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dog parent must-knows

11 things no one told you about owning a dog

Think you’re ready for your first dog but want to know what it’s really like? Here’s how to prepare for the highs, lows, and unknowns of dog ownership.

Updated July 23, 2021

Created By

Victoria Lancaster ,

📷 by Wade Austin Ellis

The essentials

  • Dogs are not cheap — From monthly food costs to trip to the vet, you should plan your finances before you pick up your new pup. 
  • Pet parents must learn basic dog care — Before you adopt your furry friend, you need to know how to keep them safe, healthy, and happy. 
  • There will be trials and tribulations — Your dog will not always feel their best. You should familiarize yourself with their daily habits to know their “normal.”
  • Owning a dog is a lifetime commitment — It’s important to prepare as a new owner to bring happiness to both you and your dog.

1. How to prepare for the cost of a dog

Many new dog owners don’t realize the true cost of a dog until they own one. Pet parents should prepare to set aside around $750 to adopt a dog, prepare their home, visit the vet, and pay for initial vaccinations. Here are a few different financial scenarios to plan for:

Necessities for your pup

The first cost many new pet parents face is the initial investment in essential gear and extras. This includes the following essentials and accessories: 

An unexpected trip to the vet could cost $500 or more.

The vet is expensive, especially when your dog needs emergency medical attention. In order to budget sensibly, we suggest setting aside anywhere from $1,000-$3,000 dollars for unexpected health expenses for your dog. Emergency pet care is by far the most expensive cost to take into consideration when owning a pup. 

Expect to pay around $25 a night in boarding.

Unfortunately, your pet can’t always go on vacation with you. That means you’ll have to find a place for them to board.  Depending on where you board your pup, the price per night typically starts around $25. 

Yes — pet insurance exists!

You can purchase pet insurance for your dog. While you may think pet insurance is an unnecessary expense, in times of serious emergency you will be happy you have it. Pet insurance comes with a monthly premium.  When your pet is sick or injured, you pay the bill and submit the claim later.

👉 Pawp is a popular alternative to traditional pet insurance that provides pet owners with an annual $3,000 emergency fund.

2. How to keep your dog safe

The first step towards owning a happy dog is making sure they’re in a safe environment. One of the daily habits of owning a dog is taking them outside for walks or playtime. Depending on where you live, there are different things you should keep in mind to make sure your dog is safe outside. 

Keep dogs away from toxic plants — Make sure they stay away from plants, like boxwoods and dahlias. Check out our list of safe and unsafe plants to have around dogs. 

Watch what you spray — Some dogs like to eat grass. When you treat your garden to get rid of weeds or bugs, be sure to use pet-friendly pesticides

Bugs bite dogs too — Dogs can get mosquito, flea, wasp, and bee bites at any time of year. Regardless of whether or not your dog is allergic to bug bites, you should know how to prevent and treat them

Ticks, fleas, and heartworms — Your dog will need to take monthly medications to be protected against pesky ticks, fleas, heartworms, and other parasites. Ask your veterinarian for recommended brands and dosages for the age and size of your pup.

👉 Think about what plants you keep inside your home, too. Avoid daffodils, daisies, and hydrangeas, or keep them out of reach from your pup.

3. How to keep your dog squeaky clean 🛁

Hygiene is just as important for dogs as it is for humans. You want to be sure you’re cleaning your dog from their head to their toes. Not only does attention to hygiene make your dog look and smell nicer, but it has long term health benefits. Here’s a checklist of hygiene measures you should take for your dog: 

Clean your dog’s ears — You should clean your dog’s ears with an ear cleaner to prevent them from developing ear infections. You should be especially alert if your dog has floppy ears.  Carefully wipe out the insides of the ears with a cotton ball to get rid of any dirt. 

🚨 Avoid using Q-tips to clean your dog’s ears due to potential damage.

Wipe their eyes — You might notice gunk in your dog’s eyes. Keep some cotton swabs on hand to clean your dog’s eyes on a daily basis. If your dog has redness, dry or runny eyes they may have a cold.

👉 What are tear stains and how to clean them? Tear stains happen when tear ducts don’t drain, so it’s important to clean them with a safe solution. 

Bath time —  You don’t technically have to bathe your dog very often. We recommend giving your dog a bath every two to three months with one of our favorite shampoos. If your dog has a medium-to-large coat you may want to bathe them more regularly — remember to shampoo and rinse twice for the best results. Offer your pup a few treats throughout their bath to keep them still. 

Trim your dog’s nails — Trimming your dog’s nails is a necessity. Trimming nails prevents your dog from scratching you, from slipping,  and from catching onto fabric.  If you’re not confident about trimming your dog’s nails yourself, the groomer will do the trick. Make sure you specify that they need a nail trim. 

