The love between a dog and its owner is extraordinary; there’s nothing else like it. Having the opportunity to experience this unconditional love is one of the many reasons why getting a dog for the first time is so exciting.
However, between the cuddles, kisses, and games of fetch, owning a dog is a tremendous responsibility. Whether you’re bringing a new puppy or an adult dog into your family, it’s up to you to make sure your canine companion is happy, healthy, and safe.
So if you’re a first-time dog owner–or just want to brush up on your knowledge–you’ve come to the right place. Here are 10 common first-time dog owner mistakes and tips for avoiding them.
1. Getting a dog before you’re ready
If you’re thinking about getting a dog, it can be easy to act too quickly – and run down to the nearest animal shelter or start researching reputable breeders. Dog ownership is a big responsibility and a long-term commitment. There are a variety of things to consider before deciding whether you’re ready to get a dog, especially if you’re a first-time owner, such as.
Time: Do you have enough time in your schedule to train, walk, and care for a dog?
Lifestyle: Is your lifestyle suitable for a canine addition? Are you willing to change your schedule for a new puppy or dog?
Living space: Will a dog fit in with your living space? Do you have other family members or pets who may be affected by adding a dog to your household?
Cost: Can you afford to get a dog? Think about the costs of dog food, treats, toys, vaccinations, vet checkups, grooming, and other possible expenses.
Type of dog: Do you know which kind of dog is right for you? Are you looking for a purebred or a mixed breed dog? Do you know what kind of dog may work best with your lifestyle, activity level, and personality?
Considering questions like these can help prevent you from making an early mistake –
2. Not creating a plan for house training
If you get an older dog, you may not have to worry as much about house training, but new puppy owners and those who adopt younger dogs will need a plan for potty training.
If you neglect this crucial training early in your dog’s life, the more likely your pup is to have accidents in the house, and the more difficult it will be for you to leave, even for short periods of time. It can be helpful to create a potty training plan even before you bring your new dog home and get all family members on board.
When you do bring your new puppy or dog home, you’ll want to make sure they have an established place to go to the bathroom, take them out for regular potty breaks, and use positive reinforcement for good behavior.
If you decide to crate train your puppy, the crate can be a useful tool for house training. Crates or kennels take advantage of the “denning instinct,” meaning dogs are more likely to use the bathroom away from where they eat and sleep. Crate training also gives your canine companion a safe space to call their own.
3. Not properly socializing your dog
Early socialization for a puppy or a new dog is important to creating a healthy and well-behaved companion. If your dog is well-socialized early in life, the less likely they are to become anxious or scared in unfamiliar situations or develop aggressive behaviors as adults.
As a new dog owner, you’ll want to socialize your pup with different sights, sounds, places, people, and experiences. If you have a new puppy, socialization is particularly critical, especially within the first three months. During this time, you’ll want to introduce them to as many new positive experiences as you can–and keep reinforcing those experiences as your pup grows.
You can try activities like walking down the street, visiting a pet store, playing with new dog toys, arranging a puppy playdate, going to the dog park, and more. Of course, before you interact with other dogs, you’ll want to make sure your puppy or dog has received all of their required vaccinations to keep everyone safe.
4. Skipping basic obedience training
As a first-time dog owner, it may be easy to get overwhelmed by all the fun and excitement of having a new doggy best friend and skip out when it comes to laying down the rules. All canines, however, can benefit from basic dog training. And while some dogs may need more training than others, it’s important that you work through the basics with your new pup.
Basic dog training, like socialization exercises and leash training, will help you create a routine and reward good behavior. Teaching your dog basic commands like “sit,” “stay,” and “come” can help your dog become a well-mannered companion in all types of environments, as well as keep them safe in unfamiliar situations.
So, whether you decide to teach your dog at home, get private lessons from a dog trainer, or find dog training classes near you, you’ll want to make sure you invest in the basics–at a minimum. If your pooch has an apt for training, you might take things to the next level and get involved in tricks or dog sports.
If this is your first dog (or even if you’re a long-time pet parent), you might think that a few table scraps or extra treats won’t be an issue for your pup. The truth is, pet obesity is a widespread problem–according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 56% of dogs in the U.S. are overweight or obese.
And even just a little extra weight can cause a variety of health problems for dogs. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, excess weight can lower a dog’s life expectancy and make it more difficult to manage common health issues, such as joint pain, injuries, and arthritis, as they age.
Conversely, keeping your dog at a healthy weight can help lower their risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, respiratory disease, kidney disease, and some forms of cancer.
The best thing you can do for your dog’s long-term well-being, therefore, is to feed them a balanced diet with high-quality ingredients. You’ll want to avoid any excess treats or table scraps and make sure they’re getting enough exercise. If your dog already has a weight problem, you can consult your veterinarian for advice on the safest and most effective way to shed the pounds.
