Getting a new dog is an exciting time. But it can also be confusing. To help you enjoy every minute with your mate, we’ve broken down what you need to know.
There aren’t many things more amazing than bringing home a new dog for the first time. But the start of your canine odyssey can also be pretty overwhelming. The internet is so stuffed full of advice, information, and opinions about raising a happy and healthy dog, it can be hard to know where to begin.
That’s why we created our New Dog Guide to ensure you enjoy every minute with your new mate. Working with trusted dog trainers, behaviorists, and vets we’ve broken down what you need to know now. The result is a set of simple, practical, and helpful tips and articles to ensure you and your pet start off on the best foot (or paw) possible.
So, you’re thinking about getting a dog? Great! We love dogs (obviously). But we know from experience that whether you’re a first time pet parent or a seasoned pro, emotions (and adorable slobbery faces) can easily cloud judgement. It’s worth taking a beat to check that you’re really ready for this commitment. Take our quiz to see if now is the right time to get a dog.
Mostly As: Jump in, you’re ready!
You’re informed, committed, and at a good place in your life. Any dog would be lucky to have you. Keep reading through this guide to help you prepare.
Mostly Bs: Great intentions, bad timing.
You’re a caring, considered person with a lot of love to give but your current circumstances might not work. Read through the guide to consider your options.
Mostly Cs: Read more before you proceed
Hmm… you could do a bit more research. You’re obsessed with the idea of a dog and seem well positioned to get one, but don’t let your heart take over your head. Slow things down and read this guide.
Mostly Ds: Do not get a dog under any circumstance.
You’re better suited to a cactus than a cavoodle. Maybe try a goldfish or some sea monkeys?
We’re going to assume you’ve already done your soul searching and decided that you’re really ready for a dog. You’ve researched breeds, shortlisted some names, and picked out a few ironic dog jumpers. With all that done, it’s time to actually find your perfect pup. That means making the call about whether you want to adopt through a breeder, rescue group, or try your luck online. Each option has its own pros and cons, so let us help you figure out what’s right for you.
Wherever you choose to adopt your dog from, it’s important to do your homework and make sure they’re reputable. This means visiting the space, speaking to people who have adopted from there, and checking for reviews and articles about them online.
Signs of a good organisation include: detailed knowledge of dog health and behaviour, offering ongoing support and training, allowing you to return the dog if there are issues, and a detailed adoption process where they ask you a lot of questions to ensure you’re a suitable pet parent. Trust your gut, if something feels off find another place to adopt from. It might feel like saving a dog from a puppy farm is the kind thing, but in reality you’re only keeping them in business so they can continue exploiting animals.
With advice from Healthy Dog Pod’s Sophie Allan.
If you’re setting up for your new dog, keep this checklist on hand to make sure you’ve got everything ready for them when they walk in the door!
With advice from Healthy Dog Pod’s Sophie Allan.
Puppies find many of the ordinary things that we see (and ignore) everyday very exciting. That pot plant, those socks, that power cable might be boring to you, but they’re fascinating to them. So before you bring your new puppy home it’s worth taking the time to look around your house from their perspective.
Start by deciding what rooms you’ll allow your new dog into. Any space where they’ll be spending time needs to be vetted–including garages and yards. Once you’ve assigned your dog-friendly zones, review them with an eye out for the following items. Any dangerous objects should be removed or placed somewhere high out of reach.
Be very conscious of your cleaning products, medications, household poisons (such as weed killer or rat bait), fertilisers, insecticides, or paints. Think, would I want to eat that? If the answer is “no way” then store them in a locked cupboard or on a high shelf.
Puppies use their mouths to explore new objects, so be wary of any electrical equipment that could give them a shock if chewed. If you can’t remove them, make sure they’re tied up or taped down.
Dogs can easily become tangled in cords or mistake them for a toy during play. This can lead to injuries or strangulation. So make sure they’re tied back or secured away after use.
Many popular house and garden plants can be dangerous to dogs if ingested. Look up the plants you have around your home to see if they’re toxic to pets. If so, make sure they’re removed or out of reach
Pick up anything that may be small enough for them to swallow. This includes things like shoes, socks, rugs, pillows, homewares, and objects with small parts they could gnaw off. Remember, you can’t be too careful. Even soft objects can cause issues.
All the above watch-outs also apply to outside areas. Make sure any garden, courtyard, or balcony is fenced and secure with no holes where pets could escape. Pool fencing is also a must, along with a pool cover.
Pay extra attention to where your pet sleeps to make sure it’s safe and secure. Small rooms, crates, and pens are all good options. But wherever you choose, ensure it’s not in a thoroughfare or an area where there is a lot of movement. You don’t want them to be constantly disturbed, tripped over, or stepped on.
