Whether you’re planning to bring your new fur baby home soon or have already enjoyed several days of cuddles on the couch, we on the Huan team want to be among the first to welcome you to the wonderful world of dog ownership!
And we also want to assure you that it’s never too soon to start reading up on the best ways to care for your furry friend so that you can enjoy many more years of cuddles together.
That’s why we’ve compiled this guide chock-full of tips from our own lives — as well as some of the best pet experts out there — to help you master everything a first-time dog owner should know.
Keep reading to learn about the biggest mistakes you should be on the lookout for, key tips for keeping your dog safe, and all the essential food and gear you need to help you and your pet have a healthy and happy life together.
Let’s get to readin’ — and to waggin’!
Common Mistakes to Avoid as a First-Time Dog Owner
Here are some of the mistakes we wish we had known to look out for when we became dog owners for the first time. You’re welcome.
Not Saving Up Enough Money
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the cost of owning a dog can exceed $2,000 in the first year alone!
And after that initial outlay for up-front medical treatments and basic supplies; annual costs can average up to $1,000 for things like food, toys, training, medical needs, grooming, and more.
So for a dog with a life expectancy of 12 years, the lifetime cost will likely exceed $12,000. Of course, this doesn’t take into account any large medical or emergency expenses that may arise.
If you think of your pet as a family member and want to treat them like one, make sure you have the funds to do so when you welcome them into your life.
Assuming All Dogs Behave Similarly
Your new dog is not the family dog you grew up with. Nor is it the loveable stray your grandpa always recalls from his childhood with misty eyes. This is an entirely different animal and, just like humans do, it has its own personality and history that will influence its behavior. Keep an open mind when getting to know your new pet and you’ll learn to love their eccentricities.
Choosing a Pet with a Disproportionate Energy Level
There’s almost nothing cuter than a spunky, playful pup. What’s not cute is when that high-energy pup is still sprinting around the house at bedtime.
All too often, people end up getting rid of perfectly fine pets that they fell in love with before realistically considering whether they could deliver on the energy level that the dog requires.
Looking for a dog that can keep up with your daily, long-distance runs? By all means, go for that Border Collie. Want a companion who’s perfectly happy to lounge on the couch all day while you work from home? Then that cute Basset Hound is a great fit for your lifestyle.
A good rule of thumb for first-time dog owners is that your dog’s energy level should match or be lower than the general energy level in your household.
Skipping the Training
You may be familiar with the phrase “There are no bad dogs, only untrained dogs.”
That’s a sentiment we couldn’t agree with more.
A dog’s mental capacity is equivalent to that of a human toddler. That means they won’t be able to understand the rules or your household or how to behave in new situations — unless you teach them.
Dogs have natural inclinations that can get them hurt in today’s world — such as chewing on things that could be dangerous to their health or charging to greet another dog that might not be friendly. It is your job alone as your new dog’s caretaker to train them so that they understand the ground rules that will keep them, you, and the people you encounter safe and happy.
Skimping on Socialization
Remember how we just compared your new dog to a toddler?
Well, another way that dogs are like toddlers is that they learn a lot about how to behave; how to communicate; and how to cope with new sights, sounds, and smells by being around others like them.
The practice of making sure your pup spends plenty of time with other pups is called “socialization” and, while it’s best done when young, it can benefit dogs of any age.
6 Safety Tips for First-Time Dog Owners
Being responsible for a furry friend for the first time can be a little nerve wracking. But with this list of safety tips, you can rest assured that you’ll be well prepared.
Get on a Checkup Schedule
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — especially for our canine friends who can’t always tell us when something is wrong.
Taking your dog to their veterinarian for regular checkups is absolutely key to catching and even preventing illnesses. Your vet knows what signs to keep an eye out for and can even give you tips on preventative measures you can take to keep your dog healthier for longer.
Keep Your Regular and Emergency Vet on Speed Dial
Right there on the fridge — or in your cell phone — among the numbers for your local fire department and your favorite delivery place, make sure you have the phone numbers for both your regular vet and an emergency vet ready to go if you should ever need them in a hurry.
Read Up On What Your Pooch Can and Can’t Eat
Dogs experience the world through smell and, right after that, taste. Again, much like a baby, your new pet is going to want to take a nibble on everything. This is why it’s important that you become familiar with what is and isn’t safe for them to ingest.
