First time dog owner guide

Kim Jones
Kim Jones
Updated 9 November 2022  | 6 mins read

Whether you’re about to become the proud owner of a pedigree puppy or are rehoming a cute crossbreed from an animal shelter, your world is about to change!

Bringing a new dog into your life is really exciting.

But it’s also hard work and a huge responsibility. So it’s something you should only enter into after giving it plenty of thought.

Your new canine companion will require your time, love and patience - plus walks in all weathers! You’ll need to train your dog to respond to your commands and socialise it with other pups to teach it good manners. And there are costs to consider too, including food, vet bills, vaccinations and pet insurance.

But if you’re prepared to put in the legwork, provide your pooch with plenty of quality physical and mental stimulation and are sure you have the skills and space required to keep it happy and healthy, then you’ll reap the rewards big time.

Key points

  • Bringing a new dog into your home is rewarding, but it’s a huge commitment that you should only enter into after giving it a lot of thought
  • You’ll need to puppy-proof your home and garden so is it’s safe for your dog before it arrives
  • Get into good habits early by training and socialising your new dog so they grow up confident and friendly

What to consider before getting a dog

It’s essential to do plenty of research about the breed of dog you’re thinking of getting to be sure it’s a good fit for your family and lifestyle.

You’ll need to take into account things like:

  • Size - Consider if a large breed is appropriate for the size of your home, garden and car
  • Exercise - All dogs need exercise. But some are happy with one or two short walks a day, while others require more
  • Allergies - Dogs that shed a lot of hair can trigger allergies
  • Grooming - Some dogs have high-maintenance coats that require a lot of brushing to keep them from getting matted. So if you’re not prepared to spend some time grooming your dog, you need to keep this in mind when choosing a breed
  • Behavioural needs - Some breeds need to be given ‘jobs’ to do and plenty of mental stimulation to keep them busy and content
  • Health issues - Some pedigree breeds can be prone to certain health conditions that can be expensive to treat. For example, brachycephalic breeds that are shorter-nosed and flat-faced - like pugs and bulldogs - can suffer breathing problems, overheating and heart issues


If you get a...

Puppy

Bringing your dog home

Before your new pup crosses the threshold, you’ll need to get all sorts of canine kit.

Shopping list

You may want to stock up on:

Crate

Dog crates provide a safe space for your four-legged friend to sleep in securely at night and a haven for them to go to when they need rest during the day. Place comfortable padding or blankets inside and you can drape blankets over the top to make your pup feel even safer. Just make sure it isn’t completely covered so air can circulate

Dog bed

If you’re not using a crate, then get a comfy dog bed. It needs to be big enough for your pup to spread out on. It’s also worth considering buying a dog bed that has removable washable covers so you can keep it fresh and clean

Pet gate

If you don’t intend on letting your dog upstairs, or into a particular room, then a sturdy dog gate that fits into a doorway or at the bottom of the stairs can keep them from wandering where they’re not supposed to go

Collar, lead and identification tags

It’s a legal requirement for dogs to wear a collar with a tag containing their owner’s information (name/address/telephone number) when in a public space

Shampoo

You shouldn’t bathe your dog too much as they have sensitive skin which can dry out and be easily irritated. The natural oils in a dog’s coat help to keep it clean. But if your dog really needs a bath, you can use a specially formulated dog shampoo

Toothbrush and toothpaste

Ideally you should brush your dog’s teeth daily to prevent tartar and plaque build-up. Start when they’re a puppy so they expect it as part of their daily routine. Use a specially formulated dog toothpaste (human toothpaste can be toxic for dogs) and buy a dog toothbrush

Dog brush

Brushing your dog’s coat regularly helps prevent hair from becoming matted and keeps their skin and coat healthy

Food and water bowls

Puppy food

Puppy pads

To help with toilet training

Poo bags

Toys

A selection for teething and chewing. You could purchase balls, squeaky toys, KONGs (to stuff treats into), rags or rubber rings to play tug of war

Car restraint

A car-safe harness to keep them secure when travelling

Puppy-proofing your home

Be sure your home and garden are as safe as possible for your new pup before you bring it home.

