New Dog? Now What? A guide to success for first-time dog owners

December 6, 2021


December 6, 2021

As a new dog owner, you’ve done your homework—you’ve carefully researched potential breeds, types, and temperaments, and scrutinized your budget and lifestyle before visiting possible canine candidates and finding the perfect match. Or, perhaps you haven’t done any of those things—you simply fell in love, led with your heart, and now you find a leash in your hands and a dog at your feet.

As you arrive home with your new dog, the initial excitement gives way to a wave of anxiety—what should you do now?

Keep calm and pet the dog

Apprehension can be normal. Dog ownership can be intimidating, especially when you are a brand new dog owner—suddenly an unfamiliar creature is depending on you for protection, resources, and guidance. Fortunately, your dog doesn’t know that you are learning as you go, so use the following guide to provide expert canine care right from the start.

Begin at home—create a dog-friendly environment

Like any new roommate, you’ll need to make space and special accommodations for your dog. Whether your new canine companion is young or old, treat them like a puppy during their initial transition, which means focusing on supervision, basic resources, and safety.

  • Gather your new dog essentials —If you haven’t already, assemble the most common dog owner supplies. For ease, we’ve divided your purchases into those you need right away, and those you can acquire over your dog’s first few weeks.

Immediate needs:

  • Crate or exercise pen
  • Baby gates
  • Food and treats
  • Collar, leash, and identification tag
  • Bowls
  • Bedding
  • Toys for chewing and playing
  • Kong or similar food-stuffable toy
  • Poop bags and clean-up supplies for accidents

Other needs:

  • Grooming supplies (e.g., brush, shampoo, nail trimmers, toothbrush)
  • Travel gear (e.g., seatbelt or car crate)
  • Puzzle toys
  • Harness


  • Car ramp
  • Pet stairs
  • Seasonal items such as coats and sweaters    
  • Dog-proof your home — Your new dog or puppy may not have any house manners. Protect them from harm by storing or relocating small or fragile items, house plants, and cleaning products out of reach. Remove electrical cords and wiring from your dog’s area. Secure outdoor fencing, and familiarize yourself with common household pet toxins.  
  • Create a safe space for your dog — Dogs with too much freedom can get in a lot of trouble. Restrict your dog to a centrally located room or exercise pen during their initial transition. Create a comfortable, inviting, and safe environment that includes their basic resources and some fun toys.  
  • Appoint a care team — Dogs need to eliminate and exercise on a consistent basis. If multiple family members will be involved in the dog’s care, assign age-appropriate tasks, and set up a schedule. If children will be involved, designate an adult to supervise, to ensure proper care. 

Your new dog’s adjustment period

Some new dogs seem to transition effortlessly to their new home and family. Others need time to learn a new routine, and your expectations, and develop trust. Until then, show your furry stranger patience and understanding, and help them get to know their new world by providing:

  • Consistency and routine — Dogs find comfort and security in patterns and predictability. Housetraining, manners, and basic obedience skills are learned faster when dogs and puppies are kept on a strict schedule. Dedicate yourself to a daily routine, and watch your dog’s good behavior and confidence grow.
  • Clear communication through training — Dogs are constantly learning, so training should begin immediately, to ensure they’re learning the right things. Locate a certified positive reinforcement trainer in your area who teaches classes. Training should be fun, and focus on teaching your dog by rewarding good behavior. Avoid punishment and physical correction, which can damage your dog’s developing confidence, and may lead to fear or aggression.
  • Proper introductions — Don’t be in a hurry to introduce your new dog to everyone or your other pets. While socialization is important, your dog needs to have positive, controlled interactions to ensure success. 
  • Pets should be allowed to view each other from a safe distance, separated by a barrier, until everyone demonstrates relaxed body language. 
  • Introduce one person at a time, and keep your dog on a leash around small or unfamiliar children.
  • Alone time — Bringing your new dog home can be a busy time, but ensure your dog  has some alone time, too. While dogs are pack animals, they must know how to cope with separation, to live a healthy pet life.  Begin with 5- to 10-minute outings while your dog is confined and preoccupied with a filled Kong or similar toy. If your dog exhibits stress or anxiety beyond a little whining, contact your veterinarian.

