There are multiple health benefits to owning a dog.
Owning a dog is a large responsibility.
There are lots of things to consider before bringing a dog home.
Owning a dog is a big step. With nearly one in three American homes owning a dog, it's no surprise that they're almost everywhere. While dogs take work to keep happy and healthy, the benefits of owning one are immeasurable.
Why Own a Dog?
Dogs get noticed wherever they go, whether they’re at the local park, on a neighborhood walk, or out in public. It comes as no surprise that a dog increases the number of social interactions their owner experiences, as well as makes them more positive and open to interaction in general. Dogs make great icebreakers, after all.
Aside from the social bonuses of owning a dog, there are multiple health benefits associated with bringing a dog into your home. Dog ownership reduces stress in dog owners and eases depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Many workplaces are becoming "dog-friendly" (allowing dogs in the office space) as these reduced stress levels also help increase productivity and morale. Besides, what dog owner doesn't dream of taking their dog to work with them?
It doesn’t stop there. Owning a dog also alters your hormone levels - - decreasing cortisol and increasing oxytocin, leading to lower blood pressure and better heart health. Dogs also get you outside and increase your physical activity levels.
Being a Responsible Owner
Owning a dog is a lot of responsibility. Keeping your dog clean, fed, exercised, and happy takes consistent daily work. What’s more, owning a dog isn’t just a responsibility in your home. You now also have an obligation, whenever you take your dog out, to ensure that they behave appropriately in public.
As a matter of both courtesy and safety, it matters that you and your dog act in a way that is considerate of the space and the people and pets around you. This requires you and your dog to learn the necessary skills and rules of owning and bringing your dog in public.
Training Your Dog
Have you ever heard the phrase, "There's no such thing as a bad dog, only bad owners?" Commonly spoken in the dog-keeping community, this expression refers to dogs with poor behavior related to either ineffective training methods or a lack of proper training altogether.
While no one expects every dog to perform circus tricks on command, there are a few recommended things every dog ought to know how to do: sit, down, stay, come (recall), leave it, and drop it.
If you bring home a puppy, housebreaking is an essential part of training so that your dog learns where it's okay to go to the bathroom.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program is a series of 10 functional skills that are beneficial for any dog. CGC goes beyond basic obedience skills such as "sit" and "stay" and also includes loose-leash walking, tolerating grooming, not reacting to distractions or other dogs, and more. Earning the CGC certification is a rewarding experience for both the dog and the owner, and results in an incredibly well-behaved dog.
When it comes to training options, the possibilities are nearly endless. Big box pet stores -- like Petco and PetSmart -- offer private and group training classes for dogs in all life stages, while also teaching you how to work with your dog. Many dog boarding facilities offer training classes, which are often called "boot camps." Thousands of training guides and tips are available online in text and video form. Private dog trainers and behaviorists also exist and are often able to create individualized training plans for your dog.
Advocating for Your Dog
Owning a dog isn't just about teaching your dog how to behave -- you also need to learn some new skills. Since dogs can’t talk, you become your dog’s voice. Don’t be afraid to tell others how to act with or around your dog.
The AKC offers great advice on greeting strange dogs, focusing on how your body language affects how a dog reacts. Teaching others how to approach your dog results in more positive experiences for everyone involved. The main points to keep in mind are to lower yourself to the dog's level and let the dog come to you. When petting a strange dog, it's also a good idea to reach under their chin rather than over the top of their head, which frightens shy and reactive dogs.
Learning signs of stress and anxiety in your dog, as well as body language cues, gives you the best chance of knowing what your dog is communicating. This becomes especially important when socializing your dog with other dogs and people, and prevents potentially harmful or dangerous situations.
Dog Ownership Laws
Laws surrounding dog ownership vary from place to place, so it’s always a good idea to stay up to date on your local city, county, state, and country laws. In general, it’s required that dogs have vaccinations, a license within their state or county, and remain on a leash in public.
