well. I’m always working on something. My dog knows that after a walk play time is over. I can then concentrate on what I’m doing, even though he still finds ways to “bother” me.
So, create a daily weekday schedule like breakfast then a walk. When it’s time to leave for work, then it’s in the crate or room where she will stay. And maybe a mid-day dog walker visit. When you get home from work, give her a long walk and some play time. You get the idea.
Then you can try a different daily routine for weekend days when she knows your home throughout the day. Just stick to a routine and set schedule to give her structure.
And here is a #7.2 tip. If your new dog is a puppy, they can only hold “it” for a set number of hours. The formula is (age in months) + 1 = the number of hours they can hold it (or they are peeing in the house). So if you adopt a dog at 8 weeks old, that’s 2 months + 1 which is 3 hours.
Tip #8 Discipline: Set Rules Right Away
I know puppies are cute. And you the thought of disciplining them seems absolutely cruel. You can learn the importance of discipline the easy way or the hard way. This is a first-time dog owner, and rookie, mistake. This is a part of in-home training.
Stop any unwanted behavior immediately. By letting it continue, it signals to the dog that it is okay. Is she starts chewing on your shoe, remove the shoe from her. Maybe put her in the crate for a few minutes. Or replace the shoe, or whatever she was chewing on, with a chew toy.
The list of behaviors to correct is particular to every dog. Just make sure to stop the behavior right away and let her know that the behavior will not be rewarded.
Tip #9 Be Consistent & Patient
Here is another tip that goes hand in hand with training. Let’s use the shoe chewing example from Tip #8. If you remove your favorite shoe from her mouth, don’t give her an old pair of shoes to chew on. She will not know which are your favorite shoes and which are the least favorite. Inconsistency is confusing for dogs as it is for people.
You have to use common sense and figure out exactly what she is doing. She only gets to chew on her toys and can only pee outside. Be consistent in your discipline. And don’t forget to be consistent with giving her a treat for when she does what you want.
Then there is having the patience for the entire time it takes for her to learn the rules. It can be difficult, but there will come a time when your dog is not causing any problems. Hang in there and be patient until that day arrives.
First-Time Dog Owner tips for Your Home
You want your home to be safe for your dog and where he can relax the same as you do. This is especially true if you just adopted a dog. Consider these next three tips in making your home a safe and comfortable home for your dog.
Tip #10 Dog Proof Your Home
I’ve already mentioned how both dogs and children need structure. They both also need a safe environment in which they live and play.
Some of the things you should think about are removing poisonous substances that your dog could ingest. Dogs like to chew things. So remove any chemicals or plants that he can reach.
Other things that should be dealt with are cables and electrical cords. You won’t be watching your favorite show if the cable to the TV is chewed in half. This one is tricky. You could try using duct tape, but tape can be chewed and glue has chemicals in it. You might want to try using rugs to cover all the cables and cords. Or resort to putting your dog in a different room.
And finally, move any objects that can be knocked over and broken. Decide which room of your house the dog will stay in before you bring him home. Take a look around and do some rearranging.
One thing you could try is keeping the dog in the kitchen in the beginning.
Tip #11 Give Him His Own “Room”
Who doesn’t want their own room? In the beginning, you may want to keep your dog in a small room like a kitchen as I mentioned above. You could also set up a crate or a designated corner as his space. Do this before you bring him home.
The point is to have an area where your dog can relax and sleep. I have a crate for my dog that is always open. I have a small dog bed in there plus a blanket or two. To further make it cozy, I draped some towels over it so that is dark inside. A soft and dark secure place which is a great nap spot.
You want him to understand that is where he goes when you are busy or not at home. Try feeding him treats in that spot and leave his toys there.
For the first few nights, you might want to bring his bed or crate into your bedroom.
Currently, my dog has free-roam of my place. Sometimes he’s sleeping in my bed, on the couch, on the futon or in his crate. He has more places to sleep than I do.
Tip #12 Practice Separation
This is one of the common problems mentioned under Tip #6 for training your dog. I would consider this an in-home training tip since separation anxiety will happen the first time you leave him alone. Don’t pay a dog trainer for this problem
So putting him a crate or a room that is dog-proof is a good idea in the beginning. If he is going to chew things up or make a mess, it will probably be when you are not home.
