Young couple entering home with dog

6 Tips for First-Time Dog Owners

Thinking about opening up your home to a furry friend? While welcoming a new dog into your family is incredibly exciting, becoming a first-time dog owner is no easy feat.

Caring for a canine takes more than love alone. It requires hard work, responsibility, and a lot, and we mean a lot, of patience, especially if your new dog is a puppy. Preparing ahead of time can help ensure your new dog, whether an adult or a puppy, feels right at home, from day one.

Today’s blog will serve as a complete guide for first-time dog adoptees with a list of pro tips to help make your new dog’s transition easier. So, grab a pen, some paper, and let’s get started! 

Before we go any further– Are you ready? 

Dog ownership is a long-term commitment. Before rushing into anything, consider the following:

  • Do you have enough time in your schedule to train, walk, and care for a dog?
  • Is your current lifestyle suitable for a canine? Are you willing to change your schedule for a new dog?
  • Living Space. Will a dog fit in your current living space? Do you live with others that will be affected by adding a dog?
  • Can you financially afford bringing home a new puppy? Consider the cost of food, treats, toys, vaccinations, visits to the vet, etc. 

Preparation: How to Prepare Yourself and Your Home for a New Dog 

When you bring your canine companion home for the first time, there’s a good chance that they will be a little on edge. Dogs are creatures of habit, and when those habits change, it’s natural for them to feel anxious– especially if the change is sudden.

Whether your new dog is a puppy, adult or senior, it will take them some time to become accustomed to their new home. For some, it may take a day or two, whereas for others it could take up to several months– each dog has its own unique personality and experiences.

If your dog appears withdrawn, try not to feel discouraged or take it personally. It can take time for them to feel comfortable around new people.

Having a plan in place and preparing your home ahead of time can help ensure a smooth transition for both you and your new dog. Below you’ll find a few ways you can prepare yourself and your home for your new furry companion: 

Set up a Sleeping Area 

Before your new dog arrives, arrange a cozy spot for them to catch some z’s.

It’s generally best to start dogs in a confined space, such as a dog crate. This provides them with a safe space of their own where they can feel secure and retreat when needed. If you’re not comfortable using a crate, designating an area or room in your house for your dog to have their “quiet time” also works.

Pro tip: place familiar items in the sleeping area like blankets or toys to make your new friend feel at home. 

Puppy Proof Your House 

If you’re planning on bringing a puppy home don’t forget to puppy-proof!

Puppies explore with their mouths. This means anything they can get their mouths on is fair game: mulch, rocks, shoes, garbage– the list goes on. Keeping them safe and prohibiting access to any dangerous items should be a top priority in preparing for your new dog. Once you’ve decided where your new dog’s home base will be, remove any clutter, décor and other loose items that may be within reach. Don’t forget to install dog gates to block access to any rooms that are not puppy-proofed.

Pro tip: Get a pup’s eye view of your place and look for any potential risks you may have missed. 

Buy the right supplies for your new dog 

When you bring your new dog home, you’ll want to have everything you need on hand. An adjustable collar, a leash, food and water bowls, and poop bags are just a few of the essentials you’ll want to have ready to welcome your new pooch.

Upon arrival, your new dog will be accustomed to a specific diet. Rather than switch them to new food and cause stomach upset, keep them on their current diet until they’ve adjusted to their new home– one thing at a time! After about a month, you can slowly begin transitioning them to something new based on your vet’s recommendations.

A crate or pen is another item you won’t want to skimp out on if you’re planning on adopting a dog. Both enclosures provide a puppy-proof space where your dog can play, sleep, and eat without destroying your furniture. 

Pro tip: place your new dog’s enclosure in a quiet spot away from the commotion of your household to foster a good sleep environment. 

Arrival: What to Expect the First Night 

Your puppy’s first day home can be stressful.

To make it less taxing, give your dog plenty of time to explore their new surroundings. Show them where they can find necessities like food and water as well as where they’ll go to the washroom.

Calmly introduce your four-legged friend to loved ones, and after everyone has had a chance to warmly welcome the newest addition to the family, place them in their crate so they can relax. 

6 Tips to Survive the First Month with Your New Canine Companion 

  1. Assume they’re not house-trained 

As you may have guessed, puppies will need to be potty trained. But did you know that adult and senior adoptees may have a few house-training issues too?

Since moving in, your dog may be eating and drinking more than they’re used to– and that means more frequent bathroom urges. Be prepared for a few accidents during the first couple of weeks and do your best to limit them by taking your doggo out for walks regularly.

You can also use a crate, exercise pen or small gated area to house your canine when you’re not around to supervise. 

  1. Limit how much room they have to roam at first 

Giving your new dog full reign of your house may not be in your best interest. For the first six months, puppies are prone to chewing behaviour, tearing apart anything they can get their paws on.