Moisturize their paws — Extreme seasons can cause problems for a pup’s paws. You should take extra precautions when taking your dog out for walks in the summer and winter. We recommend some balms and waxes to heal and protect dry or cracked skin. 

Express your dog’s anal glands — We know it’s not fun but it’s super important to express your dog’s anal glands so they don’t develop illnesses like anal sac disease. In addition to the fishy smell, if your dog scoots on the floor or has trouble relieving bowels, they probably need their anal glands expressed. You can do this yourself, but we recommend a vet visit if you notice any of the mentioned symptoms. Anal glands should only have to be expressed every 2-3 months. 

⚠️ Pet parents should not attempt to relieve their dog’s anal glands at home unless they have been shown how by the vet (or possibly the groomer).

4. How to care for your dog’s teeth

Did you know that dogs need their teeth brushed once or twice a day? Here’s what dog owners need to learn about dental care for their new pup. 

Pups lose their “baby” teeth. Puppies, just like babies, experience teething. When a puppy experiences teething, they may exhibit some signs of pain. You will likely take your puppy home sometime from week 12 to 16. During this time, you might find that your dog’s baby teeth have fallen out. Don’t panic, because your dog’s adult teeth are on their way. Puppies lose all of their first baby teeth at 3-4 months of age and they lose the remaining baby teeth at 5-6 months. Around the same time your pup begins to lose their teeth you should acclimatize them to daily brushing. 

👉 Plan to purchase a doggie toothbrush and toothpaste. The best way to brush your dog’s teeth is to start at the front of the mouth and to work back, holding back the lip to clean out the gums. 

Brushing is crucial to combat periodontal (gum disease). Brushing your dog’s teeth is not optional. Periodontal (gum) disease is one of the leading health problems in dogs. It develops when there is a build-up of bacteria in a dog’s mouth and it causes a ton of pain for your pup. It can lead to long term consequences like inflamed gums and tooth decay or bone loss around the teeth. 

Safe dental chews are a must-have. In conjunction with teeth brushing, dental chews are a great way to keep your dog’s mouth clean. Dental chews are essentially treats that also clean your dog’s teeth. Vets recommend dental chews approved by the Veterinary Oral Hygiene Council (VOHC). Not only are they great for ridding bacteria, but they’re a great snack for satisfying your dog’s need to chew or to reward them.

⚠️ Monitor your dog while they eat their dental chews to prevent choking or difficulty swallowing.

5. How and what to feed your pup 🍗

From how much to feed your dog to what to feed them, your furry friend’s diet is one of the most important contributing factors to their wellbeing. 

Health diets vary greatly from dog to dog

Every dog needs a slightly different diet depending on their needs. One of the things a dog owner must do is get to know your new pet’s dietary needs. Generally healthy dog diets may include the following foods: 

  • Commercial foods. Must meet all of a dog’s nutritional needs (most on the market do)
  • Homemade diets. These include minimally processed ingredients and foods such as select proteins, vegetables, and healthy carbohydrates. Vitamins may be needed in conjunction to make sure meals are balanced.

Some dogs, specifically those with GI related issues, require special diets. If your dog has a sensitive stomach, you should invest in specific foods, most of which have very few ingredients. Your vet should be your first point of contact when deciding on the best diet for your pup. 

⚠️ Watch out for the following ingredients that could be toxic for dogs: chocolate, xylitol, avocado, grapes, raisins, onions, garlic, and macadamia nuts.

Learn the right portions to feed your dog

The rule of thumb is to feed dogs under six months three or four times a day, while adult dogs should only eat twice a day. Puppies need more food to stimulate healthy growth. They also need essential minerals like calcium to support their bones. The weight of your dog will help you to determine portion sizes. 

You shouldn’t overfeed your dog in order to prevent illnesses like obesity. Dogs with stomach issues should follow the eating regimen that the vet prescribes.

Sometimes dogs need a dose of medicine 💊

Occasionally your dog may need to take medicine at home, such as monthly heartworm chews or prescribed medications from the vet. Some human over-the-counter medications are also safe for dogs when they aren’t feeling well.

Benadryl works for allergies and Pepto-Bismol can soothe upset stomachs. The rule of thumb is 1-2 mg of Benadryl for every pound of a dog’s body weight. For Pepto-Bismol, you can typically give your dog 1 tsp for every 10 pounds. You should never self-medicate your dog without consulting your vet.

6. How much time you should spend with your dog

Having a new dog is a full time responsibility. They need training, supervising, feeding, and caring.  You need to make sure you’re spending ample time with your new pup in order to strengthen your bond and to support their wellbeing. Dogs should get at the bare minimum two hours of social time with their owner each day. Puppies typically need even more time for training, socializing, playing, and ample exercise.

