The day you bring your first dog home is one you will never forget. Welcoming a new member of the family into the fold is exciting, but it can also feel a little overwhelming if you're not properly prepared.
If you’re feeling nervous or unsure of what to expect, give this list a look to get your home and your heart ready for your special new arrival. These are the top 11 tips we wish someone would have told us!
1. Know What To Expect
It may sound like a cliché, but that doesn't make it any less apt – expect the unexpected. Puppies are unpredictable, they can (and will) get into places they shouldn't go. They can be rambunctious, energetic, and mischievous, while older dogs can feel a little skittish or nervous moving into a new home at first.
In both instances, you need to know what to expect from their behavior, their needs, and their overall temperament. Always ask questions before you bring any pet home, especially dogs. Different pets will thrive in different types of environments. Your new pet might not feel comfortable in a home with other dogs or children or they may have specific requirements for his or her well-being. Get as much information as you can from the individual or organization from whom you are adopting your dog.
Once you have gathered all of that pertinent data about the dog's background and care, then it's time to start shopping for all the gear you're going to need.
2. Stock Up On Supplies And Food
No matter if it's a puppy or an older dog you're bringing home, there are some essential items you are absolutely going to need from day one. These are the simple things like bowls for food and water, a collar with a sturdy and legible pet ID tag, a leash, a crate or plastic carrier, a dog bed, baggies for picking up poop on an outdoor walk, paper towels, and non-toxic cleansers for cleaning up after any accidents indoors. (These are just some of the necessities. Check out our new puppy checklist to get the full lineup of items that every first-time puppy parent should have on hand.)
Above all, make sure you’ve stocked up on the right food. You want to be sure you have the proper food to give your new dog the nourishment he or she needs. This is especially critical for puppies, who are pretty much eating-machines, devouring a steady diet of food to help them develop and stay healthy.
Older dogs may have certain dietary requirements that must be addressed and there are many types of formulas on the market to meet those needs.
3. Find A Good Veterinarian
If this is your first dog, chances are you've never needed a veterinarian before. So now is the time to find one that you feel comfortable tending to your pet's health and safety. This is where you need to do a little research in identifying which clinics are the best in your community.
But don't wait too long! You should bring your new dog to the vet almost immediately after the adoption. The veterinarian can explain which vaccinations are necessary as well giving the dog a complete medical check-up. You can also consult the doctor as to the best type of food for your pet's particular nutritional requirements.
4. Microchip Your Dog
This is something you should strongly consider in the event that your pup gets lost or wanders off. While it's true that a pet ID tag is often the fastest and most effective way for a missing dog to be returned to his or her owner, a microchip adds an extra layer of protection to ensure that you and your dog are quickly reunited.
Depending on where you adopted your pet, the pup may already have a microchip in place. Many shelters will automatically implant a microchip when they are examined by the doctors on-site. Be sure to inquire whether or not this has occurred with your pet before you bring the dog home.
5. Learn Your Dog's Needs
Every dog is different and the initial two to four weeks after adoption are crucial for learning what your dog needs in his or her new home. We're not just talking about the right bed or the best kind of dog leash - these are the physical and emotional requirements to ensure that your pup has a healthy and happy life.
Vaccines are important for preserving the life of your pet. Your veterinarian will tell you what vaccines your puppy will need at what stage of their growth, while any shelter should be able to supply you with the current vaccinations that have been administered to your dog during the adoption consultation.
Any pet, young or older, is going to have an awkward adjustment period during those first few weeks in your home. Be patient and accommodating with your new pup, and let the animal get used to you and the new environment. There is a myriad of new smells and stimuli that your pet is going to need to investigate and process.
With respect to shelter dogs or any pet that has come from a previous home, there may be some traumatic triggers the dog is still working through. Discipline may have been harsh and meted out with a variety of seemingly normal or innocent everyday objects. Even certain words or your tone of voice could be enough to frighten the dog. You may need to work hard with your pet to deprogram their fears through positive reinforcement and plenty of love and kindness.
6. Learn About Puppies First (If You're Bringing A Puppy Home)
Puppies can be a handful. These little balls of frenetic energy are a lot of work and you really must educate yourself on everything you need to know about their care, feeding, grooming, and discipline. You do not want to let your puppy have the full run of the house at first. Puppies need structure. They have to have a routine, and they need a place to call their own. This will help them acclimate to their surroundings a lot quicker and provide the foundation for establishing good habits as they grow older.
Training is vital for puppies and older dogs alike. How you go about doing that is up to you, as long as you are always keeping the dog's health and well-being a top priority. Many owners choose to leash train their puppies, which you can learn all about here.
7. Start Training Soon
From the minute you bring your dog home, you are in the training phase. Establish the ground rules from the get-go. Make it clear to your pup what is acceptable and what is prohibited with respect to behavior. Don't deviate from the established ground rules because that will only lead to confusion and miscommunication. Again, positive reinforcement is the way to teach your dog right from wrong.
Remember, there will be that initial awkwardness and confusion as the dog acclimates to your home and you can be sure your pup will push the envelope to see what they can get away with. While they may test your patience to see where the boundaries exist, it’s important to stay consistent with training to develop good behavior from the get-go.
8. Create A Calming Environment
A calming environment is more than soothing music and low voices. There are steps you can take daily to ensure your home is a serene place for your dog. It starts with enforcing an all-important routine and offering stability and predictability. Exercise can also offer that a sense of calm as dogs can get wound up when they're cooped up indoors for too long. It's also a good idea to get your pup tired out to keep them feeling calm and relaxed.
Finally, make sure your dog has a place to call their own. Be it a crate, a pet bed, or a dog house, they need something that identifies a specific space as theirs alone.
9. Be Ready For Setbacks
Nobody's perfect. The same goes for your new dog. Accidents will happen and it's all but inevitable that your pup is going to have a mishap in the house. The training process is going to take time; personal belongings may get chewed or the flower bed might even get dug up. These are normal everyday incidents when you are a first-time dog owner. Roll with it and always safeguard valuable items that most definitely should not be near your pup under any circumstance.
10. Be Responsible
Owning a dog is a lot of responsibility. You need to acknowledge that from the start and follow through on this long-term commitment. Too many first-time owners will get a puppy and grow tired of the animal when it outgrows the infant stage. Don't make this mistake as it’s extremely unfair to the dog you've brought home. Be sure you are prepared to fulfill your commitment by giving your pet healthy food, adequate training time, and above all, love. Your responsibility also extends to ensuring the pet is vaccinated and licensed and protecting others from your pet during walks and outdoor activities.