Everything a First-Time Dog Owner Should Know

Dachshund puppy in owners arms

Getty Images/Alena Kravchenko

Bringing home a new dog or puppy is always exciting. If you’re embarking on the journey to dog ownership for the first time, you probably have a lot of questions. Doing a bit of homework and research before choosing a dog can help you make a great match, and understanding how to be a responsible dog owner will allow you and your new dog to share many years of happy companionship.   

Responsibilities of Owning a Dog

Dog ownership provides many wonderful benefits, but don’t get a dog without considering the responsibilities that come along with it. When you bring home a dog, whether a tiny puppy or full-grown adult, plan on caring for your new pet for the entirety of its life. Depending on a dog’s size and breed, your new friend may live for 10 to 15 years or longer. Where will you be 10 years from now, and what will your life look like? Make sure you’re ready for the life-long commitment before acquiring a new dog. 

Choose Wisely

If you want a purebred dog, research the breed or breeds you’re interested in. What do you like about those breeds beyond their looks? You want to choose a breed with characteristics that match well with your own lifestyle, space and budget. For instance, all breeds have different energy levels and exercise requirements. Do you want a dog to accompany you on daily jogs or weekends hiking? Or do you prefer a laidback companion to chill out with at home? Also consider a breed’s shedding levels, grooming requirements, trainability, and temperament. 

Puppy or Adult?

Most people think about bringing home a puppy, but don’t rule out adopting an adult dog. Puppies are indeed adorable, but they are a lot of work. They need extensive socialization and training in the first year of life so they can grow up to be confident, well-behaved adult dogs. Potty training can also be challenging, particularly for some breeds. Additionally, it can be difficult to gauge what a puppy will grow up to look and act like, especially for mixed breeds. Eventual adult size, activity level, coat type and temperament is just a guess when you’re looking at a tiny puppy.

Adopting an adult dog is often easier. Many adults are already house trained and may even have some basic obedience training, too. And with adult dogs, what you see is what you get in terms of size, energy level, coat, and personality. And adults can be just as sweet, loving and fun as their younger counterparts.

Where to Get Your New Dog 

When adding a new dog to the family, you have two main options on where to find your new companion: buying a puppy from a breeder or adopting a puppy or adult dog from an animal shelter or rescue group. 

Buying From a Breeder

If you have your heart set on a purebred puppy, buying from a responsible breeder is your best bet. Buying a purebred puppy online is risky, as many puppies sold online come from puppy brokers or puppy mills. These puppies are generally poorly bred and may suffer from health or behavioral issues. A responsible breeder, on the other hand, takes the health of their dogs and puppies very seriously. Such breeders don’t offer puppies for sale with a click of a button. They want to talk to puppy buyers so they know their pups are going to responsible homes. 

A good place to start looking for a breeder is the American Kennel Club, which lists purebred dog breeders in good standing on its website. If possible, try to locate a breeder within driving distance so you can visit their home and meet their adult dogs. Puppy buyers are encouraged to interview breeders, looking for signs of responsible breeding and healthy puppies. Some things to look for in a good breeder include:

  • Exhibits their dogs in conformation dog shows or performance events
  • Performs breed appropriate health testing on adult dogs before breeding them and will show you the health testing paperwork
  • Offers some kind of health guarantee on the puppies
  • Focuses on breeding for good health and temperament 
  • Breeds small numbers of litters per year (doesn’t always have puppies available)
  • Allows each female dog to have no more than one litter per year 
  • Keeps the pups with mom and siblings until at least 8 weeks of age (12 weeks for toy breeds)

Adopting From a Shelter or Rescue

If you want a mixed breed puppy or a purebred or mixed breed adult dog, you will find many animals looking for new homes at your local animal shelter or rescue group. Puppies are frequently available, though you might not know much information about the parents. Breed-specific rescue groups can connect you with purebred dogs, but you may also find these in shelters, especially common breeds like Labs and golden retrievers. Adopting a dog can make you feel extra good knowing you are saving a life and helping to reduce homeless pet overpopulation.  

Bringing Home Your New Dog

Once you chose your new puppy or dog, it’s time to bring them home. It is highly recommended, and often a requirement in a breeder's contract, to have your new puppy or adult dog visit a veterinarian within the first three days of ownership for a wellness examination. Make your pet's transition to its new home a smooth one by following some tried-and-true tips. Try not to force things; let your dog explore at its own pace, keep interactions calm and gentle, and periodically give your pup some alone time to rest and relax, either in a crate or a soft bed in the corner of the family room. 

Whether you’re bringing home a young puppy or older adult dog, it can take a few days or even weeks for your new dog to get to know its new home and feel comfortable with you and your family. Don’t feel worried if it takes time for your new dog to warm up to you—it will happen soon enough! You might be tempted to invite all your friends, family, and neighbors over to meet your new dog, but don’t do this, at least not right away. A large party with lots of people can be overwhelming to a dog that is not yet used to you or your home. Stick to one or two guests at a time until your dog is more comfortable and relaxed.

Creating a routine for your dog can help them adjust more quickly. Knowing what to expect every day is reassuring to a dog. Feed meals at the same time every day, go for walks or other outdoor excursions around the same time every day, and schedule short training sessions. Also clearly and gently communicate and enforce the house rules (for instance, no dogs on the couch), and reward your dog with lavish praise and an occasional treat for doing the right thing.

If your new dog seems to be struggling with severe fear or anxiety, or still seems very nervous several weeks after bringing it home, ask your veterinarian about anti-anxiety supplements, behavioral training, or other advice to help your dog relax.