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5 top tips for first-time dog owners

Dog in owners arms advice
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Getting a dog or a puppy is so exciting. You’ve seen it in the movies and read it in the books: dogs are man’s best friend, and you can’t wait to have a best friend of your own. 

By Justine Seraphin

Dogs don’t magically turn out as well-behaved and intelligent as Lassie or Rintintin. There’s a lot of time, patience, and training that goes into making your new dog or puppy into a civilised member of your family. And if you’ve never owned a dog before, you may be surprised. Here are a few things you may not have thought of that you should probably know before taking your new dog or puppy home. For the purpose of this article, we talk of puppies, but these rules can also be applied if you’re bringing home a newly adopted adult dog.

1.    Pick a suitable breed

If this is your first time owning a dog, you’re going to want to pick a breed that’s pretty laid back, easy-going, and easy to train or manage. You wouldn’t want to pick a stubborn, difficult dog as your first. Yet, many people pick expert-level dog breeds such as Border Collies, Huskies, or Chow-Chows as first-time dogs, mainly based on their good looks. Many of these dogs end up in shelters because owners don’t know how to handle them. You must set yourself and your pup up for success. You can check out the dog breed sheets on our website to see detailed information on each breed. Experts say some of the best dogs for first-time owners are Golden Retrievers, Bichon Frises, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Shih-Tzus and Italian Greyhounds. With mixed breeds, personality is less predictable, but if you’re adopting a rescue dog from a shelter, re-homers can usually give you detailed information on each of their dogs and match you with the perfect one for you.

2.    Puppy-proof your house

If you’re a first-time dog owner, you may not realise the extent to which you will have to go to keep your pup out of trouble. If you have plants indoors, your pup will try to get into the dirt in the pot. If you have nice rugs, he will love nothing more than to soil them. If you have food lying around on counters, low tables, even cabinets that are easily opened, your pup will find a way to get to it. If your kids’ toys are lying around the house, they’ll be destroyed by your pup in no time. If you want to keep your pup out of trouble, you want to take anything you hold dear out of his reach (which can be quite substantial – don’t underestimate their little size!) You can confine your pup to a play-pen if you’re not able to watch him for some time. Even better: play with your puppy until he’s too tired to bother turning your house into a war-zone. 

3.    Take a couple days off work so you can take care of your puppy

Puppies are like babies. They require so much attention. You’re going to need to do a lot of things in the first few days of your puppy’s arrival, so make sure you have some time to commit to it. Your presence will help him adjust, and also strengthen the bond between you. It is not natural for dogs to be alone (this is something you will have to teach him), so you’d have a big tantrum on your hands if you left for work immediately after your puppy’s arrival. Being there will also help you with house-training, as you will be more available to take your puppy out frequently. In addition, you will have more time to get your puppy out and about for socialisation with other dogs, city noises, new people, etc.

4.    Have realistic expectations when it comes to house-training

A house-trained dog doesn’t happen overnight. It will take time, especially if you don’t have access to a garden and are busy with work all day. Accidents will happen. If you want to set your puppy up for success, here’s a lifehack: don’t set him down on the floor of your house as soon as you get home. Take him outside first and let him relieve himself. Always reward outdoor ‘business’ profusely and ignore indoor ‘business’. Take your pup out often, especially after naps, meals, and playtime. It can take months before your pup is perfectly house-trained and can be trusted to keep your house clean. Have patience, and try to manage your frustration.

5.    Implement your rules and guidelines from day one

It’ll be hard to be disciplinary with your puppy. Puppies are experts when it comes to big sad eyes and whimpering and whining. You can be especially sensitive to this if this is your first dog. But don’t let that fool you – puppies never forget a thing, and they don’t register to ‘just this one time’ kind of thinking. If you know you’re not going to want a 50-pound adult dog on your couch, on your bed, or begging for food when you’re eating, then implement those rules as soon as your puppy gets home. If you let them into the bed ‘just once’, it’ll be very hard to break that habit in the future. 

You will discover many more things you wish you’d known about owning a dog once you actually own one. You’ll learn an incredible amount in very little time, and no matter how much you will have prepared for his arrival, you will still have to adapt your lifestyle somewhat to your new companion. Nonetheless, owning a dog is one of the most rewarding experiences of a lifetime, and all of that hard work you’ll commit to being a good first-time dog owner will be worth it in the end.