You can try leaving your place and coming back a few minutes later. If you can, look thru a window or stand near the door and listen for him whining. Give him a treat when you come back (assuming he didn’t tear up the place). Then repeat but increase the amount of time that you are gone.
But eventually, you will be gone for the entire day while you are at work. If possible, ask family or friends if they can stop by for a mid-day break. You could also hire a dog walker for walks. The last thing you could try is to leave on a radio or the TV.
Practical Tips for First-Time Dog Owners
From budgeting for all the expenses associated with owning a dog to keeping your dog healthy and safe, these are the final boring, but practical, tips. And the last two tips are the best.
Tip #13 Budget for Supplies & Gear
So, of course, there is an adoption fee that you need when you first get your dog but don’t forget all the supplies and gear you’ll need.
- Leash, collar and\or harness.
- Food and water bowls.
- Toys and bedding.
- Crate or gate.
- Food and dog treats.
- Poo bags.
- Flea, tick and heartworm treatment.
- Dog shampoo.
- Annual veterinary visits.
Here are some ways to save money in the beginning.
You can use your own kitchen bowls for your dogs’ food and water. Instead of buying treats, use dry kibble food for training or when she does something good. Also, try making your own “gate” or barrier with a piece of wood like paneling. And finally, use old blankets and comforters as bedding.
But that is just to offset some of the costs in the beginning. Eventually, you’ll want to buy the best for your furry friend.
Tip # 14 Find a Good Veterinarian
If you adopted from a shelter or dog rescue in your area, then that is an option. A lot of shelters also have basic veterinary care. But how close are they and what are their hours?
That may not be the best option. Talk to other pet owners in your area to see who they recommend. You will have annual visits so the closer your vet is the better.
And then there are emergencies. Hopefully, you won’t have a medical emergency, but if you do it’s good to know where to go. Your vet should be able to see your dog in an emergency, but most vets are not 24-hour vet hospitals.
Find the nearest 24-hour animal hospitals in your area. Have their phone number and address in your phone. Also, consider driving there once so you are familiar with the route.
There is an emergency hospital near me that does not allow you to park in front of their entrance. You can only drop off a person with their injured pet. That area is always kept clear for emergency pet ambulances. It would be good to know things like that if you ever have to drive your dog to the hospital by yourself.
Tip # 15 How to Find Your Lost Dog
Plain and simple: microchip your dog and have your contact information on an ID attached to her collar.
Accidents can happen. Something like a loud noise can scare a dog. The owner drops the leash when the dog starts to run and that’s how it happens. If you have bonded with your dog and trained her, then this shouldn’t happen. But some dogs are really shy and easily frightened.
The best option is to make sure your dog is microchipped. In the event you lose your dog, every rescue and shelter in your area will scan for a chip if they find your dog.
But that may only happen after someone finds your dog and brings her to a shelter. You should also have your name and phone number on ad ID tag attached to her collar. That way the person who finds her can reunite you with her right away.
Tip # 16 Take Lots of Photos
This is my favorite tip. I had a cat named Charlie who would sometimes have her tongue sticking out of her mouth. She would be grooming herself and then look up at me with her tongue hanging to one side below her lips. Super cute and goofy.
I always meant to take a picture but I kept putting it off. She died within hours after I noticed something wrong with her. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
Now I don’t want to end this tip on a negative note. I WILL be taking a photo of my dog’s “sleepy face”. I can’t explain it, but a photo of him with that face would win a “Goofiest Dog Face” photo contest (if there were such a contest).
Tip #17 Breath, Relax and be Safety Oriented
Grouping the tips the way I have makes it much easier to remember them. But there is a lot that you need to know and it can be overwhelming.
Know for certain that in time you will be great with taking care of dogs. But it takes time. Until then, when you are unsure of what to do answer the question “Is this thing (whatever it is) safe for me and my dog, or not?”
If in doubt, don’t do it. Have a safety-first attitude and always err on the side of caution.
Good luck and love your dog and she or he will love you back.