We understand the urge to slip a little snack to that cute, pleading face under the table. While the safest practice is to avoid giving dogs “human” food at all, this guide from the American Kennel Club is a great place to startwhen you’re trying to determine whether you can give your dog that spoonful of peanut butter (usually fine) or bite of your cinnamon bagel (avoid this one!). Of course, we also recommend checking with your vet if you have any questions.
Houseplants are another thing that dogs come in contact with often that may be dangerous if eaten. We recommend checking out this guide to make sure your houseplants aren’t on the list — and asking your vet if you have any plants you’re not sure about.
And if your dog gets into a lot of outdoor adventures, it’s important that you keep an eye on them around water. While they’re going to want to lap up much of the water they come in contact with, it’s probably better they don’t considering the salt, parasites, and even algae that can make them sick or worse. Catch your pup drinking some water that seems a little suspicious? Let your vet know.
Prioritize Recall Training
Even if your dog is usually on a leash, it’s essential that you’re still able to get their attention and call them back to you for a number of reasons. To keep your dog as well as the other dogs and people you come in contact with safe, either hire a qualified trainer or work on recall training soon after you bring your pup home for the first time.
Stay Aware of the Weather and Your Dog’s Reaction to It
We get that you want to play with your new pup all year long, and the good news is that you can as long as you stay aware of the weather and what it means for their wellbeing!
As a first-time dog owner, you can keep your dog safe by becoming familiar with their sensitivity to heat and learning the signs of exhaustion, heatstroke, and sunburn. Likewise, learn to recognize dangers that can be present in winter and how to protect your pet from antifreeze on the ground, frostbite, and extreme cold.
Look at Certain Holiday Traditions in a New Light
Water under that freshly-cut Christmas tree you put up every year? Gathering in the front yard to watch your city’s firework display every Independence Day? While these traditions are probably fun for most of your family, they can be scary and even harmful for your pooch. Be sure to “pet proof” your holiday traditions, starting with this guide for making July 4th a little safer for your pets.
5 Essentials Every First-Time Dog Owner Needs
With the mistakes successfully sidestepped and the safety tips taken to heart, let’s talk about something a little more fun — picking out all the food and gear your new pup surely can’t wait to sniff with excitement!
Well-Researched Food and Toys
Obviously, you’re going to want to have food, treats, and maybe even a toy or two ready and waiting when you bring your new dog home for the first time.
While this sounds relatively simple, you’ll understand as soon as you set foot into a pet supply store how overwhelming the options can be. If you aren’t sure where to start, try to find out what kind of food and toys your dog was enjoying before they joined your family and continue down that path while you do more research.
Chewy has a pretty good guide to nutritional needs at different stages during a dog’s life, but of course the best research you can do is check with your vet on what food and toys are best for your dog’s individual needs.
A Cozy Sleeping Space
A cozy sleeping spot is another essential that you’ll want to have prepared before you even bring your new dog home for the first time.
While not all dogs want to sleep in a crate and some don’t even use their beds all that often, it’s usually advised to give them the option of a private sleeping space when they first arrive at your home. A cozy area to sleep or just hang out could be exactly what your new dog needs to relax and get comfortable in their new home.
At-Home and Travel-Ready Food and Water Containers
We understand you’re excited to take your pup for your first out-of-house adventure! But before you do, remember that if you’re packing extra snacks and hydration for yourself, they’ll probably need some, too! So while you’re grabbing all these other essentials for your new pet, be sure to grab a portable container or two for extra doggy food and water.
Weather- and Activity-Appropriate Clothing
Another essential for the first-time dog owner is gear for taking them outside of the house.
This all starts with a leash that you’re comfortable using and a collar or a harness if your dog tends to pull or you need more control. If you’re going to be out at night, most of this gear can be purchased or modified to be reflective. And make sure to always have your eco-friendly waste bags at the ready for potty breaks!
If you and your pooch are inclined to adventure out in the extreme weather conditions we mentioned earlier, make sure you’re prepared with all the gear they need to stay comfortable and safe — whether that’s a pair of doggy shoes, a life jacket, a warm coat, or even doggy goggles!
Something a lot of first-time dog owners overlook is gear to keep their pets safe on trips to and from their various adventures. Even if your pooch loves car rides, it isn’t safe for them or you to let them roam freely around the vehicle while you’re driving. Their excitement could inadvertently distract you and cause an accident in which they’re more likely to get hurt if they aren’t properly restrained. The Spruce Pets interviewed a vet to get their recommendations for the best canine car seats.