A guide for first-time dog owners

Bringing a four-legged friend home for the first time can be super exciting, but it’s also a lot to take in for you both! We’ve pulled together all our best tips to help first-time dog owners.

Before getting a dog, you need to make sure you can meet their 5 Welfare Needs. This means you have to make sure you can provide everything they’ll need to be happy and healthy and, well, just be a dog! You’ll need to make sure you have enough time for a new dog, think about how much they’ll cost and make sure you budget for this.

Your vet or vet nurse can give you lots of advice to help you find your perfect pet before you get them based on your lifestyle and needs, so it’s always worth having a chat with them.

Where you get your dog from can have a big impact on their health and wellbeing. We’d recommend checking reputable rescue centres first as you might find your perfect pal in one and you’ll be giving a home to a dog without one. Do lots of research into the dog you are thinking of getting to make sure they fit in with your home and lifestyle – you can take our quiz to get you started.

If you are buying a puppy from a breeder, beware of puppy farms. We’d recommend using the puppy contract to help you find your perfect pup from a good and responsible breeder. We’d recommend using a Kennel Club Assured breeder as they need to meet higher standards.

Once you’ve chosen your new furry friend and are sure they’re right for you, it’s time to get started!


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Bringing your new dog home

Cute brown puppy lying on bed with green turtle teddy

The first thing you’ll need to do after choosing your pet and making sure they’re right for you is to dog-proof your home. You’ll need to make sure your dog has their own area set up and that anything harmful is well out of paws’ reach!

If there are any areas of your house you don’t want your dog going (or you want to limit when they can and can’t go in them) you might want to look at installing baby gates. These are a great way of teaching your dog where they can and can’t go. They’ll also enable your dog to see you if you go into a room they’re not allowed in (which can be very reassuring for them). You can read more about creating a dog-friendly home on our advice pages.

You’ll need to make sure you have a dog-friendly garden. If you’re getting your dog from a rescue centre, they’ll often come and check that your home is suitable and tell you how you can improve it. It’s important to make sure your garden is secure and that there are no harmful plants where your dog can reach.


Helping your new dog settle in

Yellow Labrador lying on cream-coloured bed looking into the camera

Before bringing your new dog home, check out our handy checklist to make sure you have all the supplies you’ll need. New places can be overwhelming for some dogs so you’ll need to make sure everything is nice and calm at home on the day they arrive. You might want to limit them to one or two rooms in the house at first so they can get used to everything slowly in their own time.

Plug-in diffusers that release calming pheromones can be good for the first few weeks. These release hormones that won’t harm your dog but will help them to feel more relaxed around the home.

It’s important to get your dog into a routine as soon as possible to help them settle. Try to feed and walk them at the same time every day. Make sure their microchip details are up to date and that they are fully vaccinated before you take your dog out into the big wide world! You can read more advice on helping a new dog settle on our advice pages.


Feeding your dog

Cocker Spaniel puppy eating from a white porcelain dog food bowl

It can be tricky to know what to feed a new dog. Diet is really important in keeping them slim and healthy so we’d always recommend a complete, commercial dog food appropriate for their age. The adoption centre or breeder should be able to advise you on what food your dog was already eating and how much. If you’re unsure, speak to your vet or vet nurse.

There are lots of different types of diet for dogs out there. If you’re thinking of changing your dog’s food, always make sure they’ll still be getting all the nutrients they need and change their food over slowly to avoid stomach upsets.


Exercising your dog

Young yellow Labrador walking in the countryside with its owner

Each dog has different exercise needs depending on their age, breed and health. You can take a look at our rough guide, but speak to your vet or vet nurse who will be able to give you accurate advice individual to your dog.

There are lots of different ways you could exercise your dog, but remember they’ll need at least one walk a day to make sure they stay happy. There are even exercises you can do together!

If you’re getting a puppy, you may need to go easy on the exercise at first. Puppies have very different exercise needs to adult dogs so it’s important to keep this in mind.

Make sure your dog is fully vaccinated before taking them out for walks. You might also want to brush up on laws every dog owner should know.


Training your dog

Shiba Inu sat on the grass looking eagerly up at its owner

Whether you’re bringing home a puppy or an older dog, there’s a good chance they might need some training! You should always use positive, reward-based training when teaching your dog new things. This way the two of you will bond and they’ll see training as something really fun to do.

A lot of owners think about toilet training first! Some older dogs may already be housetrained, but you might find you need to brush up on this training regardless. Always be patient and never shout at your dog if they have an accident.

We’ve got some great advice on teaching your dog the basics (sit, off and working on their recall). You might also want to think about training your dog not to pull on the lead so you can enjoy walks together out and about.


Good to know

Black Labrador peering over fence while resting both paws on it

We have lots of handy advice on our website to help you take the best care of your furry friend. We’ve even put together some puppy FAQs for new owners.

If you have any questions about your new pet, your vet or vet nurse will always be happy to help (so remember to get them registered as soon as possible!). We also have lots of advice about different symptoms and conditions on our PetWise Pet Health Hub.

You might want to brush up on canine body language, too. Our dogs tell us a lot through their body language, so being able to recognise if they are happy, sad or stressed is really important.