You stop every puppy you meet on the street to become best friends. You fondly reminisce about your childhood dog. You’ve been browsing Petfinder for weeks (or longer) with more care than you’d give to dating websites. And now, you’re finally going to do this; you’re going to get your own canine best friend.
It’s a big deal to bring home a new puppy. These creatures win your heart at first lick and constantly entertain you with their antics. But they’re also utterly dependent on you to make sure they’re healthy and happy for their whole lives, so there’s a lot to consider and learn before adding one to your family. Here’s what I learned when I brought home my first dog.
Be honest about your situation
Are you ready for this? Are you sure? Before you start deciding what your dog will be for Halloween, step back and consider your situation. For instance, my dream dog is an Australian shepherd. But when I first wanted to get a dog, I knew an active Aussie wouldn’t be appropriate for my lifestyle. So I had to learn to set aside my notion of the perfect dog and look for one who would be right for my situation (that’s how I ended up with two weird little mutts who I love).
But what type of dog you want isn’t the only question to consider. The American Kennel Club devised a quiz to help you decide whether you’re ready to get a dog. Some of the questions ask how much time you’re willing to spend training and playing with the dog, as well as how you plan to pay for your dog’s needs. It also tests your knowledge of basic canine behavior. Make sure you have the full picture of what your life will be like with a dog before you buy that leash and collar.
Plan on staying home
This isn’t a goldfish you’re bringing home; you can’t just drop a dog into your house and expect him to start swimming happily right off the bat. When I adopted the first of my two current dogs, he was a 10-week-old puppy who just had one of his legs amputated due to an unknown mishap when he was a stray. So not only did I have to worry about training a new puppy, but he was a new puppy with special needs. That took some time to form a routine.
On top of training, I had to closely monitor my new puppy to make sure he was healing properly, but any new dog will require supervision until you know each other a little better. Take as many days off work as you can. Don’t commit to social obligations. And if you have an upcoming vacation, it’s probably not the time to get a dog.
According to Dogtime, “Your dog’s first few weeks home will likely be a period of huge adjustment for both of you.” Obviously each case is different, but know that for a while your life will revolve around acclimating your new dog (and teaching him to ultimately be left alone for stretches).
Run your errands before you bring your new dog home
Getting the picture yet? You’ll be hanging around home during this adjustment period housebreaking your dog, training him on acceptable behaviors, and starting a routine. The more effort you put into acclimating your new puppy, the smoother and faster things will go. So that means you should try to accomplish other obligations — grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments, etc. — before you bring the dog home.
Warn your neighbors
It’s the decent thing to do to tell your neighbors you’re bringing home a dog. My new puppy did not like being left alone, and he told the whole neighborhood about it. Those issues don’t just resolve overnight, and I felt horrible whenever he was barking.
Then, a friend suggested I should put a sign on my door that read: “Dog in training. Thank you for your patience.” After that, I had neighbors coming up to me, saying they weren’t even hearing my dog and not to worry if they did. A little neighborly courtesy goes a long way for situations when you need some patience and understanding.
Make sure you have everything you’ll need
So you have the food, leash, and collar. What more can a dog need, right? Dogs are like babies; they come with a lot of stuff. Make sure you have plenty of small treats (or use a portion of his meals) to help with housebreaking and other training. And have plenty of cleaning products on hand for when the training isn’t working so well.
Plus, you might want to get a spare collar, leash, and food bowls right off the bat. Pet bowls get pretty gross and require constant cleaning, so having some spares to rotate in is ideal.
Rethink some items you’ll never use
Did that whole “no dog on the couch” rule go out the window on day one? Then I bet your new puppy isn’t using that expensive memory foam bed you got (because he’s on yours).
Be practical when you’re first shopping for dog supplies. Yes, he needs food and treats for training, but he doesn’t need that monster bone you think he’d look adorable eating. A selection of various toys — not the entire toy aisle — are ideal for some healthy play. Get the essentials, and enjoy some frivolous shopping later once you know what your dog actually likes.
Get the crate
My childhood dog didn’t use a crate. We initially had one when we adopted her as a 1-year-old, but she was always perfectly fine loose in the house. So at some point the crate migrated to the depths of the basement, and that was that. However, that doesn’t exactly fly when you’re training a puppy. In fact Modern Dog says, “Crates are virtually essential for any dog that isn’t yet housetrained.”
