Here’s What Vets Say Every First-Time Dog Owner Should Know

Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Getting a dog is all about embarking on a brand new, exciting adventure. A big part of that adventure? Plenty of surprises…like, a favorite sandal going missing kind of surprise. But not all of pet ownership needs to be shrouded in mystery.
Before you bring your new friend home, there's a few major things you should know, including how to safely swap puppy food, pet-proof your home, travel on an airplane, etc.
Feeling overwhelmed? Not to worry — in partnership with Eukanuba, we spoke with veterinarian Sarah Evans, DVM, and created the ultimate guide for first-time dog owners.
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Ahead, six helpful tips to prep you for success.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Food

When picking out food for a new dog, keep in mind their stomach may require a little adjusting. A sudden switch from what your puppy was fed beforehand to something else could lead to gastrointestinal upset, Dr. Evans explains. She recommends mixing 75% of their old diet with 25% of their new diet for a few days, then altering the ratio to 50:50 and 25:75. Within two weeks, your pup should be 100% acclimated to their new food. In the event you don't know your dog's old diet, Dr. Evans suggests buying high-quality food formulated for sensitive stomachs to be safe.

Although tempting, avoid feeding your puppy human food such as chocolate, garlic, onions, grapes/raisins, macadamia nuts, and any product that contains the artificial sweetener xylitol. "All of these foods have a different toxic effect on a dog's body," she says. Dairy and foods high in fat (i.e. meat trimmings and bacon) are also a bad idea.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Training

Teaching your dog to behave can be frustrating at first. But with the help of basic training programs, you'll be equipped with the skills to establish an important, healthy bond in no time. Plus, enrolling in a puppy class gives your new pet a chance to socialize with other dogs and have some fun outside the home. Overall, Dr. Evans says positive reinforcement is key: "If your new dog is fairly food-motivated, receiving a treat immediately after good behavior is the best approach. For young puppies, I recommend a single piece of his or her normal dog food or a healthy treat substitute as the reward." Don't forget to offer lots of praise, too — combined with food, it'll help you make a big imprint on your dog's brain.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Exercise

Getting out and exercising with your puppy is vital for their overall well-being, Dr. Evans says. While there's no "bare minimum," as the amount of exercise needed varies per breed, your dog should be walked at least once a day for 30 minutes. This is absolutely crucial for stay-at-home pets, since they often spend hours sitting alone.

Before you load up your puppy's toy box, be wary. According to Dr. Evans, chew toys if torn apart and swallowed can be a major cause of obstruction of the stomach or intestines in dogs. This can make a dog sick and occasionally requires surgical intervention. To avoid any mishaps, playtime — indoors and outdoors — should always be supervised.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Travel

Most dogs love a good road trip, but sometimes motion sickness can dampen the experience. If you're planning to hit the road with your puppy, wait about two hours after he or she has been fed to prevent nausea, Dr. Evans says. For more intense cases, seek care from a vet who may prescribe medication.

Air travel requires extra preparation; there's set rules that pet owners must follow, including specific guidelines for licensed emotional support/service animals, Dr. Evans says. "Historically, it has been easier to travel with an emotional support/service animal," she explains. "But these days, many airlines and various countries have been increasing their regulations and changing their guidelines in order to reduce the number of pets inappropriately declared an emotional support/service dog for the owner's travel convenience." Generally speaking, the USDA APHIS Pet Travel website should be your first point of reference to ensure your puppy is set to fly.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Grooming

It's no secret that grooming your pup will take lots of patience and practice. According to Dr. Evans, starting early (and using a treat or two as an incentive) may ease the process. A bath every few weeks is the norm unless absolutely necessary, and don't forget to check the length of their nails. "If a dog's nails are too long, it can be uncomfortable for them to walk," she says. "Long nails are also more prone to getting caught on things and snagging." An incorrect trimming can cause pain and bleeding, so be sure to consult with your vet or groomer if you're unsure.

Your dog's ears need special attention too, especially if they swim. "Water in the ears can lead to ear infections, which can only be treated with prescription medicine from a vet," Dr. Evans says. As a rule of thumb, never clean your pet's ears with water, hydrogen peroxide, or alcohol. Instead, she recommends opting for a veterinarian-approved cleaner/flusher, as these are typically formulated with drying agents that get rid of excess moisture. "[Cotton swabs] should only be used after instruction from a vet," she continues, "[but] cotton balls/pads, tissue, and soft gauze can be used [anytime] to safely wipe out any debris or discharge."
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Safety

The thought of leaving your dog home alone for the first time can be scary. Because each puppy is unique, try keeping an eye on them when they're not looking to learn how they might act when you're not around. "Any time an owner is not home with the dog, the safest approach is to have him or her confined to an area where they are not able to get into anything or have a chance of hurting themselves, such as an appropriately sized crate or small room," Dr. Evans says. Otherwise, make sure to hide and/or put away dangerous household items like electric cords and cleaning products.
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