If you are advising a soon-to-be client on becoming a first-time dog owner, check out these tips for choosing the right dog for his or her lifestyle, ways to keep a dog happy, how to make training stick and knowing the right accessories for the dog’s comfort.
Know the Right Dog for Your Lifestyle
Live in an apartment or a house? Have kids or fly solo? Different breeds of dog have different needs and interests, and you should try to understand the breed that is the best fit for you. That doesn’t mean you can’t support a mixed breed or a rescue dog— it just means that you should take the time to understand who you are bringing into your home. That way you know which lifestyle choices you might need to change and which new habits to make that will help your new pet feel comfortable and at-ease.
- Research What You’re Getting Into: Understand the responsibility of owning a dog. Dogs are social beings and creatures of habit. At the very basics, they will need to be pet, loved and will want to spend time with you. They need to be walked, have access to the outdoors and eat at roughly the same time every day.
- Activity Level: Some breeds are more active than others. If you are looking for a dog who will sleep all day and watch movies on the couch with you at night, consider a bulldog, chow chow or Great Dane. If you’re looking for a runner, hiker or go-getter, high-energy breeds like a border collie, springer spaniel or Dalmatian might be a better fit.
- Prepare for Expenses: Healthcare is important— and often expensive— for dog owners. Aside from the daily expenses around food and toys, you’ll want to be able to give your dog the best life possible. The financial costs can vary for different breeds, but at the bare minimum you will need enough expendable income to cover food, vaccinations, medications and vet visits.
- Know the Daily Grind: Stick to a consistent routine. If you have a constantly changing lifestyle— like a job with rotating shifts or requires frequent travel— a dog might become anxious or stressed without structure. For example, most dogs like to be let out to use the restroom and be fed at the same time every day.
Keep Your Dog Happy When You Aren’t At Home
You won’t be able to keep your dog company at all times, but for those who are gone in longer chunks, it’s important to have a plan in place to keep your dog entertained through those wider absences. This not only prevents indoor bathroom accidents, but it also keeps your dog from getting bored and engaging in unwanted behaviors. These days there are a lot of options, so if you know you won’t be able to sneak away from your 8-to-5 to check in then consider some different options.
- Pet Sitting: Arranging for a pet sitter to come to your house for a few hours each day to play, pet and practice training with your dog.
- Dog Walking: Hiring a dog walker to stop by and take your dog out on brief or long neighborhood walks so that he gets plenty of exercise when he is cooped up inside for longer stretches.
- Doggie Day Care: Taking your dog to a camp or daycare where he can play with other dogs and receive affection and attention from other people. Most dog daycares require your animal stay up-to-date on vaccinations like rabies and kennel cough.
- Creating a Safe Space: Using baby gates to keep your dog safe and secure in certain areas of the home where he will be comfortable. This is especially important for puppies who might chew on furniture or shoes. Be sure to puppy-proof the room by putting out plenty of chew toys and removing harmful chemicals like cleaning products from areas the dog can reach.
Don’t Skimp on Training
Trust us— training will make your life easier and your dog’s life more comfortable. Studies show that dogs feel less anxious when they understand what is expected of them— that’s the life of a pack animal. When you emphasize training, you wind up with a dog who is calmer because there is structure and he understands the manners you require in your home. Training can be successful when you:
- Focus on it every day, even if you only have 10-15 minutes to devote to practicing commands.
- Emphasize training at any age, but especially as puppies. You can prevent a lot of bad habits from settling in— life shoe chewing or jumping on people— if you start with a puppy.
- Create rules for your dog that your entire family buys into. For example, if the rule is that dogs are not allowed on the furniture, no one can make an exception or the training will never set in. Your dog will only be confused and hurt when they make a mistake that they don’t understand.
- Use visual cues as well as verbal commands. Dogs actually understand humans better when there is a hand signal paired with a training request.
Stock Up on the Right Accessories
Leash, collar, food bowls, toys— there are many accessories common to most dog owners. But depending on your needs and your dog’s needs, you might want to consider a few specialized accessories.
- Dog food: Finding the right food for your dog isn’t always as simple as you might think. It’s common for some dogs to be picky eaters. Start the process of dialing in your furry companion’s favorite eats by buying small amounts of different types of foods. Once you find his favorite, stock up.
- Beds: Older dogs may have trouble jumping up on beds or furniture. You can purchase steps and stairs to help ease them up and orthopedic dog beds to make naps more comfortable on aching joints.
- ID Tags and Chips: Be sure to buy proper identification tags for your dog, as well as have them microchipped, especially if you have dog walkers or pet sitters taking them out of the home on a regular basis.
- Crate Training: If you are crate-training your dog, take the time to get a crate that is the right fit. Something too small can make your dog feel constrained and something too large could confuse them about the crate’s purpose. Crates should feel like a safe home for your dog— their own special place— not a scary place of punishment. That’s why it’s important you avoid leaving your dog in the crate for too long— more than 8 hours a day for an adult dog can become emotionally traumatizing.
- Food Storage: Air-tight dog food storage containers that keep out bugs and prevent moisture from seeping in. This is especially useful for dog owners who store food in garages or sheds where ants might be common.
Dogs are members of your family for many, many years. If you get a puppy, you are looking at anywhere from 8-12 years with your canine companion— and in some cases even 15-20. Doing the right research before you adopt helps make sure you are adequately prepared for this new adventure. Be patient with your dog— and yourself. Owning a dog for the first time can, in the beginning, feel very challenging, but with the right preparation and a loving attitude, it can quickly become very rewarding.