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First Time Dog Owner

Updated on January 11, 2016

First Things First

So, you have decided to open your home and your heart to a dog. That's fantastic! Dogs are among the most popular pets in America. They make excellent companions and tend to be very loyal to their 'people'. However, if you have never owned a dog before, or if you had one when you were a kid but don't know too much about their care (obviously Mom and Dad were taking care of all health related things), it can be a little daunting when you bring your new pet home.

There are many different breeds of dogs, each one has its pros and cons. For example: a husky is a beautiful dog, but wouldn't be the best choice for a small apartment. For a person that works long hours and has little free time a high energy breed might not be a good idea. Just like with most things in life a little bit a research can save you a lot of time, money, and heartbreak.

Puppies need more time than adult dogs, simply because they need to form a bond with their owner and they need training. Unless, of course, you want your dog doing its business in your house and you don't care if your dog walks on a leash or sits when asked.

All dogs and puppies need a few basic things: food and water, basic health care, exercise, and a safe living environment. Of course there are other things that are good to keep in mind as well, like: behavioral training, toys, treats, and advanced health care.

Food and Water

There is a lot of information on the internet. I'm sure that we all know that everything you read on the internet is true, otherwise it wouldn't be on the internet. (I sincerely hope the sarcasm can be clearly sensed.) Just like with religion and politics ever one has their own opinion and they will stick to their guns. Believe it or not dog food is a heated debate amongst dog lovers.

There are many people that believe that commercial dog food is little better than garbage and does not belong in a dog's bowl. There are some that just buy whatever is cheapest and call it a day. So, what is the best option for your dog. I can't tell you. Some dogs have allergies just like people, so not all dogs react the same way to dog food. My dog growing up did just fine on a diet of Iams dog food, but my friend's dog gets really bad gas when she eats it. Some dogs get health benefits from eating Beniful, while many others develop urinary tract infections. To be completely honest the best way to find out what to feed your dog is to ask your veterinarian. Your vet has spent years in school and will be able to help you make the best decisions for your pet. In some cases your vet may prescribe special food for your pet, most often they will write you a prescription for the food. These foods have been designed to help your pet in specific areas; prevent urinary tract infractions, promote kidney health, ease digestive problems, ect.

Dogs need access to cool water daily. Some dogs need more water than others, but making sure that your dog has access to water is vital to their health. Dogs can easily become dehydrated or develop serious medical problems if they do not drink enough water. If you have a dog that spends a lot of time outside it might be a good idea for them to have a water bowl in the house and one outside as well.

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These cute little puppies might capture your heart, but it is important to keep in mind that they will grow.
These cute little puppies might capture your heart, but it is important to keep in mind that they will grow.
These cute little puppies might capture your heart, but it is important to keep in mind that they will grow.

Things to Watch Out For

Just like with people dogs can get sick. However, unlike people dogs can't tell you what is wrong. There are a few behaviors that typically mean something is wrong and you should seek veterinarian help for your dog.

  • Vomiting (especially if it is frequent or involves blood)
  • Diarrhea (especially if it is frequent or involves blood)
  • Shaking the head
  • Lameness
  • Lack of eating or drinking
  • Excessive drinking (often paired with excessive urination)
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Lethargic behavior (more of a concern in a dog that is typically active)
  • Change in temperament
  • Excessive scratching

Basic Health Care

Whenever you get a new pet it is always a good idea to get them checked out by a vet. The idea is to make sure that there is nothing wrong with your new furry friend and if there is get it taken care of before it becomes more serious. Many people get their dogs from breeders, and there is nothing wrong with that, and the breed will often 'vaccinate' the dog before sending it to its new home. However, unless you have proof that the vaccines were stored properly, not expired, and were meant for dogs, it is best to assume that the animal has no vaccines. I'm not saying that all breeders are horrible people that don't give good vaccines, I'm just saying that they are not veterinarians and most likely can't be held accountable if something goes wrong after giving the dog a vaccine. My thinking is simple: you wouldn't let some random person vaccinate your child, why would you do it with your dog?

Dogs need to at least get their rabies vaccine, and if you would like to have them boarded at any time they will need the bordetella vaccine. Bordetella protects the dog from kennel cough, which is very contagious and often spread at dog kennels. If your dog does not have an up to date rabies vaccine and it bites someone chances are pretty good you are going to lose your dog. The only sure fire way to check for rabies involves removing the dog's head. There are other vaccines that are highly recommended as they protect your dog from deadly diseases: parvo, lyme, and lepospirosis. Think about it this way: would you rather pay $35 for a vaccine every year to three years or $900 in care that may or may not be successful in saving your dog. I have seen many new puppies die of parvo, some owners attempted to save them others did not. Though, I have seen a couple of dogs survive, but the cost of medical care was outrageous.

Even if you only want to get your dog vaccinated it is a good idea to make sure that you have a vet available that you trust. That way if you ever have a medical emergency with your dog you will have a place you can take your dog and know that you will receive excellent care. You may need to 'try out' different animal hospitals in your town to find one that you like. My advice would be to make an office visit and talk with the vet yourself.