If you want to keep your dog away from dangerous areas for a short period of time or when you’re not around (say if you’re doing house work that involves chemicals), consider using a crate or playpen. To make areas of your home permanently pet-free, you can set up a baby gate.
Doors and cupboards aren’t the only things to keep in mind. Also ensure that washing machine and dryer doors, rubbish bins and toilet lids are all secured too. Trust us, if it’s possible, they’ll find a way to get in.
If you have low cupboards or doors that don’t close securely, and you don’t have time to get them fixed, child proof latches are great as a quick solution.
With advice from Healthy Dog Pod’s Ian Shivers.
The first time you bring your dog home is a chance to set the mood for their whole life with you. Whether they’re a puppy or a rescue coming from unknown or stressful circumstances, positive introductions can set them up for success in the long run.
The awkward truth is that in these first months your dog doesn’t know for sure it’s safe. Their nervous system will be firing on all cylinders as they constantly anticipate change and learn how to fit into this new human world. Give them time to learn, relax, and digest all this information. No wonder dogs need to sleep for 18 hours a day. All that learning is tiring.
We all want our pups to never grow up. But the reality is they grow incredibly fast. Which is why it’s so important to look after their health when they’re young to set them up for a healthy and happy life.
Do puppies really need special food? Absolutely. Not only do growing dogs have more energy requirements compared to adult dogs of the same size, they also have higher needs for key nutritional building blocks. Puppy food should contain additional protein for healthy muscles and organs, fat for energy, and calcium and phosphorus for bones. As well as specific omega 3s (ALA, EPA, DHA) to help brain development. It takes lots of neurons to learn toilet training, tricks, and how to make you do exactly what they want!
Because of these complex requirements, if you decide to make your dog’s food rather than buying it from a trusted brand, you need to get advice from your vet or animal nutritionist.
Some high-quality foods are designed for both puppies and adults. The key is to look for claims like “nutritionally complete for all breeds and life stages”.
Another claim you might spot is “nutritionally complete for all breed and life stages, except for large breed puppies”. Large breed puppies have more growing to do than smaller dogs–think of a great Dane compared to a chihuahua. They also take longer to get to their full size. This creates complications such as too much calcium putting them at risk of bones deformities. If you have a large breed pup always check to make sure their food is designed for them.
Puppies need to eat more often than adults. A 10 week old pup needs four meals a day. After four to six months they can move to three meals a day. Once their growth starts to slow you can drop to twice a day.
It will take a while until your puppy can double as a running buddy or yoga partner. They need time to grow into their body. Young puppies might be yogi flexible, but their joints, muscles, and tendons have to strengthen. Start with short walks and try not to encourage too much jumping or running until they’re a bit older. This is a good conversation to have with your vet and breeder as early exercise levels vary greatly between breeds.
Just like us, your puppy will start with baby teeth. Beware, they’re needle-sharp. You want them to learn quickly that you and your family are not on the menu. There are multiple training methods to do this, and you need to decide early what style works best for you and your pet.
While you can teach an old dog new tricks, puppyhood is the perfect time to normalise behaviours you want to encourage later in life. For example: if you regularly brush your dog’s teeth when they’re young, it’s more likely they’ll enjoy it when they’re older.
Also, don’t get too alarmed if you see some little teeth laying around. They start losing their baby teeth from around four months old.
It’s also important to create positive associations between your puppy, the vet, and the groomer. Ideally they should be comfortable being handled by both of them, but that takes time (and treats). Teaching them to open their mouth on command, be happy getting their claws clipped, and relax around electric clippers and scissors will make your life easier later on.
Adult dogs tend to sleep between 12 to 15 hours per day. With young puppies that can be closer to 20 hours. They need time for their bodies and brains to grow and power their 200 percent energy levels. Crate training is a technique that will help your dog understand when it’s play time (AKA, not 4am) and when it’s sleep time.
You should aim to not have your dog waking you in the night to go to the toilet by the time they’re four months old. Remember, no one is a good dog parent if they don’t get their beauty sleep.
Once you’ve found the perfect dog, it’s time to find the perfect vet. Having a good relationship with the individual who looks after your pet’s health is vital. Together you’ll be able to spot changes in behaviour, appetite, or appearance that could signal potential issues. So take the time to find a vet you trust and click with, and who your pet can grow to feel comfortable around.
To help you prepare for this new journey into the world of vets we checked in with the team at Johnston Street Vet in Fitzroy to get up to speed with the basics.
As pets can’t talk and age faster than we do, we recommend seeing your pet at least once every 12 months. That’s if they have no health concerns. We recommend for dogs over seven years old to have an examination every six months as they are considered “seniors”.