They’ll chew on shoes and rip up important documents– and that’s just the start. They’ll steal socks, too! Chewing is also commonly seen in older dogs experiencing separation anxiety and hyperactivity.

The best way to prevent this destructive behaviour is to assume your dog doesn’t know which toys are theirs and which are yours. Gates and pens come in handy here­. Both barriers provide more control over where your dog can roam while at the same time keeping them safe from harm.

Limiting how much leeway your new dog has while outside is equally important. When faced with a new environment, some dogs may attempt to run away or escape. Until you feel completely confident that your dog is comfortable with you and will come back when beckoned, keep them leashed and supervised at all times when outdoors. 

  1. Provide basic training 

Basic training is a great way to start your new dog off on the right paw.

At first glance, it may seem like something exclusively for puppies, but it’s important to start from the beginning with all dogs, regardless of age.

When your dog comes home with you, assume you’re starting from scratch– even if they have had basic training, it doesn’t hurt to reinforce commands so that they become second nature.

Basic training like socialization exercises and leash training create a routine and reward good behaviour. They also help build trust between owner and pet– and they’re actually fun! These early lessons in obedience will help your dog become well-mannered in all types of environments from at home and work to the park... wherever life takes them! 

  1. Come up with a routine and stick with it 

Dogs love routine. The sooner they learn yours, the more comfortable they’ll be.

Here are some ways you can help your new dog get into a good rhythm:

  • Feeding them at the same time every day
  • Consistently letting them outside for bathroom breaks
  • Heading out for your daily walks at the same time
  • Going to bed at roughly the same time each night

It’s also important that the first few weeks are realistic. We know it’s hard not to spend every waking minute with your new furry friend, but to establish a proper routine it has to be accurate, and unfortunately, most of us just don’t have the luxury of being a stay-at-home dog mom. 

  1. Give your dog their own space 

It’s important to provide your new dog with a place of refuge. You want to make sure they have a safe space where they can retreat when they are feeling overwhelmed by the world around them.

Whether it’s a crate, bed, or a quiet room, it’s important to give them a place where they can escape and find comfort. This instills feelings of security, which helps them better integrate into your home and your life. 

  1. Practice patience, always 

Your new dog may be adjusting to their new home and family, but they’re probably not doing so at the pace you think they should. Don’t worry, though– it’s normal for this process to take time. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months for a dog to really settle in.

Rather than get frustrated about how long it’s taking, try to think of ways that you can set your four-legged friend up for success. Are you accidentally encouraging the wrong behaviour? Do you need a dog gate to keep them out of a certain area?

Most importantly, remember, to always exercise patience. In most cases, things will get better as your new dog has a chance to settle in. It may seem like things are moving in slow motion, but it won’t be long before your newly adopted dog becomes your best friend. 

FAQ: First Time Dog Owner Edition 

Q: My New Dog Won’t Eat, What Should I Do? 

A: Change can make us all do some pretty strange stuff– canines included. Some dogs, for example, stop eating when placed in a new environment. This may not necessarily mean that they’re scared or anxious, but rather confused by the change in routine.

For some dogs, familiar food helps whereas for others, variety is the secret sauce. Talk to your vet before making any changes to your dog’s diet. They’ll be able to make appropriate recommendations based on your dog’s age, weight, and health concerns. 

Q: How Often Should I Bathe My New Dog? 

A: This depends on the type of coat, your personal preferences, and how dirty they get. But be careful not to bathe them too often as doing so will strip your dog’s coat of its natural oils and dry out their skin.

Unless it’s required for medical reasons, it’s recommended not to bathe your dog more than once every four weeks with regular dog shampoo or once every two weeks with soap-free, hypoallergenic dog shampoo.

Make sure to stay on top of grooming (including brushing, ear cleaning, nail trimming and teeth brushing) between baths. 

Q: How Often Should My New Dog Visit the Veterinarian? 

A: Having a vet perform an initial physical exam to determine your dog’s “normal” is always a great idea. It makes it easier to catch when something is wrong.

After the initial visit, the vet will advise you on whether your dog should return for yearly exams, or more often. If you have a puppy, expect more frequent visits. Senior canines (around 7 years old) and dogs with certain medical conditions will also require more regular trips to the vet. 

Adopt a New Dog with the HSGN Today 

If you’re ready to become a first-time dog owner, we’ve got you covered. The Humane Society of Greater Niagara’s adoption process is designed to get you and your new dog home as quickly as possible, so you can start building a life together right away.

To view all animals currently available for adoption or to submit an adoption request, visit our website. New animals are added daily, so if you don’t see one that suits your family at first, be sure to check back often.