👉 Consider signing your dog up for sessions with a local dog trainer in your area to help with basic obedience and socialization. 

Some breeds do better on their own than others

There are certain dogs that can stand to be alone for longer periods of time. These breeds may be worth looking into for those potential dog owners who spend most of their days in the office or outside of the home. The following breeds tend to be independent and require less exercise throughout the day: 

  • Chihuahua
  • French bulldog 
  • Maltese 
  • Whippet
  • Greyhound

7. How to create a healthy routine and lifestyle for your dog

Routines are essential for promoting a dog’s health, happiness, and longevity. It’s helpful for your dog to know when they will go outside, when they will eat, and when it’s time to sleep. Try to stick to the same schedule, even on the weekends. If you establish a routine for your pup, they will be much easier to train and happier in turn.

Daily walks and physical activity

Dogs have energy and zoomies to get out — and they need exercise for their health. All dogs should get somewhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours of exercise daily. While exercise for dogs not only combats illnesses such as obesity, it also prevents naughty and destructive behavior. Larger breeds may need even more exercise. The following breeds are examples of those that need the most daily exercise:

  • Retrievers
  • Huskies
  • Standard poodles 

Brachycephalic breeds, like pugs and bulldogs, need the least amount of exercise. This is due to their flattened muzzles which cause difficulty breathing. 

Bored dogs can get into trouble

Yes, that’s right. Dogs get bored. Anxious and bored dogs are more likely to get themselves into trouble. If you can’t play with your dog around the clock, they still need things to do when they’re not sleeping. Both physical exercise and mental stimulation is important for keeping your dog engaged and happy. Consider buying your dog a treat puzzle or other interactive toys. We like this puzzle from Outward Hound which offers three different levels to challenge your pup.

8. How to know something’s wrong when it’s not obvious

Start recording your dog’s daily habits so that when something is up you’ll be able to get them to the vet as quickly as possible. 

Keep an eye on your pup’s poop 💩 We know it doesn’t smell great, but it’s important to pay close attention to your dog’s bowel movements. You can detect all sorts of illnesses and parasites in your dog’s poop. White specks, which appear when your dog has worms, are one of the most common culprits to look out for in dog poop. You should also take note when your dog’s bowel movements seem loose or contain blood.

If they are losing weight — Weight and appetite are another important factor to watch when keeping tabs on your dog’s health. Sometimes, small bits of weight loss can be indicative of dehydration.  If you notice your dog is eating less or they have suddenly lost weight, it’s safe to assume there’s an illness to blame. If your dog loses 10% of their body weight, get them to the vet right away.

9. How to prepare your home 🏠

Getting your home ready for your new dog can be both an exciting and a daunting task. When your pup is learning the rules of the house, it’s important to “puppy-proof” your home. Lock away things that could potentially harm your dog or your home. Establish a puppy zone using baby gates so you don’t have unwanted accidents throughout the house. Remember to be patient when introducing your new pet to young children

👉 Close doors, cover upholstery, hide electrical cords, and keep away your favorite shoes!

Make sure there is a bed waiting for your pup and put something in their space, like a blanket or toy, with a familiar smell to help them feel right at home. You should also have a water and food bowl waiting for your pup. If you’re adopting a puppy, we love this Snuggle Puppy toy to help make your dog’s bed feel cozy and safe. 

Start training from day one so your dog learns the house rules. Call them by their name often. Give your dog verbal cues, acknowledging when they behave well in their new home. You may want to buy some day one essentials like pee pads to help with potty training. And be patient with your pup — they won’t be familiar with their new home overnight.

10. How to be your dog’s lifelong best friend

Being a great dog owner isn’t only about giving them lots of care and attention when they’re puppies. There are several things you should do so that they feel the love every day. 

Rotate their toys — Keep your dog surprised by rotating their old toys with new ones. If it’s within your budget, buy your dog a gift every once in a while! Keep your dog engaged by hiding old toys for a month. 🎾

Remember to reward with treats and hugs — Rewarding with treats and affection is a great way for your dog to feel happy with themselves when they behave. Treats are also very tasty for pups so they will undeniably cheer them up.

Play games with your dog — You should play with your pup often. We know it can be exhausting, but it really goes a long way in establishing a lifelong bond. Sit on the floor and play fetch so you’re at eye level with your dog. Cheer them on when they return the ball to you.

📷 by Andrew Mead

11. How owning a dog is a lifetime commitment

Bringing a dog into your family is both a joy and a responsibility. Future dog owners — be sure you’re ready for all that dog companionship entails before adopting. Your pooch needs lots of love and patience. But with the right care and training, they’ll quickly become your best friend for life.