Because of my childhood experience, I naively thought I didn’t need a crate for my first dog. Two pairs of destroyed shoes and several urine-related incidents later, he was always in the crate when I couldn’t watch him. Now I trust him in the house, but that crate was an important training tool to keep him (and my possessions) safe.
Check for any illnesses
Shelters do their best to keep animals healthy, as do responsible breeders. But just like an elementary school classroom, a lot of animals in a tight space spells sickness. Both of my dogs were pulled from overcrowded shelters, and each had medical problems. Organizations try to disclose any issues and start treatment. But they might not always catch every illness because dogs do a great job of masking their weaknesses in a shelter environment. So make sure you get your new puppy established at a vet soon after bringing him home.
Be prepared to see new personality quirks with time
When most dogs enter a new situation they’ll be a little timid until they figure out their place. Once they gain confidence, canine ownership really begins. That’s when dogs are comfortable enough to get into trouble and test boundaries. Just because your new dog hasn’t barked for a week doesn’t mean he won’t turn into the loudest dog in the neighborhood.
I remember it was a milestone when one of my dogs first barked, and now you can hear him several blocks away. Be prepared to meet new quirks as they happen — because they will happen — and know there are training solutions to practically any problem you encounter.
Stock up on cleaning supplies
Inevitably, your dog will make a mess from time to time. You’ll probably have to clean up pee or vomit — or both — pretty frequently at first. And there could be some more serious behavioral issues you’ll have to work through.
I like a really neat, organized home, so when I brought home my first dog and saw dirt, fur, and worse getting everywhere, I had to become zen about it (well, mostly zen). Yes, you can work really hard to prevent accidents, but you won’t always win. And in those moments, you’ll be thankful that you stocked up on all those cleaning supplies.
Get ready to be exhausted
Your new puppy isn’t going to keep regular business hours. He’ll be up at all hours of the night to drag you outside for absolutely no other reason but to stare at the moon. And you’ll be tired — so tired. It really is akin to bringing home a new baby, but thankfully your dog should establish a routine that you can handle quicker than a human child. Just make sure you have enough coffee in the house for those first few weeks, and take naps whenever you can. You’ll need them.
Know that you’ll probably question your decision
This might sound harsh, especially when those sweet puppy-dog eyes look at you. But you’ve just completely upended your life by getting a dog, and there will be times when you long for your old, simple, well-rested life.
When I got my first dog, I realized I couldn’t live so freely anymore. Dog ownership requires routine. It doesn’t account for sleeping in on weekends, taking spur-of-the-moment day trips, or staying out later than planned. Your dog doesn’t know a Saturday from a Tuesday. He’s going to want his meals and walks at pretty specific times. And when he vomits on your bed right before you’re about to collapse into it, you’re definitely going to question why dog ownership was a good idea.
Know your household dynamic
Has every relationship you’ve been in worked? Have you kept every friend you ever made? Of course not. I failed several times trying to find a buddy for my first dog. He is selectively dog-friendly. Some dogs he said no to right away. Others had home visits and looked promising until things took a turn. I wanted to find the right fit, so I didn’t try to force anything. Finally, I stumbled on a dog who seemed to work with his quirks, and I knew that was the one.
Plan on your entire lifestyle changing
Even after you get through the learning curve of housebreaking, setting up boundaries, and establishing a feeding and walking schedule, your life will still change. You’re a dog person now. There’s always fur somewhere on your clothes. Your phone background is a smiley canine with his tongue sticking out. And whenever you’re not with your dog you’re always thinking about what he might be doing and how long he can hold his pee before you have to get home to him.
Know that your life will change for the better
It’s no stretch to call dogs our best friends. They make us better people in so many ways. They get us up and out of the house, which not only gives us some exercise but also forces us to socialize.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dogs “influence social, emotional, and cognitive development in children, promote an active lifestyle, and even have been able to detect oncoming epileptic seizures or the presence of certain cancers.” So forget disgusting fad diets or backbreaking CrossFit classes. Just get a dog. You’ll be glad you did.