The Four Most Important Lessons Every First-Time Dog Owner Must Know
Hi there!! For anyone who is new to my blog, let me introduce the whole crew here. I’m Carson Presley, and I write the content behind Girls & Dogs, Oh My. I graduated college this May (err--sort-of, just not traditionally because of the Coronavirus).
The luckiest person in the world, I have two adorable Labradoodles! Scout, who is two-years-old, and Ryder, who is 9-months-old. My better half, Spencer, is the most amazing dog mom who helps me keep a handle on our two wild fur babies.
Together, we love traveling. We love packing up our Jeep and exploring new places. We’re also (until recently) first-time dog owners. In other words, we’re young and make a lot of mistakes--which is where the inspiration for this blog came from!
I want to be able to share all of our journeys and dog mom lessons with you all--especially our mistakes--so that you all can have the best possible experiences.
Every Monday I post new content with our latest adventure, traveling advice, and dog mom tips and tricks. Sometimes I post more than just Mondays, so make sure to look out for the bonus content ;)
My feed is always live on Pinterest, so feel free to follow along there and never miss another Monday with Carson again!
I was so unprepared when I brought home my first pup so I want to share the most important things I wish I would have known before I brought Scout home! Let's begin.
Lesson One: Save, Save Some More, then Keep Saving
My biggest mistake before getting Scout was that I didn’t have as much money saved as I would have liked.
I had enough saved to where neither of us struggled, but for my own personal comfort level, there were some stressful times. Scout is a little unusual in the sense that she has a sensitive stomach and requires prescription food.
It took months of going in and out of the ER to find out why she was getting sick every night.
That aside, vet bills are still expensive and can (& do) add up rather quickly. There are mandatory shots for little Fido before he can go out and play with other pups.
The core shots, in the beginning, will cost around $100-150, including rabies. These are administered within the first couple of months, as noted above.
If you adopt from an adoption shelter, most shelters keep their doggos up-to-date on shots so you shouldn’t have to worry about catching them up.
Be sure to get their vaccination records from the shelter.
You will need a copy of them throughout their lives, including to get them groomed or kennel them.
If you bring Fido home from a breeder, then the shots will be up-to-date. When you go to a breeder, they will have their own vet for their puppies who will come and administer the meds to the puppies as they age.
They will give you a copy of their vaccination records. If they don’t, ask for one. Again, you will need this.
Flea and tick preventative.
There are a couple of ways to administer these medications to your pup! There are collars, chewables, and topical applications.
The collars are super simple and exactly what it sounds like: a loose collar that the dog wears and it prevents against fleas and ticks.
There are a TON of variations in these, so make sure to browse around before buying one. Here is a link to the best collars. Some last one month, others last eight months.
There are natural collars and water-resistant collars and sizes for every dog!
Chewables are also a great option for your pup. They are soft, chewy snacks for little Fido. These are what I give Scout and she loves them because they taste like beef.
I personally have had zero trouble getting her to eat them because she really thinks they are a snack!
Nexgard lasts 30 days, so you do have to remember to give it to your pup each month, but is also super simple. Nexgard helps prevent against ticks as well, but not all flea preventatives protect against ticks.
Here is a website that will help you choose what medication is best for you and your pup. You should also consult your vet for their professional medical advice as well!
Topical applications are a physical medication that is applied directly to the coat of your doggo. These types of medications are less effective than the chewables, but are better than nothing.
Here is a chart of how to decide which topical treatment is best for you and your pup, depending on what exactly you need from it!
Heartworm prevention is insanely important for the health and wellbeing of your new pup. Heartworms are literally worms that are spread by mosquitoes. This disease can be fatal, so it is crucial that you invest in prevention.
Unlike flea and tick medication, you will need a prescription from the vet in order to buy these. Like flea and tick prevention, there are a handful of ways to administer these medications.
Heartworm prevention comes in monthly chewables, topical treatments, and injectable medication. The specific type of prevention you need will depend on where you live, as not every area has the same potential parasites.
