Some lessons you’ll learn and mistakes you can avoid during the first year of owning a dog.
The first year of being a new dog owner involves a lot of loving and a lot of learning. Here are some lessons, common mistakes made and tips for your first year as a dog owner.
Purchase from a Reputable Breeder
We’ve all heard the saying “Buy the best and you’ll only cry once”. This saying is true when it comes to dogs, but I think should be altered slightly to say “Buy FROM the best and you’ll only cry once” meaning the price of a good quality dog might dent the wallet, but a dog from a good line, whose parents were health and temperament tested from an experienced breeder is one you can rely on for the next 12 years, which makes it well worth it.
Purchasing a dog on impulse is never a good idea. Usually, a breeder that is quick to sell is slow to respond to any of your further inquiries once the money is in their pocket. Read our blog “How to Spot a Responsible Breeder
” for signs to look for when buying a puppy.
Choose a Name YOU Like
As the primary caregiver to the dog, select a name you like, not one your kids picked from their favourite television show or video game of the moment. You will be saying that name about 40 times a day, especially in the first year. I think about this all the time because there is a Labrador Retriever in my neighbourhood named “Snooki”. I have reason to believe the 65-year-old man walking her twice a day didn’t choose to name his beloved dog after a cast member of MTV’s “Jersey Shore”.
Food Choices and Portions
Much like with our own nutrition, feeding high-quality food will cost more, but is worth it in the long run as it will keep your dog healthy and veterinary bills low. Often times, one has to feed more of a low-quality food, so the cost becomes somewhat comparable. You really do get out what you put in.
Those puppy eyes might make giving them more and more food tempting, but feeding your puppy too much can impact their overall health. There’s so much to consider when deciding on the proper amount of food, including your puppy’s age, weight and activity level. A low-energy dog will need less food than an active pup. Luckily, many brands offer a range, so you would go to the lower end for a less active dog and to the higher end for a busier dog. It is always a good idea to check with your veterinarian for advice regarding food choices and portions.
Feeding charts on the side of the dog food bag or can aren’t always straightforward and instructions can be very vague. For example, does ½ a cup mean ½ a cup per meal or per day? If you are confused, it doesn’t hurt to call or reach out to the company via email or social media. I would also recommend having a scale handy to weigh your pup often and feed using measuring cups- Don’t eyeball it!
Generally, puppy buyers use the brand their breeder has used for years and recommends, so your dog’s breeder is also a great person to get portion advice from.
Dogs should have constant access to clean water. Make sure they have their water bowl full at all times and don’t forget to clean the bowl often as well. If you are worried about your dog self-regulating their water consumption, talk to your veterinarian.
Many puppy owners take their dog’s good social skills at 3 and 4 months for granted and stop socializing their pup, which can be a mistake. Your puppy will continue to need to be walked daily and introduced to different people and friendly dogs. When a dog is confined to their house, and only spends time with the same familiar people and dogs, your dog can dissocialize surprisingly quickly and potentially grow to be wary or fearful of strangers.
Keeping praise up is very important as your puppy enters the adolescent phase of their life. With hormones invading, around the 6-month mark (depending on the breed), your once attentive pup is now very easily distracted. Make sure you keep praising good behaviour and giving rewards.
Do you know a teenager who likes to work for free? Neither does your dog. Be certain to also show them what they can do when giving a correction. For example, when taking a shoe out of their mouth, be sure to immediately give them a toy they can safely chew on. Try to focus on praise during the adolescent phase and be compassionate. Although your dog is but half a year old, they are going through a physical change that we, as humans, did with 12-14 years of life experience. Kind of crazy when you think of it, isn’t it?
Most puppy owners learn quickly that routine is the key to having a house trained puppy. Apart from abandoning a schedule, giving your puppy too much unsupervised freedom too quickly could be a mistake. If it is decided that a dog will have freedom alone in the home, the freedom can be given bit by bit using baby gates or other methods to restrict access to parts of the house. In my experience, a puppy should be at least a year old before being left alone outside of an exercise pen or crate.
Learn some more tips on housebreaking on our blogs “Creating Crate Success!
” and “Leaving Your Dog Home Alone
Exercise in the A.M.
