The Ultimate Guide to Keeping Your First Dog

Welcome to Gifted Geek’s Ultimate Guide For Newbie Dog Owners.

Keeping a pet dog can be an extremely rewarding experience but if you’ve never lived in a home with a dog before, where do you begin? And how can you keep your pet and family safe?

The guide below is created specifically for new dog owners and covers topics such as foodstuffs and plants that are harmful to dogs, the importance of socialisation and exercise tips.

The information on this page is detailed and in-depth, we think it’s a great resource.

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Are You Ready to Own Your First Dog?

Did you know that the average cost to keep a dog for its entire life is around £22,000? And that is a conservative estimate for a small dog. Source: Job Prices

While owning and caring for a pet dog can be a rewarding experience, it certainly isn’t cheap.

As a general rule of thumb, the bigger the dog, the more it will cost.

Certain breeds are also notorious for having health problems and will require particular diet food, health supplements and drugs; often this will be for their entire life.

If your budget is limited and money is an issue, we suggest you thoroughly research various breeds of dog before choosing one.

For example; mixed breeds/mutts, spaniels and collies are well-known for being healthy dogs while bulldogs often require expensive surgery for breathing and hip problems, which can develop at a very young age.

Be realistic about what you can afford. It wouldn’t be fair on your dog if you couldn’t afford the surgery or ongoing healthcare costs.

Choosing Your First Dog: Trainability and Breed Type

The Intelligence of Dogs is a book on dog intelligence written by Stanley Coren.

In this book, Stanley lists 138 dog breeds by how easy they are to train.

For example; border collies, poodles and German Shepherds are considered the brightest dogs and require around 5 repetitions to learn a new command.

At the opposite end of the scale are Bulldogs, Beagles and Mastiffs which typically require 80-100+ repetitions to learn a command.

The book is an excellent read and should go some way to helping new owners find their ideal dog.

Of course, trainability doesn’t tell you everything about a dog’s personality.

For example; Spaniels are considered bright and easy to train but often dislike being left alone and can become distressed, chew and howl until their owners return.

Stanley Coren’s guide to dog trainability is a good starting point, but any newbie dog owner should also delve deeper into the breed specifics.

An excellent site to explore is The American Kennel Club; you can compare breeds side by side here.

Things to look out for are:

  • Energy levels and the amount of daily exercise needed
  • General health considerations
  • How the breed generally interacts with other animals and children
  • How much space the breed typically needs
  • Whether the breed is likely to bark, yap and chase
  • Also explore how much the breed drools, sheds hair and smells*

*For example; Miniature Schnauzers are great for those with allergies as they rarely shed hair and don’t drool.

How to Find a Good Dog Breeder

How puppies are bred and raised in the first few weeks can have a lasting impact on the animal.

Poor care from irresponsible breeders and “puppy farm” operators can lead to poor health, stress, considerable healthcare bills and even a shorter life expectancy.

The RSPCA has created a guide to finding a puppy which is a good read.

The Kennel Club has published an online document with similar advice.

The key points are:

  • Don’t ever feel rushed or pushed into a decision, walk away if you are.
  • The seller should be concerned about the welfare of their puppies and should be asking you questions about your home and experience. Be wary if they want to sell the puppy without asking you any questions.
  • Make sure you see the puppy and mother at the same time.
  • Check their local authority licence if they breed puppies as a business.
  • They should provide you with paperwork for vaccinations, worming and microchipping.

Checklist of Essential Items You’ll Need

Below is a checklist of the essential items we think you’ll need to buy before you bring your first dog home:

Dog Leads:

Harnesses:

Worming Tablets:

Dog Bed:

Dog Tag:

Dog Bowls:

Sleeping Crate:

Toy Selection:

Collars:

First Vet Visit

Unless you move to a new location, chances are you’ll use the same vet throughout your pet’s life so you should take you time finding a local businesses that makes you and your dog feel at ease.

The meeting should be a positive experience for your puppy as they will be returning to the same place again in the future.

The best time to take your new puppy to the vets for its first checkup is as soon as possible. This is usually between 8 and 12 weeks after birth.

The checkup usually involves an ears, eyes and mouth examination and a check of the dog’s limbs and skin.

Your vet will then administer the first of two core vaccinations, the second is usually given a couple of weeks later.

A worming schedule is then established, this usually involves tablets given every two weeks for the first few months before moving onto a monthly and then quarterly schedule.

The vet can also answer any health questions you have about your pet, including the benefits of spaying/neutering.

Spaying and Neutering

Neutering is a surgical procedure, done under anaesthetic or for female dogs via keyhole surgery, to prevent your dog from reproducing.

For female dogs, it’s known as spaying while for male dogs it’s known as castration.

There are additional benefits beyond stopping your dog from reproducing:

  • Ovarian and testicle cancer risk is eliminated.
  • Your dog is less likely to roam.
  • Male dogs are less likely to “hump”.
  • Reduced risk of prostate cancer in male dogs.
  • Reduced hormonal drive and no seasonal behaviour.

The best time to neuter your dog will depend on its breed but is generally at age 6 months.

The cost is around £200 – £250 with female spaying usually at the upper end of that price range.

The Healthy Pet Club has more information about the benefits of dog neutering.

Ongoing Health Treatments

The most common ongoing health treatments required for all dogs are regular worming tablets and flea treatments.

The cost of these medicines is affordable at around £10-15 per month.

It’s not uncommon for dogs to require other, more expensive ongoing health treatments.

Each breed is different, some are prone to hip and joint issues while others experience digestive or skin problems.