  • Puppies love to chew, so you’ll need to be sure things like wire cables are well out of reach
  • Put cleaning products and medicines in locked cupboards or on high shelves
  • Keep food well out of reach too. Dogs are opportunists and will sniff out anything edible easily. Some things are poisonous to dogs, like chocolate, grapes, raisins and even avocado
  • Put up dog gates to keep your pup from wandering into areas they’re not allowed
  • Make sure fencing in the garden is secure and well maintained with no gapping or holes that a small pup can escape through
  • Some plants are toxic to dogs if eaten, like azaleas, hyacinths and lupins
  • If you have a composting bin, make sure it has a secure, sealed lid that can’t be knocked off. Mouldy foods can make your dog very sick

Choose a vet

Register with a local vet, so you can take your new puppy for a health check and discuss vaccinations. Ask friends for vet recommendations in your area.

Raising a happy puppy

Here’s what you need to know to keep their tails wagging:

Bonding with your four-legged friend

Your puppy will grow to trust you and look to you for guidance as you interact with them. Everything from training your pup to playing games with them, feeding and walking them, creating boundaries and giving them massages will go towards strengthening your relationship

Choosing what to feed them

There are plenty of commercial puppy foods to choose from. But be sure to choose those labelled ‘for puppies’ and as ‘complete’ or ‘complete and balanced’, as these foods are specially designed to meet a young dog’s particular nutritional needs.

Feed your puppy at regular times and in regular amounts so you establish a good routine. You may want to lift up any uneaten food after twenty minutes or so.

You can make some of your pup’s mealtimes more fun and stimulating - and slow down a speedy eater - by using an interactive or puzzle feeder like a KONG or a licking mat. It’s important that the food is fairly easy to get to when they’re young, so they don’t get frustrated.

If you’re using treats as rewards when you’re training your pup, be sure to factor the treats in as part of their daily meal allowance, so you don’t accidentally overfeed them

Handle your puppy

Getting your puppy used to having all of its body touched, including their ears, nose, paws, mouth, belly, around the eyes and tail can help make vet visits, nail-clipping and grooming easier. But it also solidifies your bond with them and can help soothe them too.

Choose a time when they’re tired. Place them on your lap and gently touch and massage different parts of their body. You can also use the time to softly brush and groom them and do things like clean their eyes

Get into good habits and create boundaries

Puppies benefit from being given clear boundaries in the home.

Before bringing your puppy home you should discuss with the family what’s not allowed, so that your furry friend knows from the start what’s acceptable and what’s not.

For example, you might not want to let your pup on the furniture, but instead give them a space to relax on the floor.

You may prefer to keep upstairs off-limits by installing dog gates at the foot of the staircase.

And you might want to discourage things like begging for food at the table by training your puppy to lie in its bed while you eat.

Teaching your puppy what they can and cannot do in the home early on encourages good behaviour and obedience

Training

A well-trained puppy should turn into a happy dog.

Incorporating short, fun training lessons into their day from an early age will boost their development and brain power, plus help burn off some of their exuberant energy too.

Start by teaching them to respond to basic commands like ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘come’, and how to walk correctly on a lead. These are important life skills that help keep them safe, too.

Once they’ve mastered those skills, you can have fun with your pup, teaching them other tricks like giving their paw or rolling over.

It’s a great idea to take your pup along to training classes as soon as you can.

There, they’ll get to meet other pups and people, which helps them develop socialising skills. Plus, you get professional training advice you can reinforce at home.

Keep training sessions short and sweet because your pup only has a limited attention span.

It’s important to use positive reinforcement in your training. That means you should always reward good behaviour with a nutritious, low-calorie treat, praise or one of their favourite toys.

And never shout at or punish your pup if they get something wrong. If you catch them doing something they’re not allowed to do, like chewing on a slipper, simply take the slipper away with a firm ‘no’ and swiftly redirect their attention

Socialising your furry friend

Giving your pup plenty of opportunities to socialise is really important to help ensure they grow up into a well-adjusted and friendly adult dog that gets along with other dogs and people.

Unfortunately, dogs who are unsocialised tend to be less confident and more anxious in certain situations, all of which can result in behavioural issues.

There’s a critical socialisation period between about four and 14 weeks when young dogs learn how to adapt and behave around new things.

So, during this time it’s important to give them many different opportunities to meet with other dogs, people, sights, sounds and smells.

Talk to your vet about when your pup will be fully protected by their vaccinations. Until they are, it’s important they don’t mix with unvaccinated older dogs or go to certain places.

However, as long as you’re careful, they can meet fully vaccinated older dogs before their vaccine course is complete and go into your garden to explore, as long as it’s not used by unvaccinated dogs.