Start by referencing this link to get an idea of what you might need, then talk with your veterinarian about the specific medication you will need to get.
Lesson Two: Microchipping
What is microchipping? Is it humane? Safe? Do I need to do it? Yes yes and yes!!!
Microchipping is a tiny little chip that is inserted just under your pup’s skin. It carries a variety of information that will pop up whenever it is scanned by a vet.
The procedure takes minutes and is as easy and painless as a normal vaccination. If, for some tragic reason, you and Fido get separated, someone can bring him to the vet, scan him, and they will contact you.
It is important to note that this is not a GPS tracking device (those do exist, however).
When I first got Scout, I didn’t microchip her. I thought “I’m a good dog mom, I won’t lose her, I definitely don’t need this.”
About a year later, I was on my way to the gym when I saw a dog on the side of the road. He was healthy, had a collar with contact information on it, and was super friendly. I tried calling the number but no one answered.
I took him to the local vet where they scanned him and were able to return him to his owners. Without his microchip, they may have never been reunited.
After that, I understood the importance of microchipping and took Scout to get hers done the next week.
Now for the incredible details behind the first day of bringing Fido home.
Lesson Three: Do Your Research…on Everything.
There are an infinite amount of resources to help you have enough information before moving forward with this amazing step of your life. You need to research everything before you bring your new best friend home.
First, you need to decide between “adopt versus shop.”
This is such a huge argument in the pet world. My honest opinion is that both are wonderful options. Every dog needs a home, regardless of whether or not they were bred or abandoned.
I don’t agree with shaming one or the other, both are great options—for you and your pup! I, however, in no way condone supporting puppy mills.
There are pros and cons to both adopting and “shopping.” Adopting is amazing because you’re taking a homeless dog out of a cage and bringing them into your own home.
A downside is that they may have previous trauma, making it difficult for a first-time dog owner to try and overcome these tendencies.
“Shopping” is amazing as well because you know exactly what breed you are getting and therefore know what potential health concerns they may have later in life (which I will discuss later).
Once you’ve decided how you’re going to find little Fido, you need to decide what kind of Fido you want! In other words, it is time to browse dog breeds.
We’ve all had that childhood dream dog in mind and you think that that’s your only option right?? Wrong.
The truth is that you need to research the breed and consider a bunch of variables before deciding on a breed. Everyone talks about energy levels, but there is so so so much more than just that one factor.
You need to consider the following questions before making a decision:
What potential (near and far) health issues might they have?
Large breeds, for example, are more likely to develop hip dysplasia. Pugs and other short-nosed breeds generally have breathing issues.
What kind of dog owner does the breed need? Can you be an alpha for your pup? Or does Fido not need that?
For example, greyhounds need an alpha figure to be the “leader of the
pack” whereas dogs who aren’t used to being in a pack will not need this.
Know your breed's predisposed tendencies.
For example, hounds are bred to hunt and therefore are more independent and can be difficult to train. Poodles, on the other hand, are incredibly energetic dogs and therefore need to be stimulated in order to be satisfied.
Read about myths about the breed.
For example, people think big dogs can run long distances without any trouble. This is actually generally false. Running is a high impact sport which can trigger some health issues, especially in larger dogs, such as hip dysplasia.
So you’ve decided on a breed. Now you need to research breeders.
As previously mentioned, you want to make sure the breeder is legitimate. Go on their website and look at the parents.
Maybe visit their social media pages to see if past parents are active on the page, if their pups look healthy, etc. make sure you aren’t supporting a breeder who doesn’t take proper care/precaution of their doggos.
Overbreeding is unhealthy and can lead to a wide variety of health defects, including issues with eyes, hearing, joints, and birthing, as well as many other defects.
So you want to make sure that the parents are also healthy, not being overbred, and that they are, in fact, purebred.
Look at multiple breeders, when their puppies will be ready to go home, what their prices are, what coat options they have.
You can/should contact the breeder and ask to go visit the parents and puppies. This allows you to see that the puppies and parents are healthy and growing properly.
