What Are Some Tips for a First-Time Puppy Owner?

Owning a pet is pretty tough. You’ve got all these unconditional loves coming at you from every direction your cat meows and licks your face while your kids complain about having to clean up after her litter box, your dog barks at night because he’s scared, and your husband complains about spending so much money on food. It seems like no matter what you do, someone will always find something wrong.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! If you take care of your pets well, they’ll reward you with loads of love and loyalty. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that owning a pet is one of life’s greatest experiences.

Once you get past the initial shock of getting such a needy creature into your home, there’s nothing better than watching them grow up, become more independent, learn tricks, play fetch and even make you smile.

Here are 11 things to keep in mind when you’re just starting out with a canine companion.

1. Don’t give up

If you really want to own a pup but haven’t been successful yet, don’t give up hope. There are many reasons why people fail at getting a puppy. Maybe you didn’t pick the right breed, maybe you didn’t properly train your adult dogs, or maybe you were given the wrong puppy. The important thing is not to lose faith.

“Don’t get discouraged,” says Petco Foundation Director Dr. Sophia Yin, who founded Paws For Ability, which helps children with disabilities learn how to interact with animals. “Sometimes puppies are harder to adopt than adults. If you need help finding a great dog, call a local adoption agency.”

2. Keep the dog close by

A puppy will quickly become attached to its family. This means keeping them in the same room where you sleep, eat and hang out. A young child may not understand that the dog isn’t allowed in the bedroom, but most pups won’t hurt a person unless provoked. Your dog shouldn’t be left alone for long periods of time either. Many shelters recommend placing pups and older dogs together in case they bond too easily with each other.

3. Be consistent with training

Your dog won’t know anything if you change commands mid-sentence. Puppies should start learning basic obedience early and it takes lots of practice. Even though they might seem small, they pack a lot of power behind those little bodies.

4. Understand their needs

It’s easy to forget that dogs aren’t human, but they still have specific needs that must be met. Dogs need water and food, especially during hot summer months. If you leave them outside all day, they could overheat without access to shade and water. Some dogs also need to relieve themselves frequently throughout the day, and they can’t hold it forever.

5. Adopt from a shelter or rescue group if you can’t afford one

You probably wouldn’t buy a car off the street as everyone else does, would you? So why spend hundreds of dollars (and countless hours) trying to track down a cute pooch when there are thousands waiting for adoption at local animal shelters? Shelters often work closely with veterinarians and are committed to taking care of the animals’ health and welfare. Plus, adopting through a shelter ensures that the pup gets spayed/neutered before going to a new home. This saves money and reduces unwanted litter.

6. Teach them good behavior when meeting others

Even though they’re full of enthusiasm and love, pups can sometimes be shy around strangers. That’s why it’s important to teach them social skills early. When meeting others, let them sniff you first. Then greet them calmly with a firm voice. Stay calm when interacting with anyone who approaches your dog, whether it’s a stranger or one of your own children.

7. Know how much space is right for them

When you bring a new puppy home, they’ll eventually fill up whatever space you allow. Most experts suggest limiting their territory to 100 square feet per dog. That’s enough room for sleeping areas, eating spaces, and playing areas. If they’re kept confined to a smaller area, they’ll exhibit fewer behavioral problems.

8. Provide adequate toys and exercise

Just like humans, dogs need mental stimulation to feel fulfilled. Toys serve as entertainment, but they also stimulate their minds and teeth. Exercise keeps them healthy and happy.

9. Make sure their vaccinations are current

Dogs are susceptible to diseases that can be transmitted via contact with bodily fluids, including feces, urine, and saliva. These include rabies, distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, kennel cough, and Lyme disease. Check with your vet to see which vaccines are recommended for your particular pooch.

10. Handle them carefully

Puppies are fragile creatures and can’t handle rough handling. Never hit, slap or kick your pet. Also, avoid putting too many objects in their mouths. Sometimes babies swallow pieces of foreign materials and choke on them.

11. Give them plenty of affection

There’s nothing better than snuggling up next to your furry buddy on the couch or bed after dinner. Just remember to be careful when doing so. No skin on their muzzle or belly button, please!