Intro to Dog Care 101

All good pet owners want to take the best possible care of their canine companion. I’ve often wished every pet could come with a special ‘Complete Owner’s Manual’ – specific to each dog. Breeders and rescue groups often provide the new pet owner with some literature and advice; but the amount of resources provided is usually just not sufficient.

As a dog owner, one of your first concerns is most likely the health of your pet.  Be sure to bring your dog to a veterinarian for a check up as soon as you bring him home. The breeder or rescue group should have already done this – but you’ll want to introduce your pet to your vet – and getting another expert opinion on the health of your pup never hurts anyway. If you have not yet chosen a vet, talk to pet owning friends.

Find out what they like about the veterinarian they are using, as well as the things they wish they could change about the experience. Then make an appointment with the vet you think would be the best fit for you and your pet.

You want to work with a veterinarian with whom you can have a good rapport.  Use your first visit as an opportunity to further your ‘education’. Inquire about  vaccines to protect your dog’s health. Also learn about other preventatives you’ll need to use, such as heart worm preventative, which is essential.

If your dog has not yet been spayed or neutered, talk  to your vet about the best time to have this done. (One of the few reasons not to have your pet spayed or neutered would be if you plan to show your dog in AKC conformation competitions.)

Also, you will most likely want to use a flea and tick preventative, so now is the time to find out what your vet suggests.  Never give your dog any medication without instructions from your veterinarian. When your vet does prescribe medication be sure to closely follow the dosage instructions.

*Never* give your pet over the counter human medication. Your vet should check your dog’s teeth at each exam too.  To assure your pet’s dental health be sure to brush your dog’s teeth just as you would a child’s.

You should ask your veterinarian about micro-chipping your pet too (if your breeder or shelter has not already done so.) Micro- chips are as small as a grain of rice, are not painful for your pet, and are fairly inexpensive. Most veterinarian offices and animal shelters now have equipment to scan for microchips. If your pet should ever get loose and wander far from home, this could be the tool that reunites you and your canine companion.

We once found a German Pointer by the side of the road. He had lost his collar somewhere over the many miles he had traveled; but was reunited with his family only because he had been micro-chipped. This is what makes mico-chips so essential.

While micro-chips help to reunite you with a lost pet, there is much more to assuring your pup’s safety. It is never safe for your dog to be outside unsupervised.  If your dog is outside without a lead he faces many dangers.  One danger is being involved in an automobile accident. And this is a double danger, as not only is your canine companion at risk of injury – but the people in the car are at risk as well.

Also, if your dog is outside unattended, he could encounter and be attacked by an aggressive dog.  (This is one reason many people do not approve of ‘invisible’ fences too.) Another danger of having your pup outside unsupervised is that he could ingest a poisonous plant (such as Nightshade) or a poisonous substance (such as anti-freeze) while not under your direct control.

Even inside your home there are many dangers to pets – especially puppies. There could be poisonous plants and household substances inside your home as well. Even toys can pose a safety choking hazard if the toy isn’t properly chosen or supervised. It is safest to confine your puppy even indoors when you cannot directly supervise.  Kennels are great for this purpose.   And crating, combined with close supervision, make house-training easier as well.

You will also need to learn how to groom your dog.  Obviously, some dogs require more grooming than others.  Short hair dogs generally require less grooming than long hair dogs. The group of dogs noted as being ‘non-shedding’ usually have ‘hair’ that continually grows – so they will need to be periodically clipped or trimmed. Since the grooming requirements of each breed vary so greatly, it is probably best to learn about your particular dog’s needs from the breeder from whom you purchased your pet.

If you rescued your pup from a shelter talk to the shelter personnel about this, or contact a local dog club dedicated to your dog’s breed. You could also make an appointment with a professional groomer and have the groomer give you tips on regular grooming. Be sure to ask the groomer to demonstrate proper ear care and nail clipping too. In general, most dogs need weekly grooming – dogs with higher maintenance coats may need daily grooming.  You should begin getting your dog accustomed to being handled and groomed as soon as possible.  Dogs should view grooming as fun – not as something to try to avoid. Your pet, your vet, and your dog groomer will all thank you in the long run!

Dogs also need training and exercise.  These will not only be opportunities to make and keep your dog healthy and well behaved, they are great bonding opportunities too. It is best to start with a puppy socialization class – frequently called puppy kindergarten. Puppies should not come into contact with other dogs until the puppy has had all its inoculations. It is generally safe though for your puppy to attend puppy training classes with other healthy puppies – who are all being kept current on their vaccination schedule.


Dog training should be an ongoing process. It is important to continue training your dog, on a day to day basis, so that he will behave appropriately and be a pleasure (rather than a nuisance) for you and all those he encounters.  I’m sure you want your dog to be a source of pride as well as a canine good citizen.  You may even want to work on obtaining the AKC designation: CGC (Canine Good Citizen.) Play and exercise are necessary too. They are important for your pup’s physical health as well as his mental health and well-being.

Play and exercise will also aid in the dog training process, and, of course, the human / canine bonding process too. Your dog will respond best to you if you have bonded well through play and activities.  Your dog should come to view *you* as the greatest/most fun person in the world – someone he would do anything to please.  Learn all you can about training and caring for your canine companion to increase the long term enjoyment you will both share for many years to come.