Some areas may have bans on certain dog breeds -- most often bully breeds -- meaning those breeds are not legal to own in those places. Check local laws to ensure your future dog isn’t restricted.
Picking the Right Dog
How do you choose the perfect dog to bring home? The AKC currently recognizes almost 200 breeds, with international organizations including even more -- and that's only counting purebred dogs! When deciding on a breed, there are a few important factors to keep in mind.
Dogs come in nearly every size imaginable, from teacup chihuahuas that fit in the palm of your hand to Great Danes that look more like small horses than large dogs.
As a general rule of thumb, the larger the dog, the more space it needs. With that said, there are exceptions on both ends of the spectrum.
There are pros and cons to each size dog. Large dogs generally have more even temperaments and bark less than small dogs, but cost more and are able to reach kitchen counters. Small dogs are easily transported and cost less to feed, but are more fragile and tend to get underfoot easily.
The size breed you bring home ultimately depends on your lifestyle and what you want out of a dog.
Just remember: Any dog is a lap dog if it tries hard enough.
Fur coat types are almost as diverse as sizes among dogs. Long, short, straight, curly -- you name it, at least one dog has it.
Long or curly coat types require more regular brushing to keep the fur from matting. Shorter coats, while easier to maintain from day to day, tend to shed more continuously. Hairless dogs and dogs with very short fur often have sensitive skin.
Some breeds, such as huskies, malamutes, and German shepherds, have a double coat, consisting of a coarse outer guard coat and a soft and dense undercoat. Double-coated breeds "blow their coat" -- that is, shed their entire undercoat more or less at once -- along with the changing of the seasons.
If you want a dog that sheds very little, consider breeds like poodles, Yorkshire terriers, Maltese, and Shih Tzus. These dogs have hair, rather than fur, which grows continuously and keeps shedding to a minimum.
Finding a dog with an energy level that matches your daily lifestyle is crucial to maintaining balance at home. A low-energy dog won't look forward to your daily nine-mile run, and high-energy dogs often destroy the house out of sheer boredom if kept inside all day.
While every dog needs a walk at least once a day, dogs with higher energy require more frequent exercise. Working breeds -- including collies, shepherds, cattle dogs, and more -- typically have higher energy levels as a result of their genetics.
For your first time owning a dog, a low- to medium-energy dog provides less stress while adjusting to life with a dog. Take the time to reflect on your lifestyle and how a dog fits in when choosing the breed you want.
Well-known for being "man's best friend," it's hard to imagine dogs as being anything but friendly and social. In reality, dogs have a variety of personalities just like people. While any dog is capable of achieving good socialization skills, some breeds are genetically inclined to be friendlier than others.
Children are often intimidating to dogs, making loud noises and fast, unpredictable movements. Some breeds, like Labrador and golden retrievers, are outgoing and friendly even with small children, making them great family dogs.
Looking for an even-mannered dog with a friendly disposition goes a long way to make your first dog-owning experience easier.
Recommended Beginner Breeds
The AKC has nine breeds that it recommends for first-time dog owners: the Cavalier King Charles spaniel, the boxer, the papillon, the poodle, the English Springer spaniel, the Shih Tzu, the soft-coated wheaten terrier, the whippet, and the Labrador retriever.
This diverse group's recommendations come from their maintenance level, friendliness towards strangers and children, and affection levels. Other great breed choices include golden retrievers, Bernese mountain dogs, and bichon frises.
What About Mixed-Breed Dogs?
Mixed-breed dogs, rather than purebreds, have genetics from two or more breeds and are a fun and exciting option for both new and experienced owners. Mixed-breed dogs usually come from two places: shelters and hybridization.
Adopting a dog is a great thing to do, and changes a dog's life. Because of their varied backgrounds, shelter dogs sometimes have unique care needs and often take more time to adjust to their new life. Typically, shelter employees have good knowledge of their dogs and are usually easily able to recommend a dog that fits your lifestyle.