Like with humans, some health issues can make your pet acutely unwell or they can deteriorate quickly. Regular check-ins let us find problems and detect abnormalities so we can act on them fast.
Ideally within the first two weeks of ownership. This way we can give your puppy a full health examination, discuss nutrition, parasite and vaccination schedules, and provide other tips to help you as an owner. There is a lot of information out there, so speaking to a professional about this can help cut out irrelevant and overwhelming info!
During any examination a vet will look at your pet’s entire body system–internally and externally. This begins as soon as you walk into the consult room by assessing their gait (how they walk). Next they check their eyes, ears, and mouth for any abnormalities such as discharge or odour. A full dental and oral examination is performed and we grade your pet’s teeth. The veterinarian will then check your pup’s chest with a stethoscope to listen closely to their heart and lungs.
Then they’ll check your puppy’s skin for lumps and bumps, dryness, itchiness, inflammation, and parasites. Lastly, they look at your puppy’s genitals and rectal area. Worm infestations and fleas can hang around here, the vet will make sure this area is clean and a rectal temperature will be taken.
A previous history and vaccine record is important to see what your puppy has had previously. It’s also important to bring them in on a lead or in a carry cage to ensure you have control and they can’t escape.
A consultation with a veterinarian starts from $78 (at JSVet that is). This is a full examination and time to discuss any concerns you may have about your pet.
Repeated exposure helps reinforce positive association. So come say hi, place your dog on the scales, let them get a treat and a pat before their visit.
For the appointment keep them on lead and bring their favourite treats to allow for better control. Also, be present. People can be distracted and on their mobile phone which makes our job harder when we’re trying to discuss your pet’s health and your pet picks up on this. If you give them (and us) your full attention they’ll be less than likely to play up.
If they’re very unsettled there are also natural aids like Adaptil, Feliway, and Zylkene. These products copy your pet’s natural pheromones when they’re feeling happy. Spraying them on a carrier, bandana, or giving them through food before your visit can help chill out your pet and leave them feeling less stressed in general.
Finding a vet you like can be hard. But they should make you feel comfortable, answer any questions you have, and take into account your decisions and what you think is best for your pet and lifestyle. JSVet is a small independent clinic and we are directly accountable to our clients, making us a bit different to larger corporate clinics.
Ultimately if you are comfortable and at ease when you visit your vet team and need help, your pet will be too. We are always here to help!
With advice from Healthy Dog Pod’s Ian Shivers.
Investing in a good puppy school will not only get you and your pet off to a strong start, but also serve you both well in the long run. Puppy schools help you train your dog and offer a chance to really get to know them outside of the home. They’re a safe space where you can observe your dog interacting with new friends, environments, and gain an insight into their personality. Plus you’re able to do all this while safe in the knowledge that you’re also being set up for success by an experienced trainer.
In the short term, puppy school offers dogs and owners the opportunity to socialise safely and learn the basics of training. But a good puppy school will put more emphasis on the education of the owner than the pup. There is only so much anyone can teach a puppy in that short window of time. But by teaching the owner, we can send them home with the right tools and information to succeed.
The more education dog owners have on behaviour and training, the fewer issues they will have later with their dogs. Most unwanted behaviours are driven by the emotional state and frame of mind the dog is in. So focusing on a dog’s mental, as well as physical, health is the way forward.
Puppy school can be a great emotional support during a joyous but often overwhelming time. Sitting down each week, knowing you’re not in this alone, that others are going through similar issues, while working together and sharing information, can be empowering to owners.
It is worth noting that puppy school may not be for all dogs. Some animals feel overwhelmed and scared in group environments, while others get hyper aroused. This doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with them. Just that they would do best in a different training scenario, such as a one-on-one environment or smaller class.
It’s worth taking your time when deciding what puppy school is right for you and your dog. A good program can set you both up for success, but a poorly run school can be detrimental during this crucial developmental stage of your pet’s life. Here are the key factors to keep in mind when researching puppy schools.
We recommend a maximum of four or five puppies per class. Ideally the trainer has a helper with them also. Think of it as a classroom: it has to be calm so that everyone can concentrate. Too many participants and the atmosphere quickly becomes over stimulating, setting the pups up to learn nothing but hyper arousal. Too few and the dogs may not get the opportunity to interact with new friends and broaden their learning.
Between the ages of three to fifteen weeks your dog’s mind is like a sponge. This is known as the socialisation period and it’s the best time for them to learn about the world and whose in it.
Habituation is about getting them used to different environments and building positive associations. Whereas socialising refers to learning how to react in socially appropriate ways to different animals and people.
A “social dog” isn’t simply friendly to everyone they meet. They have the ability to read and react appropriately to others. Sometimes that means not running up and getting in another animal’s face straight away.