Care for your new dog’s health and longevity

Dogs are a lifelong commitment, and a large part is maintaining their physical health. Dogs are susceptible to many care-related preventable medical issues that require diligent attention:

  • Visit the veterinarian the first week — Take your new dog and any records or paperwork to your chosen veterinarian to ensure they are healthy, current on vaccinations, microchipped, and parasite-free. Commit to your new dog’s preventive care by always following your veterinarian’s recommendations. Your veterinarian should be your first resource for any dog ownership questions, concerns, or challenges.
  • Give parasite prevention year-round — Deadly canine heartworm disease is transmitted by infected mosquitoes and found in all 50 states. Tick-borne diseases can also have debilitating effects. Ask your veterinarian for preventive recommendations, and never skip a dose.
  • Feed a high quality diet — Initially, keep your new dog on their previous food, if possible, to minimize transition-related stress. After your dog is acclimated and housetrained, ask your veterinarian for a diet recommendation and the exact amount to feed. Keep your dog at a lean body weight, and prevent obesity-related health issues with portion-feeding, and avoiding table-scraps
  • Learn basic canine husbandry skills — Between veterinary visits, your new dog will require routine grooming and maintenance for proper health. Coated breeds should visit the groomer every six to eight weeks. You can also ask your veterinarian or dog trainer to demonstrate the following care skills, so you can perform them at home.
  • Nail trimming
  • Toothbrushing
  • Ear cleaning
  • Basic grooming (e.g., brushing techniques)

Satisfy your new dog’s mental and physical needs

Dogs, like people, require not only daily physical exercise, but also mental stimulation and social interaction, to ensure their total health and wellbeing. Although this may sound daunting, these needs are easily satisfied with dedication and a little creativity. Plus, both dog and owner can have fun, and a well-exercised dog is a well-behaved dog. As you can see, the categories often overlap: 

  • Physical exercise for your dog — Adult dogs enjoy outdoor activities such as walking, running, toy play, swimming, and hiking. If your dog has a knack for athletics, enroll in agility classes or treibball. Expect to provide 20 to 30 minutes of physical activity per day, and more frequent, shorter sessions for puppies.
  • Mental enrichment for your dog — Dogs love a challenge, but dog owners commonly overlook mental exercise. Engage your dog’s mind by:
  • Taking an on-leash, dog-guided sniff-walk in a new area 
  • Enrolling your dog in a special training class, such as trick training or scent work
  • Introducing safe, novel objects to their environment
  • Offering a puzzle toy, or trying some DIY activities, or a snuffle mat

Supervise your dog with new toys to ensure safe play, and prevent choking or ingestion.

  • Get social with your dog —Dogs are companion animals that crave human interaction. Spend quality time with your new dog daily by playing, exercising, or snuggling on the couch. While some dogs enjoy playing and interacting with their own species, many dogs prefer human company, and react poorly with other dogs. Ask your trainer or veterinarian if dog parks or doggy daycare are suitable for your dog.

Challenges and setbacks

New dog owners are often discouraged when their dog’s training or behavior seems to regress. However, setbacks in learning are normal, and do not necessarily indicate failure. Understand that learning is not a linear process, and continue to employ consistent, clear communication.

If your dog’s behavior does not improve, or worsens, have them examined by your veterinarian. Underlying illness or pain can cause altered behavior. If your dog is in good health, your veterinarian may refer you to a behavior specialist for consultation.

As a new dog owner, taking each day at a time and enjoying getting to know your new companion is vital. Dog ownership can bring great happiness and joy, and while your life will never be the same, with a dog by your side, life can be exponentially better. 

Are you searching for the best veterinarian for your new furry friend? VetVet can help you design a customizable search and online scheduling to find veterinary practices near you.

Sources:  Association of Pet Dog Trainers. 2017. Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. 2019. Kealy R, Lawler D, Ballam J, et al. Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2002. May 1;220(9):1315-20. doi: 10.2460/javma.2002.220.1315. Outward Hound. 2021. Fear Free Pets. 2021. The Honest Kitchen. 2016. The Association of Professional Dog Trainers. American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. 2021. American Veterinary Medical Association. 2021.

Stay In Touch

Have a question?

Feel free to get in touch with us anytime.

Disclaimer: Our content is for informational purposes only — it’s not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.