Lesson Four: You’ve now decided on a dog.
And you’re excited and want to take him home right away….. but wait.
You need to be prepared. You want your new fur baby to come home to a stable environment. If you bring him home and then get his area set up, it’s already confusing.
Bring him into his new home ready to go! At a minimum, you need the following items before you bring Fido home.
If you are getting a large breed, you want to get a large crate, which will come with a divider. Dividers are important because they aid in potty training.
If you give your pup the entire crate, they will go potty in the crate. You want their space to be just big enough for them, not big enough for them and their potty mess. This one is great for large dogs (I got this one as a hand-me-down from a friend and it's still just as good as new, 3 dogs later!)
You want your pup to be comfortable and to have his/her own blanket. These are small, soft, and easily washable!
You will likely buy a handful of these throughout the first year because you’ll want one for the car, the house, and a random one. These come in a 3-pack, which is perfect. It gives them just a small smell of home and provides them comfort throughout the time away from home!
Ask the breeder/adoption center what food they have their dogs eating. You don’t want to switch your baby’s food immediately. You want to do it in increments of around 25%.
In other words, for a couple of days, put 25% of their food as the new food. For a couple of days after that, make it 50% of their food. Then 75%, then 100%.
This trains their stomach to be able to digest the new food properly and help them to not become ill. You should consult your vet to make sure you are transitioning their food properly.
Obviously, you need to buy bowls as well! Invest in nice, ceramic bowls and not plastic ones. I repeat: do not buy the plastic bowls! The plastic bowls get micro-scratches in them, which can hold bacteria and make your pup sick.
The only plastic bowls I would recommend would be something like this one. It's a slow feeder from Outward Hound. When Ryder was a young puppy, she would inhale her food and end up throwing up.
One of our dear friends sent us this slow feeder and it changed our lives. (Thank you so much, we love you.)
Also, I’m going to include snacks on this list! Buy some training treats, such as these. You want them to be soft and chewy so that they can eat them quickly while training. These are your best friend for potty training!
Duh. Your pup is going to be READY to play. Make sure you get age-appropriate toys. The first couple weeks/months (depending on breed) will be spent chewing on small toys and toys that help with teething.
Now is also a great time to get a cuddle toy—something soft and plush for them to cuddle with.
5. Collar and leash.
No explanation needed. Make sure to buy a collar and leash for a puppy and not for an adult dog, as there are differences in size.
Huge note here: do not buy a retractable leash. They are so incredibly dangerous for your dog, for you, and . If you don’t believe me, read this, this, or even this.
6. Cleaning products.
It is absolutely inevitable that little baby Fido is going to have an accident indoors. I can just about guarantee that this cleaner will save your life.
Stock up on paper towels…you will go through these like crazy. Carper cleaner makes cleaning so easy and helps take away the odor.
These are the most basic things you will need to bring your new best friend home. Here are some bonus tips and products that I would suggest having, but are definitely not necessary!
Have a puppy class set up!
I put Scout in a class at PetCo and it was awesome. It teaches you how to train your dog and allows you to connect and bond. There are classes for different ages, which is so cool.
These are so so so helpful if you have an active pup or like to go hiking or do other outdoorsy things. They are basically a baby wipe that helps to get dirt, mud, and odors off of your pup. Also super convenient to bring to the dog park in case they roll in some mud.
Accessories for different lifestyles.
Again, if you have an active pup, you may want to consider buying them their own water bottle. This is the one I use. It is super convenient and packs up tight.
Collapsible water bowls are also an awesome option. Another accessory you may want is very location-dependent: outdoor booties!
We took Scout hiking out West and were worried about her paws since she had never been on such rocky terrain before. These are the ones we used and they were great. I recommend ordering down one size.
So there you have it: the four most important lessons you needed to learn before going out and finding your new best friend. This will be one of the best days of your life!
So be sure to bring a friend or two to capture these moments. Let me know what you guys think! Were these tips useful? Anything I didn’t include that I should have?