We suggest you take the time to research your preferred dog breed before buying your first puppy. The cost of some ongoing treatments can be considerable.

Pet insurance is an option worth considering, the cost is generally quite low for young dogs but increases with age, especially for dogs prone to illnesses and health issues.

Your First Month Together – Early Socialisation

It is essential that you introduce your puppy to as many other dogs, animals, people, sounds and experiences as possible at a young age.

Your goal is to teach your dog that other animals and humans are not a threat.

Dogs that haven’t experienced this socialisation tend to be nervous and fearful and these traits can lead to unpredictable behaviour, including being overly protective, territorial, excessive barking/growling and even biting.

Once a dog has reached maturity, it can be extremely difficult to undo any bad habits it has picked up, so early socialisation is extremely important.

If you’re not sure where to begin, start by going to a few local socialisation classes where you can meet other puppy owners.

In general, you should get out and about as much as possible with your pet and allow strangers to pet, touch and get close to it.

The first month you spend with your puppy is also the best time to set house rules and to reward good behaviour.

A great book to read is Charlotte Schwartz’s Puppy Training which includes a detailed week-by-week guide to obedience and behavioural training:

Puppy training book

Puppy Exercising – How Much is Too Much?

While it’s important that your puppy gets sufficient exercise, you should avoid overworking your pet which can lead to hip, bone and joint problems.

Younger dogs should be walked less than mature dogs.

The Kennel Club advises puppy owners to walk their dog for 5 minutes (twice a day) for every month of age.

So a three-month-old puppy would need walking for 15 minutes, twice a day.

This advice is very general, we would suggest you delve deeper into the specifics of your chosen breed.

Dogs such as Bull Mastiffs are prone to joint problems and should never be over-exercised when young.

Mutts and spaniels are more robust and can usually be exercised for more time when young.

If possible, avoid walking young dogs on hard surfaces such as tarmac and concrete, especially if the breed is prone to hip, bone or joint problems. Grass is a preferable surface, at least until your dog matures.

Don’t forget that tarmac and pavements can get very hot in sunlight, so another good reason to avoid these hard surfaces:

Puppy Proofing Your Home and Garden

Puppies and dogs love to chew, burrow, dig and jump.

Proofing your home and garden is important if you want to protect your pet from escaping and coming to harm.

We have three suggestions for those of you struggling to contain your pet inside the property:

Fence Rollers

Fence roller bars are a great way to stop cats and dogs from jumping over the top of fence panels.

Rocks and Boulders

Placing rocks, boulders and even concrete under fence panels can stop your dog from digging under it.

Dog Gate

A dog gate is a great way to keep your dog out of certain areas of the home, ideal for stubborn dogs in training.

Plants and Foods Harmful to Dogs

Some new dog owners have no idea that foods popular with humans can prove fatal to some animals, as a consequence, many pets become ill.

There are also several household plants that contain toxins, not harmful to humans but could make your dog ill.

Below is our guide to the most common household plants and foodstuffs you should keep away from your pet dog:

Chocolate

Chocolate is extremely harmful to dogs health. A small amount can lead to stomach upsets while more significant amounts can result in tremors, seizures, internal bleeding and heart attacks.

Onions

Onions are particularly toxic to dogs but so are chives and garlic. Watch out for pizza, gravies and chinese leftovers which should never be given to dogs to eat.

Macadamia Nuts

These nuts can cause tremors, depression, vomiting and increased body temperature within 12 hours of digestion and the symptoms can last for up to 48 hours.

Xylitol

Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that you’ll find in many foodstuffs including cakes, sweets and gum. Even small amounts can lead to lethargy, tremors and seizures in dogs.

Vets Now have a more detailed list of harmful foodstuffs here.

Below is a list of plants that you should keep from dogs:

Azalea

In small quantities, Azalea can cause nausia, sickness, vomiting and breathing problems. In large doses in can cause coma and even death.

Crocus

Crocus, if consumed by a dog, can lead to liver and kidney failure. The entire plant is harmful although the toxicity levels are highest in the bulb.

Daffodils

Daffodil bulbs are extremely toxic to dogs and can cause illnesses and symptoms similar to the crocus plant along with a sudden drop in blood pressure..

Kalanchoe

Kalanchoe is a popular houseplant which when ingested can cause stomach upsets and diarrhoea in dogs. Large quantities can lead to heart rhythm problems in your pet.

The Dogs Trust has published a more complete and extremely detailed list of plants dangerous to dogs (PDF format).

Pet Insurance

Insurance can cover the cost of unexpected veterinary bills and is therefore worth considering, especially for younger dogs.

According to the Money Saving Expert site, the average vet bill in 2017 was a whopping £757.

As a general rule of thumb, the older the dog, the higher the cost.

Premiums are also based on the breed, age, existing health conditions and the number of any past insurance claims.

This type of insurance is provided by specialist insurers as well as traditional insurers such as Direct Line and Sainsbury’s Bank.

The Money Saving Expert has some great tips on how to find the best pet insurance.

The Pet Passport

You can get a pet passport from many veterinary surgeries in the UK.

Your dog will need to be microchipped and have up to date vaccinations.

Pet Passports are accepted by all EU countries and also selected other countries listed here.

Move Hub has published an in-depth guide to taking your pet abroad here.

Great Books For Dog Owners

We think these books are a great read and are perfect for newbie dog owners:

Week by Week Puppy Training

Puppy Training For Kids

Brain Games For Dogs

101 Dog Tricks

Where Would You Like to Go Next?

You may also like to explore the best 50 gifts you can buy for a dog owner.

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