Adopting a dog is a responsibility that you take on for the life of the dog, no matter what. The first thing to tell yourself is that a dog is a family member and not an appliance. You can’t just take it back if it doesn’t work.
Because of this, bringing your first dog into the household takes preparation so that you are ready for it. Not only does the house have to be dog-friendly, but you have to be emotionally and financially ready as well.
On the emotional front, you shouldn’t have gone through any recent major, negative life changes, like a death in the family, divorce, or job loss. Financially, the cost of having a dog can vary wildly, depending on where you live, the dog’s age and size, and its general health — but you can take actions to reduce these expenses.
But keep in mind that the rewards of having a dog in the family are well worth the effort.
Now you’re ready to start getting ready through these steps.
This will help you to decide what kind of a dog will best fit your household. What is the general energy level of the primary caregivers? Are they active people who like to get out and go hiking, or are they more sedentary and prone to binge-watching streaming shows?
Also, what is the tone of the energy in the household? An energetic household can actually be rather calm, while some low-energy households can be tense and anxious. If there are children in the house, are they incredibly chaotic and unpredictable or are they more likely to be quiet and behaved?
What you’re looking for is a dog that matches your level of physical activity but that also can deal with the level of emotional activity in the home. You’re not going to want a high-energy dog like a Dalmatian in a house of couch potatoes, or a low-energy Basset hound if you like to take the dog on 5K hikes every week.
If you’ve got active kids, then you need to look for a breed or mix that’s good with kids, and if the energy is extremely chaotic or very tense, you may want to avoid breeds that are prone to being timid or skittish. Those do best with one or two adults in a very calm household.
When you have the answers to the questions about the household, it’s time to do your research on which breeds would be best suited for you. And don’t forget to take your home itself into account. You probably shouldn’t have a Great Dane in a studio apartment, or very small dogs in a wooded area with predatory animals wandering through the backyard.
You’ll also need to know whether there are any specific breed bans in your local jurisdiction, with your HOA, or in your apartment complex. Although becoming less common, dogs typically seen on the ban lists are German shepherds, pit bulls, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, and chows.
You can start by learning about the things breeds are good and not good for, as well as learn how to test a dog’s temperament in general. This will tell you a lot about whether the dog will be a fit, and most reputable shelters and rescues will absolutely let you do this or give you their honest assessment.
They don’t want to mismatch a dog and people, either.
Now that you’ve learned how to judge temperament and have studied breeds, here’s the next step: Forget about breeds. Unless you’re going to be showing or breeding your dogs, there are enough drawbacks to having purebreds that you’re better off not — especially if this will be your first dog.
What you can do is look for mutts that are a mix of several breeds that fit your lifestyle, or predominantly one breed that strongly does. Keep these in mind, then start browsing local shelter and rescue websites or visit in person if possible.
You may not get exactly the breed combo you’re looking for, but the energy match is the most important thing. And, more likely than not, when you do go to the shelter to see dogs in person, you’ll have that moment where you and a dog just click with each other.
Most humans don’t realize it, but a lot of the time, it’s actually their new dog that picks them.
Prepare your home, part 1
Before you adopt your new dog, you have to prepare your home. This is a two-step process. The first is to dog or puppy-proof the place, with the latter requiring even more preparation. The second will come after you’ve found your new dog.
To dog and puppy-proof, make sure that computer wires, cables, and the like are secured and hidden. It might even be worth wrapping them with heat-shrink tubing as well as concealing them with cable raceways or cord channels.
If you do have a maze of wires behind the TV and your home media system, make sure that a dog or puppy can’t even get to them. It’s surprising how tempting a nice chewy cable can be to a young pup.
Put child-proof (and dog-proof) locks on all lower cabinets in the house, including kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms and so on. Basically, anything that might have household cleaning products or food should be secured. As for food itself, store non-perishable, tasty-smelling food in well-sealed, airtight containers on high-up shelves.
Otherwise, check for sharp edges on furniture and appliances that are at dog level, and trim or repair frayed edges on rugs or upholstery. A dangling thread on a carpet or a crack in a leather sofa can actually be a very tempting “toy” for a dog to start chewing on or “digging” up.
Hey, there could be something cool buried in the couch, right? Remember, to a dog, the slightly squishy texture reminds them of being outside on the lawn.
If you value your shoes, invest in a rack that you can hang in a closet, away from access. Some dogs absolutely love to destroy shoes and slippers because they smell like you but feel like a toy.
If you’ve noted an absence of actual dog-related products, there’s a reason for that. You need to know which dog is coming home before you can outfit specifically for it. A Chihuahua is going to have a hard time with a dog bowl fit for a St. Bernard, and vice versa, for example.
Find your new family member!
All right. You’ve made it this far, so now it’s time to go find your ideal dog and new best friend. Keep in mind that adoption and homecoming usually do not happen the same day. In most cases, there will be at least a day or two during which the shelter arranges for spaying or neutering and microchipping — but these are all good things that you want.
In some areas, they’re also required by law.
You may also find the right dog soon after they’ve been taken into a shelter, in which case there is often a waiting period, typically five days, before that dog is available for adoption. This happens in cases of strays without known owners, ID, or a microchip, and it allows time for the owners to find and reclaim their fur baby.