I view the first hour I’m awake as the “hour of power” with my dogs where I can set the tone for their entire day with a good walk and some play time. Imagine being in a crate for 8 hours, then quickly let out in the backyard or taken out for a 5 minute potty break in the morning and then going back in the crate again. Not a great life, right? So many owners are in too much of a rush to properly tend to their dog’s need for exercise and interaction first thing in the morning. Do your dog a favour and wake up earlier and make sure they have burned some of that puppy energy before you take off for work. Before you come up with an excuse, please know that I work in morning radio, and if I can get up even earlier to walk my dogs, so can you.
A Crate is Not a Babysitter
A crate is great for housebreaks and utilizes your dog’ denning instincts, however, a crate is not a babysitting tool. A dog that is locked in a crate all day and night can develop anxiety and depression. If your work or other schedule conflicts will keep you away from home for a long chunk of the day, consider hiring a dog walker, or taking your dog to daycare so they can get the physical and mental exercise they need each day.
Read our blog “Finding a Great Dog Walker
” for more tips on how to ensure your dog is well taken care of on days that you’re busy!
Tons of Toys
An entertained puppy is usually a happy puppy. Quality toys can keep your puppy busy both mentally and physically. Many dogs have their preferred play style (Sporting dogs tend to love to fetch, Terriers tend to love to tug), but it is important to introduce new toys fairly often and encourage your dog to try different toys and games. A puppy can have several toys for their different moods: some for chewing, balls for fetching, rope toys for tugging, chewing and fetching. Rotate toys often and enjoy your dog’s enthusiasm each time a toy is reintroduced.
Start Grooming Early
Begin brushing as early as you can, with short, fun, treat-filled sessions using a soft brush to get your puppy accustomed to being groomed. Successful and enjoyable grooming experiences come from making it a routine. Don’t wait until your dog is covered in burrs to start brushing them. Start early and groom regularly in short sessions to make the chore enjoyable for both of you.
Waiting too long to start coat care can result in fear or a situation where your puppy thinks the brush is a chew toy or an object to be fearful of.
For most coated breeders, a groomer is a part of their wellness team. An early and positive introduction to the grooming shop is imperative so that your pup will enjoy this process. Don’t wait until your dog desperately needs a haircut before taking them in. A shorter puppy visit to the groomer that includes goodies, petting and praise is an ideal way to start your dog off on the right paw when it comes to going to the parlour. This way they will associate the groomer with good times.
It’s also vital to start nail trimming at a young age as well. Many dogs have issues with having their toenails cut, so it is usually best to start by having a professional groomer or vet tech do it if you are inexperienced. I personally find using a Dremel-style filing tool on puppies and dogs way easier than the traditional nail clipping tools, but even then an experienced person must show you how to use it and one must also consider the size of the puppy and the power of the tool before beginning.
Brushing Before the bath
Brushing before a bath allows the product to get into the coat and works out any mats before they get set in by the water. Thinking about waiting until after the bath to deal with a knot or mats? Think again. Adding water will only make the knots tighter, more painful and incredibly difficult to remove.
Veterinary bills due to an unexpected illness or an injury can hit a new owner hard. Pet Insurance is an affordable way to avoid unplanned expenses. The Canadian Kennel Club’s preferred pet insurance provider is Pets Plus Us. They are Canadian, offer upfront coverage and don’t have breed or age exclusions. New owners and CKC member breeders can even benefit from a 6-week head start trial for free. Learn more about Pets Plus Us on CKC’s website
Keep in Touch with the Breeder
If you purchased your puppy from a responsible CKC member breeder then you probably have already developed a relationship with that person. In addition to your veterinarian, your dog’s breeder can be a great resource when issues arise. They have years of experience with not only your dog’s breed, but their family line. A responsible breeder’s job does not end once the puppy is in its new home. They want to hear updates and can help you with problems, big and small.
Hang in there
Most importantly, I urge those of you caring for a puppy to hang in there. Writing as someone who has a 7-month-old Terrier, I know that the first year requires you to dip into your patience reserves. Think of how far you’ve come and all the better, calmer days ahead. Remember, there’s power in numbers. Call up a friend with a dog your new puppy gets along with and arrange a playdate in your yard while the two of you enjoy a well-deserved drink. A socially adjusted, trained adult dog is a joy and the work you are putting in is well worth it. Dogs only get better with age. In a few years’ time, you’ll forget all about how rough this time was and might even think about adding a second dog to your pack