Spaying and neutering saves lives. I know it sounds a little backwards, but it makes sense. There are thousands, if not millions, of homeless pet roaming around North America. Many shelters do not have room for all of these animals and sometimes they resort to euthanizing dogs and cats that have been there for a while. By spaying or neutering your dog you prevent them from reproducing. There are also other benefits from spaying and neutering. Female dogs tend to be rather messy when they come into heat, about twice every year once mature. Male dogs tend to be less aggressive if they are neutered before they are an adult.

Toys and Treats

I have never met a god that does not like toys. Balls, ropes, stuff animals, and hard plastic items make excellent dog toys. If you are not sure what your new pet likes I would recommend taking them to your local pet store, assuming they allow you to bring your pets in, and find out what they like. Try squeaking a toy and watching them react, chances are high that their ears will perk up. I have never seen a dog turn down a tennis ball, the good news is they now make tennis balls for dogs of different sizes.

Some dogs like to chew on things. This is a perfectly natural behavior. If you want to save your shoes I would suggest putting them in places your dog can reach and give your dog a chew toy. These usually come in the form of bones, and yes they are from real animals. For most dogs these bones can last for hours, sometimes a few days, and can even help clean your dog's teeth.

Dog treats should not be given all the time. Think of them as a candy bar, they are nice to have and they taste great but you do not need them. Treats should be used when your dog has been exceptionally good, and often make great training aides. I like to give my dog a treat after she goes to he bathroom outside during inclement weather (she really doesn't like snow), they reward her for doing something should would rather not do. A lot of dog owners bring treats with them to the vet to reward their dog for behaving and encourage them to continue to behave well. A word of warning: just like with dog food some dogs might be allergic to some treats. If you ever notice anything abnormal with your dog after trying a new treat discontinue using the new treats.

Exercise and Home Environment

All dogs need some form of exercise daily. Some breeds of dogs need more than others. For some dogs a short walk in the morning and the evening is enough to get them buy. Some dogs, like shepherds or working dogs, need a little more. A longer or faster walk and lots of playtime will be needed daily. Playtime is good for dogs because it helps them bond with their owner and allows them to use up their energy. Often dogs that do not get as much exercise as they should have behavioral problems. If you have ever known someone that has a husky that eats their house chances are pretty good this is why. Huskies are dogs that should have someone to play with them nearly all day, they have seemingly endless amounts of energy.

Even if you only have time to walk your dog once a day and play for a few minutes it is better than nothing. Dogs can become overweight when they aren't active, and overweight dogs tend to have more health problems then normal sized dogs.

All dogs need a safe place for them the sleep. Some dogs feel safe sleeping in a kennel during the day, while other will pick any place in the house. Dogs that are housed outside should have access to some sort of shelter. No matter where the dog is housed it should be free of all harmful chemicals or other things that could potentially harm the dog. Dogs are curious creatures and will attempt to eat things they should not. It is best to remove all temptation before the dog gets into trouble.

Behavioral Training and Advanced Health Care

Many dog owners train their dogs to urinate and defecate outside, sit, and walk on a leash. As an added bonus dogs learn to associate their given names with themselves. These are all great things for a dog to know. However, there are other things some dog owners like their dogs to be able to do. Nearly every dog will chase a ball or stick, but not all of them will naturally bring it back or give it to you to throw again. Some owners like their dogs to be able to 'shake hands', lay down, and roll over. Training can be very easy, and there are many methods you can use. I would recommend doing some research if you are not familiar with behavioral training methods.

At some point in your dog's life it will most likely need some dental work. Just like with people good dental hygiene is imperative for a long healthy life for your dog. Your veterinarian can provide your dog will all of the dental care it needs. An added bonus is most dogs can be easily trained to allow you to brush their teeth!

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It is important to note that not all dogs will get along with children, other dogs, or cats.Play time is very important for dogs
It is important to note that not all dogs will get along with children, other dogs, or cats.
It is important to note that not all dogs will get along with children, other dogs, or cats.
Play time is very important for dogs
Play time is very important for dogs

Extras

There are some other things to keep in mind when it comes to the best care for your dog. Microchips are a great way for lost pets to be reunited with their owners. Sometimes collars can come off and if a dog gets out of your care by accident it can be nearly impossible to identify. Microchips are simple to implant and remain in the dog for its entire life. When your lost dog is picked up it will be scanned for a microchip and if they find one you will be contacted.

Grooming is a great idea for dogs, especially those with long hair. Grooming not only gives the dog a bath and trim, the dogs will get their nails trimmed too. This is good because long nails can be painful for dogs. Working with your pet from an early age will make timing nails at home more relaxed and stress free for you and your dog.

Flea and tick prevention is also very popular for dogs. Fleas and ticks can carry diseases, and not to mention just having them brought into your house. If topical treatments are not your cup of tea there are many oral flea and tick privation products on the market. It is best to talk with your veterinarian about what brand to use for your pet.

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