First time dog owner? You’re going to love having a dog. Whether you’ve been yearning for a dog for a long time, or recently converted to that pup life, you’re in for years of love and fun. Here are ten key things every first time dog owner should know for the best chance of raising a dog that fits in perfectly with your family.
1. Work with a trainer early on. Many dog parents only seek help from a dog trainer once their dog has developed severe behavioural issues. The truth is, training is as essential to dogs as school is to children. If you’re a first time dog owner, work with an experienced trainer that uses humane, science-based methods. Healthy Houndz Dog Training works with local Toronto and North York dog parents and offers virtual training via Zoom for dog parents worldwide. Schedule your free consultation online.
2. Always make good things happen when you call your dog. It’s crucial to your dog’s safety that they come reliably when called. If they get loose or are ever off-leash, successful recall can be a life or death matter. Any time you call your dog, you should make something really good happen, whether you give them a tasty treat or lots of praise and petting. Never call your dog when it’s time for a bath or nail trim. Instead go to them and retrieve them. Otherwise you will have “poisoned” the cue, and your dog may avoid coming to you for fear of something unpleasant happening. Ideally you will be able to use positive reinforcement to make processes like nail trims and baths as pleasant as possible.
3. Use treats liberally. Food really is the best way to your dog’s heart.
4. Get a crate. Even if you plan to let your dog sleep with you, it’s worthwhile to use a crate as a training tool. Dogs normally do not eliminate where they sleep, so letting your puppy spend time in a crate when you’re not able to supervise them can help teach them how to hold their bowels and bladder until they are outside, rather than eliminate wherever they happen to be. Crate training also prepares your dog if they are ever confined for travel or for medical purposes.
5. Don’t listen to just anyone. Getting your first dog is similar to having a baby. Everyone you know will suddenly become a dog expert, and they’ll give you all kinds of conflicting advice. Remember that when someone says they grew up with dogs and have had them all their life, it is no substitute for professional knowledge and experience. Even trainers you may see on TV may offer bad advice. Reality shows are often cut to conceal the use of aversive methods and to make results seem instant. Real training takes time, commitment and patience. It’s more like teaching a small child, and much less like pressing buttons on a robot or waving a magic wand.
6. Kongs are heaven sent. A Kong is a tough, rubber toy shaped like a snowman with a hole at the bottom that you can fill with tasty treats. Your dog has to lick, lick, and lick to get the goodies out, and this simple activity provides mental stimulation while curbing anxiety. If you size up, you may be able to fit your dog’s entire meal inside. Best of all, they’re top-rack dishwasher safe.
7. Yes, you can comfort your dog when they’re scared. You may have been told that if you comfort your dog while they are freaking out, you’ll reinforce their fearful behaviour and make it worse. This is an old wive’s tale. Comforting your dog when they’re scared or anxious helps them feel more secure, and can be a huge part of helping your dog overcome anxiety.
8. Remember Murphy’s Law. Murphy’s Law: Everything that could go wrong, will go wrong. If you leave your dog alone with a full trash can, assume that they will knock it over and eat something dangerous, like cooked chicken bones, landing them in the veterinary ER. If you let your dog off-leash in an unsafe area, assume that they will run across the road. Always be prepared for the worst, and use management tools like gates, crates, and leashes to keep your dog safe.
9. Get your whole family involved. Training only works if you and other members of your household are consistent. If you do not want your dog to lurk at the table while you eat, you must never give them table scraps. If one person does sneak your dog table scraps, your dog will continue this rewarding behaviour. Talk to your family members about setting boundaries early on, and get them involved in teaching cues, playing games, and building healthy habits.
10. Take way too many photos. When you look back, you’ll always wish you had taken more or better photos and videos. Get that extra 10MB of cloud storage. Take time to make scrapbooks. You’ll love looking back on them to see how much your dog has changed, and reminiscing on those memories and milestones.