First Time Dog Owner Guide: Pet Ownership 101

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For many people, getting a dog is thrilling! Canine companions have been with humans since ancient times, and being a pet parent nowadays means you get the companionship and loyalty of a furry friend for years to come. Caring for a dog is emotionally fulfilling and is oftentimes a great way to meet new people or ensure you spend some time outside each day if you have an indoor career.

But for others, pet ownership is daunting. After all, adopting a dog is a big decision. You'll be responsible for your pup for several years at a minimum. No one should adopt a dog without knowing all of the responsibilities that such adoption entails.

For those considering becoming first-time dog owners, read on. The below guide will break down everything you need to know about getting a dog, caring for a dog, and buying all the necessary supplies and toys.

Let's get started:

Why Get a Dog?

There are lots of reasons to consider getting a puppy pet in the near future.

For example, maybe you want a dog so you can:

  • Have a faithful companion to greet you when you come home or keep you company while you work from home
  • Pursue a lifelong dream. Many people had dogs when they were kids and get dogs when they are adults because they loved the experience
  • Have fun with a dog outside. Lots of people like to take their dogs running or hiking, especially if they are into outdoor activities

However, some people also pursue dog adoption for the wrong reasons. You should not get a dog if:

  • You are only interested in the cuteness of puppies. Puppies are indeed adorable, but the puppy phase only lasts for a few months. Your dog will grow quickly, so only adopt a canine if you’re prepared to take care of them for their entire life
  • Your friends also have dogs
  • You don’t have enough space for your dog, especially if they are a larger breed or if they are very energetic

Bottom line: think about your reasons for pursuing pet ownership before going through with adoption. It’s wonderful that you are considering giving a dog a forever home. But you need to make sure that you’re doing it for the right reasons.

What To Consider About Pet Ownership

Pet ownership of any animal, but especially dogs, means taking on a number of major responsibilities like:

  • Having to feed and water the dog each day
  • Having to take care of the dog’s waste
  • Having to purchase things for the dog regularly
  • Ensuring that the dog receives physical and mental enrichment (i.e. gets to play outside and see other dogs and people)

Having a dog is, in many ways, more hands-on and intensive than owning other common pets like cats. Cats don’t usually require a lot of attention or special needs when they reach adulthood. Dogs are much closer to human children in that they require direct attention and care a lot of the time.

What You Need Before You Get a Dog

Furthermore, you’ll need to make sure that you have the right supplies and tools to set yourself up for success and give your dog a wonderful home.

Let’s break down what you need before you get a dog in detail. Many of these things can be purchased from online stores.

Crate + Bed

For starters, you’ll need to get your dog a fantastic crate and bed. Crate training is always ideal since it gives your dog a secure place where they can feel comfortable and calm, and it prevents them from assuming they will sleep on your bed (getting their hair everywhere on the covers in the process!).

Once your dog is crate trained, they will want to retreat there if they are ever socially or physically overwhelmed. The crate becomes a safe and warm place for your dog once they’re used to it.

Giving your dog a comfortable bed will also help teach them that their crate is more like a den than a prison. Wild One’s Dog Bed is a perfect choice, as it’s made with tiered foam and side rails so that your dog feels like they are snug and secure each time they curl up inside. It even comes with a water-resistant lining for any potty accidents (or extensive drooling).

As you crate train, you can use potty training tools, like puppy pads, inside to prevent your dog from making too much of a mess.

Walking Supplies

All dogs need to walk, which means you need to arm yourself with plenty of walking supplies like a leash, collar, and even a harness. Harnesses are important because they redirect the pressure from the leash onto your dog’s back instead of their neck, meaning they are less likely to hurt themselves when they are young and energetic.

Take Wild One’s Harness Walk Kit, for instance. It comes with everything you need to enjoy walks with your dog in a single purchase, like a leash, harness, and even a poop bag carrier so that you don’t have to stuff them in your pocket. Kits like this are great ways to build up your dog equipment quickly and easily.

Toys and Treats

Every dog also needs plenty of toys to keep them entertained, especially in their puppy years. Young dogs love to play, so you must get them toys to distract them with so they don't chew up your couch or your favorite shoes.

This Toy Kit has three great toys designed for safety and durability in equal measure. These toys are great for self-play, tug, and more—and they’re all designed with 100% natural rubber and cotton.

Treats are also great to pick up before you adopt your dog. Treats are important for training and for getting your dog’s attention in the earliest days when they might be very distracted from the new things in their environment.

The Organic Baked Treat Kit is a great place to start, featuring organic, healthy treats for your dog in a variety of flavors like peanut butter and jelly and veggie burger.

Food and Bowls

Getting your dog the right food is key to ensure they grow up healthily and stay that way for years to come. Generally, it's best to get your dog organic, non-GMO food wherever possible, but avoid grain-free food as well unless your vet specifically recommends it because of dietary restrictions. Dogs are omnivores like us, so a well-rounded diet is usually ideal.

You’ll also want specific bowls for your dog’s food and water. Getting your dog a special bowl for each will help train them for breakfast and dinner and help to curb some of the scavenging dogs are liable to perform, especially when they are young.

Poop Bags + Cleanup Supplies

While on your walk and well potty training, your dog will have to do their business sooner or later. That means you need to purchase some poop bags so you can dispose of your dog’s waste; no one likes a pet parent who doesn’t pick up after their pup.

The best poop bags are biodegradable and are tough enough not to break in your hand. At the same time, you may wish to purchase cleanup supplies so you can pick up after any messes your dog makes when they are still young.

