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First-Time Dog Owners’ 5 Most Common Mistakes — and How To Avoid Them, According to Vets

Know how to start out on the right foot... or paw.


Are you thinking about bringing a new furry member into your family? There are so many things to consider when adopting a dog: What will you name her? What color should her collar be? What tricks will you teach her? And since those things are so fun and exciting, it’s easy to forget about some of the more important things that will ensure a safe and comfortable transition for your new family member. To help you out, we asked some veterinarians about the top mistakes that first-time dog owners make with their brand new buddies — and what you can do to avoid them. 

Top Mistake #1: Not Dog-Proofing Your House

Before you bring your new dog home, remember that she’s never been there before. She doesn’t know what’s safe, what’s dangerous, and what areas are off-limits — so you need to dog-proof your house ahead of time, says Pumpkin veterinary expert Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM. “Protect your dog by looking at your home from their level — what can they get into? Keep cleaning products, chocolate, toxins (like rat poison), prescription and recreational drugs, and anything else your dog can get into out of reach or in closed cabinets they cannot access,” she recommends.

Top Mistake #2: Not Getting Supplies Beforehand

You may think you have time to run out and get dog supplies after you’ve brought your furry friend home, but that’s probably not true. Spot isn’t quietly and politely entering your life; she’s hitting the ground running, and she’ll have immediate needs. First-time dog owners need to be ready to roll before she comes home to ensure a comfortable transition for her, recommends Zoetis pet healthcare professional and veterinarian Dr. Heather Berst, DVM. Along with a collar, leash, crate, and pee pads, you’ll also need food — but not just any food.  “Ask the place you’re getting the dog from what food they feed, and have that on hand. You can always switch, but make sure to feed them that same food for the first few weeks to avoid stomach upset,” Dr. Berst says. She also recommends providing a dedicated space for your dog to sleep while she adjusts to her new home, like a certain room or gated area. 

Top Mistake #3: Not Going to the Vet Enough

The veterinary office isn’t just a place you take your new dog if they get sick. It’s also important to take your pup to the vet as soon as possible post-adoption, so your vet can administer vaccinations and preventative parasite medications, plus run tests to make sure your dog is healthy, according to Dr. Berst. She suggests making your pup’s first vet visit a positive one, too, so she doesn’t get nervous for routine care. “Give them treats and praise when you walk in. Let everyone at the vet hospital know it’s your new dog’s first vet visit and they will help make it positive,” she says. 

And don’t stop going after that initial visit! Annual visits are important, since “a year in the life of a dog can be equivalent to 5-7 years of a human’s life, so a lot can change,” Dr. Berst notes. At your dog’s annual visit, the vet will check their weight, lungs, heart, teeth, and vitals, and then run any additional tests that might be helpful for your dog’s health. 

Top Mistake #4: Not Getting Pet Insurance 

No matter how careful you are as an owner, accidents can happen, and your dog may get illnesses and injuries. Keep an emergency pet first-aid kit on hand at home and in your car, says Dr. Wooten; this kit should contain items like non-stick bandages, tape, gauze, cotton balls, antibiotic ointment, hydrogen peroxide, tweezers, and more. She also notes the importance of pet insurance, to ease the financial pain of your dogs’ mishaps. “If your puppy gets hurt or sick, a pet insurance plan could reimburse you for a portion of any eligible veterinary expenses for the unexpected accident or illness, making it easier to help them get the care they need to recover,” she explains.

When it comes to caring for your pet, watch this video to find out What You Need to Know about Pet Insurance.

Top Mistake #5: Not Socializing Your Dog

We get it, first-time dog owners: It may be tempting to curl up on the couch with your new dog and not leave your house for the foreseeable future. But exposing Spot to different places, dogs, people, and things will make her more confident, reducing the chance that she’ll be nervous or aggressive in unfamiliar situations, says Dr. Wooten. She recommends using the rule of seven: “Experience seven new things every day, and make the experiences positive with praise and treats.” Just be sure your dog is fully vaccinated before venturing out into the world. 

There’s important socializing to be done at home, too, says Dr. Berst. Introducing your new dog to other family members and pets in the correct way is vital for everyone’s well-being. A rushed, uncontrolled introduction can cause long-lasting damage. “Bad introductions, especially to other pets, can really challenge relationships for a long time,” Dr. Berst says. “You are better off going slow and talking to your veterinarian or trainer before you bring your new dog home to make sure you do it correctly.”

Adopting a dog is a huge milestone. Remember to keep her safe and healthy — and to take a lot of pictures! They grow too fast!

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