But if no one shows up, then the dog is up for adoption at the start of business the day after the ban ends. It’s first-come-first-served, so be prepared to show up before they open, try to be first in line, and have payment ready and available for the adoption fees.
Your new dog is absolutely worth acting like you’re signing on to the vaccination lottery, buying tickets to a huge event, or going to a Black Friday sale. Actually — worth a lot more.
Prepare your home, part 2
Okay. Your new furry friend is coming home soon, and now you know the specifics of size and temperament, so now it’s time to stock up on the essentials. You’ll want food and water bowls of appropriate size, and don’t forget a non-skid spill mat to go under them. You’ll also need treats, size- and age-appropriate toys, a dog blanket, and at least two dog beds.
That latter item is plural because you’ll want one bed where your dog is going to actually sleep and another where they’re going to hang out during the day. If family members will be home all the time, then that will be in the room where they tend to hang out most. If not, it will be in a quiet room that your dog can consider to be their safe space when they’re alone.
Finally, stock up on enough starter food appropriate to your dog’s age and weight to last at least until just after your first vet appointment, which is going to be within a few days of adoption. Some city shelters require it within 72 hours. Check your local laws.
Congratulations! You’re bringing your new dog home today — but you shouldn’t just fling open the door and let them in. Remember: Everything is going to be new to the dog, and you want to create pleasant associations.
When you first get home, take the dog for a walk. This will help calm them down through exercise, and will also familiarize them with all of the new smells and sights that are going to be part of their territory.
If there are other people in the household, have them join you now, but make sure they do so calmly and quietly and do not try to greet or pet the dog yet no matter how tempting it might be. Remember: They’re also part of the scents in the new neighborhood, and this will allow your dog time to get to know them without suddenly being stuck in a room with them.
Once your dog seems calm and happy, then bring them home, but bring them inside gradually, in steps. Keep their leash on and make them wait as you open the door. After everyone else has gone inside and to a different room, then you enter first before inviting the dog in.
Keeping the dog on the leash, gradually take them on a tour of the house, starting with the room where they will be eating. If there are any rooms that are off-limits, lead them past without taking them in. Finally, end with the room where they will be sleeping.
Even the happiest seeming of shelter dogs can become nervous and timid during the process of coming into a new home, and it does take time to adjust, so keep the 3-3-3 Rule in mind.
The short version of this rule is that the dog may be totally overwhelmed for the first three days and not want to associate with anyone. That’s okay. If all they want to do is stay in their bed where they feel safe, let them. Don’t have anyone approach or try to force themselves on the dog.
What you can do is sit quietly in the same room for short periods of time while completely ignoring them. If the dog gets curious and interested, they will approach you to get a sniff, but try not to move or turn toward them.
This is their time to expand their comfort zone, not have it expanded for them. After three days, they should become a lot more curious about their new home and the people in it.
The long-term in the 3-3-3 Rule is three months. By this point, your dog should be settled into your family routine and has grown to trust you. Everything should be okay. The tricky part is that middle 3, which refers to three weeks.
This is the point when your dog will feel comfortable enough to show their true personality. It’s also when issues are likely to present themselves, so be prepared.
Time for the pet doctor
You should have already arranged for a veterinarian and scheduled the first appointment.
One very important thing to consider at this time is Pet Health Insurance. Yes, it means that you’re paying a bit more now — but it can save you a lot in the long run, especially if it covers preventative care, routine exams, and sudden injury or illness.
You’ll also want to make sure that you have your vet provide all of the regular treatments, like heartworm medication, flea and tick treatment, and annual teeth-cleaning and dental exam.
During this first visit, also consult with your vet on the best food and diet for your particular dog, based on breed, weight, BMI, medical conditions, and whatever other factors your vet considers important.
Based on that information, buy a small amount of the recommended food, but remember to not abruptly switch your dog over from the temporary diet they’ve been on. Rather, start by mixing a small amount of the new food in with the old type, gradually increasing the percentage of new.
This way, you’ll find out if your dog likes the new food you’ve picked or whether you’ll need to find the equivalent in a different flavor or brand. More importantly, though: Dog’s stomachs do not like abrupt changes in diet. Doing so can cause indigestion, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Finally, don’t forget that, like humans, dogs need regular grooming, as well as to get their nails trimmed. We all deserve the occasional day of beauty.
Time for fun
From the beginning, you’ll want to start on training your dog, beginning with simple things like teaching them the house rules — which rooms they can’t go into, which furniture they are and aren’t allowed on, and so forth. Then, you can start to work on the fancy stuff, like tricks.
But that’s an entire subject on its own, and enough for a future article.
Having a dog as part of the family can be rewarding, but it’s not something that you should take lightly or do as a spur-of-the-moment decision. In a lot of ways, if it’s your first dog, it’s a lot like having your first baby.
Do your homework first, prepare your house and your mind, be prepared to handle whatever challenges come up, but don’t give up. When you welcome a dog into your life, you’re welcoming a whole lot of love and giving your family the best gift possible by adding a member to it. Enjoy being a pet parent!
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