A school that allows dogs to play non stop is not necessarily teaching them to be social, it’s teaching them how to play and potentially not helping them learn to settle and relax in a group environment.
Dog training is about communicating and rewarding the behaviours you want to see from your pet, rather than correcting unwanted behaviours. A good trainer will help you understand how to communicate with your pet so they understand what you want from them.
Using punitive methods and terminology such as “pack leader” and “dominant” are outdated, but many trainers still use these techniques. If your trainer starts employing this language, opt out early before you do more harm than good.
Dog parks can be a lot of fun for pets and owners. But they can also get very tense, very fast. So before you head down, consider these five things to decide if you’re ready to join the pack.
Puppies under the age of 16 weeks aren’t ready for the dog park because they may not be finished with their early inoculations and can be vulnerable to disease. But even older dogs need to keep their health in mind. Check that your dog’s vaccination, flea and heart treatment records are up to date. They’ll also need to be dedesexed: dogs that aren’t spayed or neutered can cause issues among the group (not to mention risk unplanned mattings).
Read up about the park online or swing by without your dog first. This will inform you of specific rules ahead of time. For example, are there areas for different sized dogs? Is it an on or off leash space?
In general, pets that don’t have strong recall skills aren’t ready for the dog park. This means they (always) come when you call, no matter what else is going on.
To decrease the chance of them getting overly excited, don’t take them straight to the park. Go on a walk first where they can burn off extra energy to they arrive in a more relaxed state.
All dogs need to wear a collar and tag with their name and your phone number on it. Make sure their registration information is up to date too. Whether it’s an on or off leash park, they should stay leashed as you enter.
Remember your poop bags. Many parks provide them, but there’s no guarantee they will be stocked up. Leaving mess behind in a communal dog park is a bad move.
Take toys, but not their favourites. Remember, anything you bring could be damaged or snatched by another dog. You don’t want them to become overly possessive or risk losing a special item.
Treats are a great way to reward your dog for good behaviour, but ask before giving them to other pets. You never know who has allergies or special diets.
Ultimately, you’re the one who has the best sense of whether or not your pet is ready for the dog park. Even the sweetest animals in the world can get anxious, overwhelmed, or struggle to properly engage with other pets. Be objective: is your pet going to be a positive presence in this space? Will they make it a good experience for others? If not, that’s ok. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad dog. Just not a dog park dog.
Before heading out to the dog park, make sure you and your pet are ready by completing this handy checklist:
If you answered yes to all these questions, lace up your shoes and head out.
If you said no to any of them, you’re not quite ready for the dog park.
With advice from Healthy Dog Pod’s Sophie Allan.
Dogs are an integral part of family life. So when they’re very new, and spending so much time with us, it can be hard to leave them alone. But it’s important that you do let your dog get used to saying goodbye. Otherwise they may find it difficult to be left alone later on, and could even develop a serious condition called separation anxiety.
To be clear, we’re not talking about a little whining when you head out the door. For dog’s suffering separation anxiety being left alone can bring on something comparable to a full-blown panic attack. It causes their amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for processing emotions and fear) to go into overdrive, creating an imbalance of chemicals and hormones.
Symptoms of separation anxiety include:
Not only is it deeply distressing for the dog, but separation anxiety is also one of the main reasons owners get frustrated with pets and choose to rehome them. It doesn’t only impact new dogs either. Common causes include:
When treating separation anxiety, the goal is to resolve the dog’s underlying stress by teaching them to enjoy, or at least tolerate, being by themselves. Here are a few tips to help you do that–and hopefully leave the house in peace.
Remember, every dog is unique and some may take a while to get used to being alone. Go slow, but don’t leave it too late before asking for professional help from a vet, behaviourist, or a trainer that specialises in anxiety.
A huge thanks to our contributors in this guide to getting a puppy:
Sophie is the Founder of So Help Me Dog and one half of the Healthy Dog Pod. She has always had a passion to work with animals especially dogs ever since she was little wanting to be a vet. Working at the customs breeding facility in reignited her study again when moving to Sydney in 2013.
Ian Shivers founded Bondi Behaviourist in 2015 and is the other half of Healthy Dog Pod. Having worked within rescue organisations and doing one on one consultations since 2007 in England and Australia, Ian has a wealth of experience. His passion is to create a platform for which information on dog behaviour and training can be shared to improve the quality of life for both dogs and dog owners alike.
Johnston Street Veterinary Clinic is a Melbourne veterinary hospital, fully equipped with the latest equipment including a surgical operating theatre, X-ray, ultrasound, anaesthetic equipment, endoscopy, on-site laboratory, orthopedic surgical kit and dental work station. Their philosophy is community-based and one of prevention.
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