Getting a dog for the first time is a big adventure and a big challenge at the same time. I grew up with dogs my entire life, my family being one of the biggest animal loving families that I know. When it came time that I wanted to have one of my own, by myself, my parents stressed many times over that I had to be ready.
Remember, a dog is a long-term commitment. Depending on what kind of dog breed you choose, you’re looking at anywhere between 10 to 20 years of being a pet owner. That is many years of love, but also, many years (especially the beginning, and unfortunately the end) of hard work.
Although I wanted my own dog since I left home at age 18, I took my parent’s sage advice and waited until I was ready for it. That was not until I was 28 years old! I was finally in a place of my life where I felt I could commit the time, effort, and finances to being a responsible dog owner. And then, in came George, as you all probably know. The light of my life, my best friends, my everything.
But George, today at age 2, did not come without hard work. Many people ask my opinion on whether or not they should get a dog. They see George well behaved, cute, and fluffy, going everywhere with me, but what they did not see if the months of puppy madness, training, and frustration that came along with him (that did not and does not make me love him any less, let’s be clear.)
So, what are the ten things you should know before deciding to bring a puppy home?
1. Before You Get a Dog…
Deciding to get a dog shouldn’t be an impulsive decision. Often when people impulsively take home a cute puppy home on a whim, the dog eventually ends up at the shelter because the people didn’t realize the implications of committing to dog ownership. I have seen this firsthand, and it is heartbreaking.
2. Make Sure You Really Want a Dog
Owning a dog is not all fun and games. They can be expensive, energetic, messy, strong-willed and noisy. You need to really consider if you are ready for a long-term commitment. You might be crazy about dogs, but playing with them and looking after one is a whole different ballgame.
Choosing a dog means that you are basically volunteering to be a dog parent. You wouldn’t just give up your baby when it becomes a nuisance, would you? Cute puppies grow up into adult dogs that can be destructive and demand a lot of time and energy from you.
3. Do Your Research Before You Choose
Before getting a dog, you need to figure out if you want a puppy or an older dog, as well as what breed of dog would suit your lifestyle best.
A little puppy is always cute and fun, but they typically have a lot of energy and will need a lot of attention. If you do not have a lot of time and energy to spend socializing and training an active puppy, and you do not feel up to cleaning up little “oopsies” while house-training the puppy, then perhaps you should look at adopting an older dog.
An adult dog may not need as much maintenance as a puppy, but it may have some habits that still need some training. Most adult dogs come housetrained and, especially when adopting a senior dog, their energy level may be lower than a puppy.
Besides thinking about whether you want a puppy or an adult dog, the breed of dog that you would like to adopt is an important aspect to consider. Each breed has its own rewards and challenges. Don’t just pick a dog because you like how they look. The personality is a much more important factor to keep in mind. Much like humans, looks may fade but personality stays the same.
After selecting a breed, research what to expect when your new dog joins your household. Be honest with yourself about your lifestyle. For example, if your idea of relaxation on the weekends is to sit in front of the TV all day, don’t get a dog that loves exploring the outdoors. This may be better suited for someone who loves to hike, take walks, and go on adventures.
4. Consider Fostering and Adopting
Fostering a dog before adopting can be a great way to determine if you’re ready for the commitment. Speak to your local shelter to find out if they have this option and what you can do if you want to adopt the dog permanently. Adopting is always a great choice. Some adoption agencies I love are NKLA, Lange Foundation, and Ace of Hearts.
5. Prepping For Your New BFF
Now that you’ve made the choice to become a dog owner, there are a few basic steps to follow to look after your new pup. You have to puppy-proof your home, such as (but not limited to) making sure there are no poisonous houseplants around such as mistletoe, poinsettia, amaryllis, and holly. Lock up cleaning supplies and medicines. Block access to elevated porches, balconies, and decks.
6. Visit The Veterinarian Regularly
You are now responsible for your dog’s wellbeing. It cannot take care of itself, so you are in charge of it’s health. A very important aspect of this includes regular checkups with a veterinarian. Between 6 and 16 weeks a puppy requires several rounds of vaccines to keep it from getting sick.
After that, you should visit the veterinarian at least once a year for checkups. I like the VCA, which has locations nationally. You may also want to consider dog health insurance for anything unexpected (like swallowing something they should not, or getting into a scurfuffle at the dog park.)
7. Feed Your Puppy Well
This doesn’t just mean enough food, it entails a well-balanced nutritional diet. You will notice that there are specifically formulated dog food for puppies. The first year is the most critical. Your puppy’s, teeth, muscles, bones, and even fur will be growing rapidly. A puppy requires more daily calories than a mature dog. Carefully read the product labels to ensure your puppy digests the correct balance of fat and protein. And keep in mind, the good food is expensive.
Also, stick to the recommended serving size and feeding schedule. Don’t feed your puppy any table scraps, bones or big snacks between meals.
8. Train Your Puppy
Having a well-behaved, obedient dog is a must. I was able to train George the basic commands, as well as potty-train him, but when it came time for the more difficult stuff (for me) I had to take him to a professional. Dog trainers are not inexpensive, but if you are unable to do it successfully on your own, I highly recommend it. I used Smart Dog Training in LA.
9. Be Loving, Patient and Kind
Your little puppy is new to the world, in the same way as a human baby. It has a lot of new things to learn and experience. Even with the best training, you will be cleaning up a few bathroom mishaps in the beginning and you might lose a pair of your favorite shoes that you accidentally left on the floor.
You have to exercise lots of patience in the beginning. Be patient with the learning curve your new dog will go through. With proper love and care your dog will grow into a great companion. In the end, all the hard work will be well worth it.
You will have to invest a lots of time in your dog, for instance setting out time in your schedule for regular walks. Dogs need lots of attention, and some a lot of exercise, and when they don’t get it, then they can become challenging to manage.
10. Go For It!
All in all, if you are ready for the above, my advice is always to go for it. There is no better feeling than coming home to something that is always happy to see you, console you, champion your wins, and be there through it all. I now cannot imagine my life before George.