If you’re a first-time dog owner, there’s a lot to learn. Adopting a dog is a very exciting time, but it can also be very overwhelming at first. As a veterinarian, I often get questions from new pet owners about how best to care for a new dog. These are the 12 tips I give new dog owners to make sure your pup stays happy and healthy.
1. Find a good vet
My biggest recommendation for new dog owners is to find a good vet. You’ll want to take your new dog to the vet clinic for a checkup soon after you adopt him. Your veterinarian will make sure your pet is up to date on all vaccines. Your veterinarian will also provide individualized health recommendations for your dog. It’s also good to know where the nearest emergency veterinary hospital is so you know where to take your pup in an emergency.
2. Feed a high-quality pet food
It is important to feed your dog high quality food from a reputable company. My favorite pet food companies are Hill’s Science Diet, Royal Canin, and Purina Pro Plan. Look for a diet that is appropriate for your dog’s life stage. Puppies will need high quality puppy food for the first year of life. Additionally, feed a diet appropriate for the breed size you have. For example, an adult German Shepherd should be fed large breed adult maintenance food.
3. Provide Consistent Training
When you first get your new pet, be sure to teach it basic commands. Consistent training is good for a dog’s mental stimulation. Consider enrolling your dog in a training class or hiring a trainer to help train your dog. Positive reinforcement, like giving treats to reward your pet for good behavior, is the best way to train your dog. Some trainers may recommend that you use training collars to train your dog.
4. Develop routines
Dogs love routines! Routines structure your dog’s day, so I recommend establishing a consistent routine so your pet knows when it’s time for bed, lunch, and walks. Consistent routines can be helpful for your dog’s mental health and can decrease symptoms of anxiety in your pet.
5. Have your pet microchipped
When you buy a new dog, be sure to have it microchipped. A microchip is a tiny transponder that can be implanted under your dog’s skin. The microchip can be registered in your name and contact details. If your pet ever gets lost and is taken to an animal shelter, they will be scanned for a microchip. If you have had your pet microchipped, there is a better chance that your dog will be returned to you safely. Microchipping is very affordable and can be done at most veterinary clinics.
6. Get vaccinated regularly
Many infectious diseases can make your dog very sick. Be sure to regularly vaccinate your pet against the most common canine diseases such as rabies, distemper, parvovirus and leptospirosis. Your pet may also need to be vaccinated against canine flu and bordetella if they visit the dog park or go to boarding or grooming facilities.
7. Offer monthly flea and heartworm prevention
Heartworms and fleas are extremely common parasites that can infect your dog. I recommend that all dogs receive monthly flea prevention and heartworm prevention. Heartworm treatment is extremely expensive and can range from $500 to $2,000. Heartworm prevention is usually very affordable and should be given monthly to protect your pup from this potentially fatal disease.
8. Protect your home with your dog
Before your dog comes home, make sure your home is dog-proof. Place all medications on a high shelf in a separate room that your dog does not have access to. Also, make sure your counters are clean so your pet doesn’t steal food or snacks off the counter. You might even consider training your dog in a crate to make sure he doesn’t get into trouble while you’re away from home.
9. Exercise regularly
To keep your puppy healthy, be sure to exercise him regularly. A daily walk can be beneficial for you and your dog. Consider regularly playing fetch in the yard or taking your dog for a jog. Regular exercise will often reduce unwanted or annoying dog behaviors.
10. Regular grooming
Don’t forget to bathe and brush your dog regularly. Most dogs only need to be bathed once a month or every two months, although this will vary depending on your dog’s breed, coat type, activities and other factors. Find a good shampoo for your pup that will leave him smelling fresh and clean. Some dogs will need to be taken to a groomer for regular haircuts. Also, remember to trim your dog’s nails about once a month, or whenever your pup’s nails are about to hit the ground when they walk.
11. Consider getting pet insurance
Pet insurance can save your life. If you want to make sure that you will always be able to take care of your pup financially, I recommend that you get pet insurance. Some pet insurance plans will cover the cost of vaccines and medical care, while other plans only cover medical costs. Do your research to find which plan will work best for your situation.
12. Brush teeth or daily dental treats
Dental health is extremely important to ensure your pup has a long and healthy life. If your dog allows you, I recommend that you brush your teeth daily with a specific dog toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush. If your dog won’t let you brush his teeth, I recommend giving him a dental treat daily. Your pet may also need periodic dental cleanings at the veterinary clinic.