Hybrid dogs, also referred to as "designer dogs," come from the intentional breeding of two different parents to obtain desired traits from both breeds. Common breeds used to hybridize include Labrador retrievers and poodles.
Whether designer or rescue, it's important to have a good understanding of the traits exhibited by each of the breeds that your dog comes from.
Getting Ready To Bring Them Home
Now that you know exactly what dog you want, what's next? It's time to prepare the house -- and yourself -- for this life change. Preparation is key for owning a dog. In addition to outfitting your home with all the supplies your soon-to-be furry friend needs for a happy and healthy life, you need to make sure your house is ready, too.
What To Buy
While this list is extensive, it's not fully comprehensive of everything a dog needs to live their best life.
Collar and Dog Tag
Collars are the one accessory that your dog wears every day. It's no wonder, then, that collars are available in hundreds of different colors, patterns, and fabrics to match your dog's personality and aesthetic. Collars are also great for carrying your dog's identification, county license, and rabies tags.
Dog tags, aside from proudly displaying your dog's name, carry valuable information. Smaller tags have space for one or two phone numbers, while larger styles fit a full address. This information makes it easier for others to return your dog home in the event that you have an escape artist on your hands.
If the jingling noise of multiple tags drives you crazy, many places sell dog tag silencers -- covers made of plastic, fabric, or silicone -- that dull the noise.
Leash and Harness
Dogs need daily walks for their health. Most public places, unless specifically stated, require dogs to be on a leash at all times. A standard six-foot leash is plenty of length for your dog without letting them wander too far away. Leashes also come in hundreds of colors and patterns, and it's fairly easy to find one that matches your dog's collar.
Outfitting your dog with a harness provides multiple benefits for walks. It's more comfortable for your dog and avoids damage to the throat for dogs who are more likely to pull while on their leash. Additionally, harnesses are hard to slip out of and prevent the leash from getting tangled around your dog's legs.
A properly fitting harness sits snugly on your dog without being too tight, with no more than two of your fingers able to slip underneath the fabric.
Every dog needs their own bed -- even if they end up sleeping in yours. Dogs sleep between 12 and 18 hours a day. A good dog bed not only provides comfort but also supports your dog's body.
The Calming Cuddle Bed is a great option for dogs of all sizes, with a plus design made specifically to comfort your dog. The Calming Cuddle Bed Plus+ Memory Foam adds an additional layer of comfort for dogs in need of extra joint support.
Until recently, crates existed in a space of high controversy. Now trainers, veterinarians, and other dog professionals view them as great training tools. Dog crates are a great way to mark out a special space for your dog, and are useful when you need to leave your dog for long periods.
Crate training a dog is also useful when taking your dog to the vet, a boarding facility, or grooming appointments -- all facilities that temporarily house dogs in crates or kennels.
It's important to note that using dog crates as a form of punishment is a bad idea. This causes major aversion to the crate, which makes it a scary or otherwise unenjoyable place for your dog.
Water and Food Dishes
Unless you want your dog to eat from your dishes, they need their own. Food dishes come in an array of sizes and styles and are generally made from plastic, stainless steel, or ceramic.
Slow-feeder bowls are a great option for fast eaters. These bowls have raised patterns that a dog has to work around in order to reach their food. Some companies also make inserts that are compatible with traditional bowls.
Water bowls are capable of growing bacteria quickly if not washed often. Water fountains, such as the Calming Fountain Plus+, use a filtration system that keeps the water and the bowl cleaner. As a bonus, water fountains entice dogs to drink more water.
Everyone needs to eat. Finding high-quality dog food has lasting impacts on your dog's health. With dozens of brands on the market, it is often difficult to choose a food that's right for your dog.
When looking for dog food, it's important to check the ingredients. Look for foods that list multiple protein sources -- especially whole protein, as opposed to protein meal -- in the top five ingredients. Avoid foods with corn and potatoes in the top five, which companies use as filler ingredients in food, allowing them to make more food for a lower cost.
