My family gifted me my first dog when I was in ninth grade, and I’ve had dogs ever since. I’ve personally experienced the scientific truth that dogs make us happier. My dogs are my family, and I simply don’t feel complete without them.
But I know that getting a dog can feel overwhelming. Even the question “Should I get a dog?” may not have a clear answer for you right now. Getting a dog for your kids, can mean even more preparation is needed.
As a seasoned dog owner, I’m here to share everything you need to know about getting a dog.
Do Your Research
Before taking any other steps, do extensive research into everything it takes to prepare for a dog and find the right hound for your lifestyle.
I recommend going through the following questions as you research.
Should I Get a Dog?
The most crucial step to getting a dog is answering the question: “Should I get a dog?” Before anything else, you should be sure you are ready to invite a four-legged friend into your life.
Getting a puppy can seem fun, but you will have moments where you feel frustrated. Puppies require more in the way of training, care and attention, just like any baby. Knowing what you’ve signed up for will help you make it through the potty training phase, or the long nights when a new puppy can’t sleep.
What Type of Dog Should I Get?
Dogs come in all shapes, sizes, energy levels, and temperaments. Before jumping to adopt the first dog you see, consider what type of dog best fits your life.
A few factors to consider:
- Your Home: Consider your home and the amount of space your dog will have for exercise and movement. Do you have a small apartment that would constrict movement for a bigger dog? Make sure your dog will be happy in your space.
- Your Yard: The amount of space you have for exercise may determine what size and energy level you need in your dog.
- Your Schedule: How much time do you have to take your dog on walks and exercise? How often would your dog be at home alone, and for how long? Your schedule will help determine what type of dog you need, whether that’s a small dog or a dog that can spend long periods alone without too much separation anxiety.
- Your Household: Do you need a dog that’s good with other animals, children, or elderly relatives? If you have children, older adults, or other pets, you need to find a dog to get along well with them.
- Your Budget: Consider that larger dogs will often cost more in terms of food and upkeep. If you have a smaller budget, you also may want to consider a short-haired dog, so you don’t need to pay for grooming as often.
- Your Preferences: While it’s essential to ensure your house, schedule, and space are appropriate for your dog, you also want to consider your personal preferences. Do you want a small lap dog to cuddle with? An exercise buddy? Would you prefer an older dog who is settled and trained?
You can also use any number of free questionnaires online to narrow down the right type of dog for you.
What About Fostering or Adoption?
Fostering for a short period is also a great way to decide if you’re ready for a dog long-term. You will be able to prepare your house for a dog, but you can opt out after you complete fostering if having a dog in the house just wasn’t for you.
Prepare Your Home
Now you’ve answered all the questions above, you’re ready for the next step to prepare for your new hound.
Making sure your home is ready and safe for a dog is a critical step. You need to evaluate your space, considering the dog’s safety and the safety of you, and your possessions.
Here’s everything you need to do in your home before your new dog arrives.
Map Out Puppy Spaces and Dog-Free Zones
Do you want your dog to have full access to your whole house or just a specific area?
If you’re getting a puppy, you should plan on keeping them in a restricted area of the house until they are house trained. You can buy baby gates to keep them in their zone. I recommend keeping puppies in your kitchen area since most kitchens have tile or wood floors that are easier to clean when accidents happen.
If you’re getting an older dog, you may opt to give them a complete run of the house. However, creating a particular space for them – with their bed, crate, and toys – can help them feel safe and secure. You may also want to start them in a smaller area so they can acclimate to your home.
Puppy-Proof Your Home
To keep your dog safe, make sure you’ve taken the following steps to puppy-proof your home:
- Cover or secure electrical cords and outlets.
- Stow anything in your house that your puppy might mistake for a chew toy like shoes, socks, books, remote controls, etc. I’ll explain this in the next section, but it’s a good idea to provide alternate chew toys for your puppy to gnaw on instead.
- If you don’t have one already, make sure your trash and recycling have secure lids.
- Remove or secure anything breakable that your puppy might knock over. You mainly need to be careful of this with puppies, but even a new adult dog will take some time to get used to your space.
- Secure any dangling blinds or cords.
- Remove or store anything toxic to dogs. Some foods like chocolate, grapes, candy, and avocados are toxic to dogs. You should also keep other household toxins out of reach, like laundry or dishwasher pods, cleaning agents, and paint.
