4 tips for first-time dog owners

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It can be incredibly rewarding to bring home a new puppy or to rehome a dog, giving it a second chance of happiness. However, there are some things to consider when getting a dog for the first time, says animal behaviour expert Nick Jones, who has helped compile a guide for first-time dog owners.

If you’ve decided to adopt a dog and have found a potential match – how do you prepare yourself and your home for your new pet?

As a first-time dog owner, it’s important to ensure you know as much as possible about your new pet before bringing him home and, ideally, why he was put up for rehoming. Rescue centres will have spent time with the animals in their care, getting to know their likes, dislikes and any potential behavioural issues.

You’ll also want to make sure that your new pet is healthy, so check that any dog you are interested in adopting has had a recent vet check.

1. Best and worst breeds for first-time owners

One of the most common mistakes made by first-time dog owners is to choose the wrong breed. Rather than select a new best friend based on looks, find a dog that will be a good fit for your family in terms of energy levels, exercise requirements and temperament.

For example, the best dog for a first-time owner in an apartment could be a low-energy Greyhound or a Labrador, which are gentle and amenable to training.

The worst dogs for first-time owners are those that are highly energetic and require more physical and mental stimulation than other breeds, such as the Border Collie and Springer Spaniel. And don’t overlook crossbreeds, which can often be more balanced in their behavioural traits and make great dogs for first-time owners.

Also, if you have any other pets, you’ll need to consider how a dog would fit in with them and whether your home environment is suitable. For more information on the different type of breeds available, check out our breeds pages.

2. Bringing your dog home

Your new dog is likely to be unsettled at first because moving from one home to another can cause anxiety. As a result, he’ll need close supervision and guidance in the early days.

It’s important to set some ground rules from day one, such as basic manners during meal times including ‘sit’ and ‘stay’, and not jumping up. You might want to prepare your home for your new pet making certain areas of the house off limits and setting up sensible places for him to sleep, rest and eat.

3. The early days

Whether you’re rehoming a puppy or a dog, in the early days, it’s important to take the time to settle your dog into his new home, so he feels happy and secure. If you have a new puppy, try taking a blanket or something that smells of where he is coming from, so he has something familiar to comfort him. With a puppy, there will also be a lot of training to do during this time.

If you’ve rehomed a dog, you’ll have hopefully been given a behavioural profile of your new pet, highlighting any issues. However, it would be a good idea to carry out your own tests too.

After your dog is used to his new surroundings, and you’re venturing out for the first time, start off with your dog on a short lead. This is so you can find out how he reacts to other dogs and animals, and different people too. Does he walk well on a lead and know some basic training, or do you have some work to do?

Try not to simply take your new dog to the park and let him loose. Use a short lead or a long training line in open public spaces until you’re confident in his behaviour towards other animals and people, and you can be sure he will come back when called.

4. Pet guide for novice owners

  • Ensure meetings with other animals in the home are calm, controlled and positive.
  • Make sure your dog learns to be happy when alone in those early days so that he’s less likely to experience separation anxiety when left. Use treat dispensers or activity toys as a distraction while you’re away.
  • Canine pheromone sprays or diffusers can help relax anxious dogs, which can be useful during the early days.
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