You can also carry your dog out and about during this time, so they get used to experiencing things like the sounds of traffic, trains, children playing and the general hubbub of everyday life. Just make sure their paws don’t come into contact with contaminated ground.

Once they’re fully vaccinated and the vet says it’s safe to do so, you can start taking them out and about and introducing them to people and other dogs.

Try to ensure that all your pup’s socialising experiences are positive and fun. If they look anxious or afraid, take them away from the situation to somewhere calm.

And don’t bombard them with too many new experiences, sights, sounds and smells in one day.

Give them time to rest and recharge so they don’t feel overwhelmed.

Puppy classes and puppy socialisation groups, which usually take dogs aged 12 to 20 weeks, can be really useful to introduce your furry friend to plenty of people and dogs. Ask your vet to recommend a class that’s reputable

Puppy healthcare

Looking after your puppy’s health is a top priority. Here’s what to consider.

Get a vet check-up

Take your puppy to the vet for a health check as soon as possible after you bring them home

As well as giving your dog a thorough examination to check they’re in tip-top condition, the vet can also administer their first round of vaccinations. These protect your pup from serious conditions like kennel cough, distemper and parvovirus.

They can also be given flea and worming treatments and if they haven’t already been microchipped, the vet can usually do this too

Exercise your pup

Exercising your dog is important for their physical and mental health. But how much activity they need depends on their age and breed.

Puppies don’t actually need that much exercise. And they shouldn’t overdo things because their growing bones and joints can be damaged by too much running and jumping.

A general rule of thumb is that a puppy can have one or two five-minute walks per day for each month of their age. So, for example a five-month old puppy can have a walk of 25 minutes once or twice a day.

Once they’re fully grown, they can have much longer and more strenuous walks, plus enjoy activities like swimming, running and agility to keep them fit.

If you’re unsure about how much exercise your dog needs, then talk to your vet

Regular grooming

Brushing their coat helps keep it clean and prevents matted, tangled and knotted hair, which can irritate and pull at your dog’s skin

Pet insurance

Unfortunately your young pup could suffer a serious illness or injury. Vet’s fees can cost thousands of pounds so it’s wise to take out pet insurance as soon as you bring your pooch home.

Compare policies carefully to find one that offers the right level of cover at an affordable price

Getting an older dog

If you’re adopting a senior dog, then you can expect them to be calmer and will likely need less exercise than a younger dog.

It’s important to provide them with a warm and comfortable spot to settle down in. And give them their own space – some pooches get less tolerant as they get older!

Try exercising an older dog on a few short walks rather than one long one and let the dog set the pace for the walk.

You should also look at providing a diet especially for senior pooches. Formulas often contain ingredients that protect their joints and help keep extra weight off as they’re likely to be less active.

Older dogs can develop dental disease so check their mouth regularly for signs of tartar build up and tooth decay. And check their nails as they’ll be less worn down because they’re having shorter walks, so may need trimming.

Gently brush an older dog daily using a soft bristled brush - their skin can get thinner with age. Use the time to check for lumps and bumps on their body that might be signs of a health problem.

Getting a rescue dog

A rescue dog may have had a difficult past or may not have lived in a house before. So they’ll need gentle reassurance from you to help them settle into their new home.

Set aside several days to be with your rescue dog after you bring them home. That way, you can help them get used to their new surroundings. Try not to leave them alone for more than a couple of hours at a time at this stage so they don’t get anxious. And make sure to give them a safe space like a crate where they can retreat to if they feel overwhelmed by their new surroundings.

Patience and kindness are really important when you take in a rescue dog. They may need to be housetrained, or they may show unwanted behaviour like guarding their food. So you’ll need to show compassion and consistency in your treatment and training to gain their trust.

Within a couple of months, you’ll hopefully start to build a beautiful bond with your dog which will prove really rewarding.

Getting a sick or disabled dog

Dogs with illnesses and disabilities are more difficult to rehome because of the special needs they require. It can be challenging, but also really rewarding to give a disabled dog a new lease of life and a secure, loving home.

Each dog will have its own specific and unique requirements. For example, you may need suitable access in your home for a dog with physical disability. There may also be costs like medication and ongoing veterinary treatment which you’ll also need to take into account.

In some cases, it may not be feasible to leave a disabled or sick dog alone for long periods of the day. So you’ll need to be sure your lifestyle means you can accommodate this.