In 2023, the pet world is seeing a trend with people moving away from traditional kibble towards fresh foods. This is a great option for feeding your pet, though is generally more expensive than kibble.
Who's a good dog? Yours, of course! Treats are for rewarding your dog's behavior and providing entertainment.
Training treats are available in chewy or soft textures and come in bite-sized pieces. They're available in all sorts of flavors, like peanut butter, chicken, salmon, and more! Freeze-dried treats are often just one ingredient and pack a delicious, protein-heavy punch.
Dental chews, like Greenies, give your dog something to do while also improving their dental health. Picking chews with the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal on the package ensures the best results for your dog.
For dogs who love chewing, bully sticks make for delicious fun. For something that lasts a little longer, try a yak cheese chew. These hard sticks are tasty, durable, and generally come with instructions to make them into a crunchy puff for your dog when they chew it to a little nub.
Some human foods are double as dog treats too. If you have questions about whether dogs are able to eat certain foods, check with a veterinarian first, as some human foods are also toxic.
Dogs love to play. With thousands of toys on the market, the fun never stops.
Plush and fabric toys are great for cuddling and come with or without squeakers. They tend to fall apart quickly if your dog is rough with them. More brands are making "durable" plushes that are able to stand up to more roughhousing, though.
Balls, frisbees, and other toys are a delight for dogs who love to run and chase things. It may take some work to teach your dog how to play fetch, but those who learn have an endless supply of fun ahead of them.
Puzzle toys and treat-dispensing toys give dogs a mental workout as well as provide entertainment. They come in a vast array of difficulty levels, depending on how hard you want your dog to work for the reward.
Chew toys are essential for young dogs and those that like to stick everything in their mouth. These are generally made from rubber or other durable materials to hold up to a dog's jaw force. Some brands even carry imitation bones for dogs to gnaw on. For teething puppies, rotate chew toys into the freezer to provide a cold sensation that feels amazing on their gums.
Not every dog has the same play style or likes the same toys. Try out a variety at first to see what your dog likes.
There are four major parts to a dog's grooming needs: dental health, brushing, bathing, and nail trims. While professional groomers are able to take care of the latter two, many prefer to do it themselves.
Like people, the ideal for dogs would be to have their teeth brushed twice a day with a toothbrush and toothpaste. Generally, though, the minimum recommendation is three times a week. Dog toothpaste comes in multiple appetizing flavors. Toothbrushes come in multiple styles, such as those that you wear on your finger or those that are more like traditional toothbrushes.
Your dog's coat type determines both the kind of brush you need and how often the dog needs brushing. Rubber brushes are great for short coats, while bristle brushes and undercoat rakes are better suited for longer and thicker coats.
If you're brave enough to wash your dog at home, prepare to get wet yourself. Current recommendations suggest bathing your dog every four to six weeks, depending on their coat type. Oatmeal-based shampoos are gentle on sensitive skin, while deshedding shampoos help remove loose fur and lessen shedding in the house.
Nail clippers come in a few different styles, including guillotine-style and clippers that look more like scissors. Pick the size of clippers based on your dog's nails. When trimming nails, only cut a little at a time to avoid the quick -- the center of the nail where the nerve and blood supply sit.
Exposing your dog to people touching their ears, paws, mouth, and tail early makes grooming much easier long term.
Whether going to the vet or on a day trip, travel happens. The Calming Carrier Plus+ is light, durable, and opens up in four directions to give your little dog plenty of space to chill in transportation.
Carriers are great for small dogs, but good luck finding one big enough for a large or XL dog. Pet stores now carry seatbelt extenders that clip into your dog's harness to keep them secure in the car. If your dog is riding with you, remember to keep them in the back seat.
Helpful for Training
As mentioned earlier, training is a key part of owning a dog. Consistent work is most effective for maintaining target behaviors.