- Put a fence up around your yard and your pool if you have one.
If you live with other people, you should also be sure everyone is on the same page about your new family member. Have a house meeting and discuss responsibilities and how important it is for everyone to care for and accept your family’s pet.
Stock up on Dog Supplies
Once you have your home prepped and any dangers secured, you’re ready to bring in some new supplies to make your house a dog’s home!
Here are the categories of supplies you’ll need to buy.
Make sure you have all the basics for dog care. Your dog’s needs will include:
- A dog collar with tags
- Poop pickup bags
- Food and water bowls
- A cozy dog bed
- A crate if you plan to crate train or use any time
- Treats for training
- Pee pads for the first few weeks
The biggest essential is food, so I’ll cover that in its own section.
Find the Right Food
The best way to get the right food for your dog is to consult with your vet first. For puppies, pet stores will sell food specifically formulated to support their growth. They often need more calories than adult dogs to support bone, muscle, and coat health – and food that is gentle on their developing teeth.
Make sure you stick to the recommended portions for any dog, and don’t feed them extra table scraps.
Find the Right Toys
Different dogs enjoy different types of toys. While you can make an educated guess based on your dog’s breed, you really won’t know until you meet your pup!
It may be tempting to buy a mountain of new toys for your dog, but I recommend buying only a few toys that are all very different. For example, you could buy:
- A rubber chew toy
- A plush toy with a squeaker
- A rope bone
- A ball
Once you have your dog with you, you can begin to experiment with the different toys. Your dog will probably end up favoring one type over the others, and you can start to build the collection from there!
Some toys can also help with your dog’s health, like toys that help with teething, anxiety, or tooth health. A good teething toy will help keep your puppy from chewing everything in sight! Do a little research to find out what might be the best choice for your dog.
Taking your dog to the vet is the first thing you should plan to do with your dog. Even if your dog doesn’t have any health needs, they should still have an introductory visit with the vet.
A vet should be highly skilled in animal health but also have an excellent ‘bedside manner.’ You want a vet who is gentle, compassionate, and friendly. Visiting the vet can be very stressful for your dog, but a good vet – and good staff – can make all the difference.
You can use the internet to help with your search – find veterinarians in your area and be sure to pay attention to the ratings and reviews. Read through what other clients say about the vet, customer service, and facilities.
You’ll also get great information through word of mouth. Ask any local friends with pets about their experiences. See if anyone has solid recommendations for or against certain vet clinics.
Create a Training Plan
Puppies will require the most extensive time and energy for training. But any new dog will need to be acclimated to the new space and trained to live well alongside you and your family. Training can fall into two main categories: house training and obedience.
House training is the most significant learning curve for puppies – and sometimes for adult dogs that have anxiety or were never adequately trained in the first place. House training means teaching your dog not to use your apartment as their bathroom and how to ask when they need to go outside.
Use these steps to teach your puppy about bathroom etiquette, or give your adult dog a refresher course:
- Maintain a consistent schedule. Consistent feeding and outdoor walks help keep your dog’s system regular. Adult dogs can usually last around 3-5 hours between bathroom breaks, while puppies can last about one hour per month of life.
- Set out pee pads for accidents. For puppies, you’ll first teach them to use a pee pad, and eventually, train them to go outside. For new adult dogs, a pee pad helps prepare for accidents as they get used to their new home.
- Choose your phrase. Saying the exact phrase every time you want your dog to go outside and pee will help them learn the system. “Let’s go potty!” is a common one, but you can try others, as well.
- Choose a spot. Especially when they’re first learning, dogs do better if they use the same location every time.
- Give them praise. When your dog gets it right, give her lots of praise!
- Don’t ever punish a dog for accidents. Experts explain that yelling at your dog for accidents doesn’t work and can make the problem worse as they may be afraid to use the bathroom outside.
You’ll also want to train your dog to respond to common commands. The most important ones for your dog’s safety are “Come,” “Stay,” and “Drop it/Leave it.” You probably also want to be able to tell your dog to sit or lay down.
You can do obedience training at home yourself or pay for your pup to join a class.
You probably know what a dog lover is going to say when you ask them, “Should I get a dog?” Yes, of course we think you should get a dog!
But before you make that final decision, make sure you know everything you need to know, in order to make sure your dog is healthy and happy. With a little (fun) preparation, you, your family and your home can be ready to welcome your new best mate.