Dogs are pretty fast when it comes to potty training, but don’t be surprised if they have a few messes in the first few months of life. Your dog can typically hold their bladder for as many hours as they are old in months. For example, a three-month-old puppy should be able to hold their bladder for about three hours.

Spaying/Neutering Your Dog

Some pet parents don’t see the purpose of spaying or neutering their new pup, but this is important regardless of breed (unless you are a registered dog breeder, in which case it doesn’t apply).

Spaying and neutering your dog will ensure that you and your canine companion never have to deal with the problems of an unexpected pregnancy. Female dogs, in particular, should be spayed so they don’t accidentally become pregnant, at which point you’ll have to decide what to do with the new puppies.

On top of that, spaying or neutering your dog helps keep the number of homeless pet animals down. Homeless animals are everywhere, and it’s very difficult for adoption agencies to handle them all.

Fortunately, spaying and neutering are both safe procedures when undertaken by a licensed veterinarian. Your shelter or adoption agency may be able to refer you to such an individual when you sign the adoption papers.

Other Veterinary Considerations

Even after your dog is spayed or neutered, you’ll still need to take them to the vet regularly for yearly checkups and shots. For example, it’s critical that your dog gets heartworm medication each year so that they don’t acquire this parasite from interacting with other dogs or eating things off the ground.

Be prepared to pay vet bills regularly, and don't forget to sign up for pet insurance; it's usually much cheaper than being suddenly slammed with a $1,000 or more bill for a canine medical emergency.

Training Your Dog

Of course, getting your dog the right toys and making sure they are medically taken care of is just the start. When you own a dog, you also need to teach them how to behave through the use of certain commands.

There are lots of different philosophies about dog training, but two have received particular endorsement and attention from professional trainers and animal welfare communities.

Using Clicker Training

Clicker training uses a handheld clicker tool as a teaching mechanism when training your dog. In a nutshell, your dog can't understand English. But they can understand when they do something right if you click immediately after the desired action.

Clicker training is contingent on you rewarding your dog with a high-value treat after each button push. You click, then you give them a treat in that order, every time. Consistency is key when mastering clicker training and using it to its maximum effectiveness.

For example, if you tell your dog to sit, and then you click your clicker immediately when their butt hits the ground, your dog associates their butt hitting the ground with a click and a treat. Clicker training is useful because it doesn’t rely on command words that can sound similar to one another and because it tells your dog exactly what part of their behavior is being rewarded.

As in the above example, using a command word alone might confuse your dog and make them think that just dropping down or lowering their body is the right action.

With the right setup and consistency, clicker training can help you teach your dog to be a properly behaved pooch with plenty of tricks up their sleeve to impress people when they visit.

Positive Reinforcement

The other major aspect of training is positive reinforcement. Generally, it’s better to show your dog what they should do rather than break them for doing something wrong.

For instance, rather than scolding your dog for getting into a cabinet, you should instead redirect their attention and provide them with a treat when they focus on something else. Dogs are highly food and praise-motivated, so giving them the option to do something good will always be better for their mental health and emotional stability.

Positive reinforcement is also the best way to teach your puppy core commands like sit, lay down, stay, come, and so on quickly. The earlier you adopt positive reinforcement training, the better behaved your dog will be.

Dog Ownership FAQs

Is it expensive to own a dog?

Yes, and oftentimes more expensive than people initially think. According to some estimates, it costs between $1,400 and $4,300 per year per dog. Costs can vary heavily depending on the medical needs of your dog, their age, and how many supplies are things you need to purchase upfront.

Generally, puppies are a little more expensive than adult dogs in the prime of their lives, and dogs become a little more expensive again as they get older and require more medical attention. Consider whether you can afford more than $100 a month as the bare minimum for pet ownership before getting a dog.

How Much Exercise Do Dogs Need?

That depends heavily on the breed and age of your dog. Generally, puppies need a lot of exercise regardless of breed as they learn to play, learn bite inhibition, and explore their environments. Energetic breeds like shepherds and labs may need an hour or more of physical play each day.

No matter what, your dog will need to go on a walk at least twice per day, both to relieve themselves and to give them mental and physical stimulation. Even if your dog is small and a relatively content breed, they don’t want to stay inside all day.

With that in mind, don’t consider adopting a dog if you don’t like to go on walks outside, even if it’s cold or hot out.

How Should I Socialize My Dog?

Yes! Dog socialization is very important, both so your dog can make new friends and so they aren’t a danger to other people. You can socialize your dog by bringing them to puppy play classes, by enrolling your puppy in training courses, and by taking opportunities to introduce your dog to other canines while on walks.

Can Dogs Come With Me When I Travel?

Some can, but not all. Most dogs can travel in a car relatively safely (though they may become motion sick depending on their age and breed). However, it’s not recommended that you travel by plane with your dog if they are too large to fit in a travel carrier.

While you can technically sedate your dog and move them in cargo, this also introduces the possibility of medical complications, injuries, or death. If you get a large breed dog, be prepared to either not fly frequently or to hire a pet sitter regularly.

A Friend For Life

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when you’re adopting a dog for the first time. But don’t let the above list dissuade you. Even if you’ve never owned a dog before, you can still be a fantastic pet parent and give your pup a forever home they’ll love. You just need to make sure you’re ready before you sign the paperwork.

Remember, getting the right stuff for your new pup is key to ensuring they have a comfortable home and that you don’t have to scramble back to the pet store because you forgot something by accident.


How to know if you can afford to own a dog | CNBC

11 Facts About Animal Homelessness |

Spay/Neuter Your Pet | ASPCA

The Poop Problem: What To Do With 10 Million Tons of Dog Waste | Live Science