Reusable treat pouches are helpful for on-the-go training. Made from fabric or silicone, they make for convenient treat storage that's easy to reach while working with your dog.
Training clickers, while not entirely necessary, are becoming a popular training tool. The "click" sound takes the place of saying "good boy" or "good girl," and offers more immediate reinforcement for good behavior when training.
Picking Up After Your Dog
Not only is it polite to pick up after your dog, it's good for the environment and your dog. That's right -- some dogs eat poop.
Waste bags give you somewhere to put the poop. Several brands offer bag carriers that attach to your dog's leash for ease of access.
Cleaning your yard with nothing but a few plastic bags puts unnecessary strain on your back. Purchasing a rake and scoop set is worth the investment.
Pet-Proofing the House
Like getting a house ready for a new baby, a certain amount of pet-proofing is necessary to minimize potential risks to your new furry companion in your home.
Below are some things to adjust both inside and outside the house before bringing Fido home.
Young dogs and high-energy dogs love playing and chewing on whatever they get their paws on. Cords pose a major risk for electrocution if chewed. Secure or hide your cords so your dog can't reach them.
Did you know that several houseplants are toxic to dogs? Symptoms vary greatly depending on the plant, and range from mild irritation to organ failure or death. Do your research and move these plants out of reach.
Dogs love getting into food. Your trash can is no exception, too, if given the chance. Getting trash bins with tightly secured lids lessens the chance of your garbage ending up spilled across the floor. Secure dog food containers also keep dogs out of their kibble outside of mealtime.
While this isn't a concern for every home, houses with window wells need covers (readily available at hardware stores) to prevent a dog from accidentally falling in.
Secure Home and Yard
Every pet parent dreads the thought of their pet escaping. Ensure that doors, windows, and gates latch properly, and that fences are in good repair.
Setting Up Your Dog's Space
Once you have your supplies and house ready to go, it's time to set up your dog's space. Having their own space is beneficial to them, especially as they are adjusting to their new life in your home.
It's natural for dogs to seek out small, cozy places for comfort and safety. Giving your dog their own little space makes them feel more comfortable and at ease.
A dog's space needs to include five things: ease of access; comfort items like toys, blankets, and a bed; access to water; privacy; and limited noise. The space also needs to be appropriate for the dog's size.
Another benefit of creating a space for your dog? It's a safe place to go to on a trained command, which is helpful in case of accidents or other safety issues.
Getting Your New Dog Settled
Once your dog comes home, congratulations! You're a dog owner now! It's going to take some time for you and your dog to adjust. Many cite the "three-three-three" rule for what to expect in the first three days, weeks, and months of your dog settling into their new home.
The first three days are for decompression. This is a big life change, and the dog has no idea what to expect. Dogs may test boundaries during this time and may also be too nervous to eat.
By three weeks, your dog starts to learn the normal daily routine. They've started learning boundaries and are starting to feel more comfortable.
At three months, dogs generally start to feel much more comfortable at home, more secure around you, and begins to seriously bond with you.
Of course, every dog adjusts differently, but this generally serves as a good outline.
Signs You're a Good Owner
Now for the question everyone asks themselves: "How do I know I'm doing this right?"
Signs you're doing right by your dog include educating yourself, having well-established boundaries, and being attentive to your dog's needs.
As far as your dog goes, signs of good ownership include training, socialization, the appearance and condition of their coat, and how much they lick you.
And of course, the bond between you and your dog is one of the strongest indicators of being a good owner. According to a survey by Havahart, 84.7 percent of people consider their dog to be part of the family. That's how you know you're in it for the long haul.
Who's a Good Owner?
Owning a dog is a reward that far outweighs the responsibility. The unconditional love that dogs offer is comforting and beyond measure. There are ups and downs to dog ownership, but that journey makes keeping a dog that much more exciting.
Now, armed with the best knowledge possible, you're ready for your first dog.