6. Forgetting regular vet visits
You’ve remembered the key visits to the veterinarian as a new pet owner – your dog has all their core vaccinations and they’ve been in for spaying or neutering. So, once that annual checkup reminder arrives, it may be all too easy to forget the appointment.
Although your dog might prefer to skip the appointment too, taking your pup for regular vet appointments is one of the most important parts of their preventative care. When you take your dog for an annual checkup, your vet performs a physical exam – checking their vitals, weight, teeth, lungs, and heart–and running any tests they think might be necessary. If something is cause for concern, your vet can address it and suggest options for treatment.
During these visits, your vet will also give your dog any vaccine boosters (which your pup might need more frequently for doggy daycare or boarding), as well as discuss prevention for things like heartworm, fleas, ticks, and other parasites. If you have any questions or concerns about your dog’s health, you can talk to your veterinarian about them at these visits.
As your canine companion gets older, these visits will become even more important, especially if they develop any health issues. Your dog may not love the trip, but these regular vet checkups will help them stay healthy–ultimately, allowing them to spend more time with you.
7. Not getting enough exercise
Dogs have different energy levels and activity needs, but each pup will need some form of regular exercise. If your dog doesn’t get regular exercise–both physically and mentally–the more likely they are to develop both weight and behavioral issues.
As you might expect, a dog that isn’t getting enough exercise is more likely to gain weight, but they also may take out their extra energy in other ways, such as chewing, barking, or other destructive behaviors.
In general, your dog should get a minimum of 30 minutes of vigorous exercise every day, which might include activities like walking, running, swimming, or playing fetch. Some dog breeds, of course, have higher energy levels and activity needs, whereas others are more low-maintenance.
It’s helpful to understand the exercise requirements of your kind of dog to make sure they’re getting the time they need. Labrador Retrievers, for example, are high-energy and playful dogs that are easily trainable. These dogs are also prone to obesity, however, making exercise even more important.
And don’t forget about mental exercise too – playtime and training practice can help dogs work their minds and release some energy as well.
8. Overlooking behavioral issues
As pet parents, we all want to see the best in our pups – and sometimes, love can make us a little blind. But after a neighbor complains again and again about your dog’s barking, it becomes harder to tell yourself, “Oh, my dog wouldn’t do that.”
There are a variety of reasons why your dog may develop or display certain behavior issues. Your dog may be trying to communicate that they’re anxious or upset. They might have an underlying health issue that needs to be addressed by your veterinarian. Your pup may have experienced a change in their environment or routine that is causing them to act out.
Whatever the reason, it’s important to recognize what’s going on and work to get it resolved. Common behavior issues, such as separation anxiety, barking, or chewing, can often be addressed through specific training strategies. Some other issues, like growling, biting, or other aggressive behavior, might require working with a professional dog trainer.
In any case, if you’re not sure what’s causing your dog’s change in behavior or you’re having trouble dealing with a particular problem, it can be helpful to consult with your veterinarian or a professional trainer for advice.
9. Not getting your dog comfortable with grooming
They may seem like easy enough tasks–giving a dog a bath, brushing their coat, trimming their nails, brushing their teeth–these are all things that help our pups look and feel their best. Grooming is also an essential part of pet care.
If your dog’s nails grow too long and aren’t trimmed, they can cause health and mobility issues. Similarly, if your dog’s teeth aren’t regularly brushed, they’re more likely to develop dental disease. And of course, depending on the type of coat your dog has, regular brushing helps remove dead hair and prevents matting.
Getting your dog to cooperate with all of these grooming processes, however, is not always as simple as you might think–especially if they’re already anxious in unfamiliar situations or environments. This is why getting your dog comfortable grooming early in life, whether with you at home or with a professional groomer, is so important.
How do you go about this process? Just like introducing your dog to other unfamiliar situations, it’s best to start slowly and with lots of positive reinforcement.
10. Not preparing for emergencies
No pet owner likes to think about the unexpected, but sometimes emergencies happen. The best thing anyone can do–especially if you’re a first-time dog owner–is to be prepared.
One way to prepare for emergencies is to get your dog microchipped. With a microchip, you have a way to find your dog using radio waves in the device if your pup ever gets lost. Even if you don’t plan on letting your dog go off-leash, or you have a fenced-in yard, this simple and safe procedure can help you find your dog if they get lost.
Another thing you can do is to prepare an emergency kit. In your emergency kit, you should include anything that you would need for your dog in case you needed to evacuate or leave your home immediately. The kit might include dog food, a dog bed, a water bowl, some toys, a blanket or towel, an extra leash, dog bags, any medications, and information about local emergency response centers.
Finally, you might consider getting pet insurance. If your dog gets sick, chews and eats something they aren’t supposed to, or becomes injured, pet insurance can help you afford the cost of veterinary care. This way, when the unexpected does happen, you can worry less about cost and more about care.