There’s very little that can compare with that warm feeling of protective love when you first cuddle a new puppy or sit with a rehomed dog so desperately in need of a new start in life. However, setting aside the emotional highs that accompany that decision, there are some practical issues that we really do have to think through before bringing a new dog into our homes.
Some of them are just obvious – such as the need to check that dogs are allowed if you are renting your home; many landlords have pet exclusion clauses in their rental agreements and some apartments have such an exclusion clause in their purchase terms, especially those where large country houses have been divided into several units but with shared common areas. Some retirement homes allow you to take an existing pet with you but will not allow another pet when that dog passes away.
This short article discounts the basic questions such as “Is a dog the right pet for our lifestyle?” or “Have we chosen the right breed of dog for our lifestyle?” or “Are allergy issues something we need to address before we start? or, even, “Can we afford a dog?” on the assumption that these issues have already been properly thought through. Despite being the most important issues to resolve, you might be surprised by the number of people who have simply ignored these key issues, or that the normal life expectancy of a dog is around twelve to fourteen years, so this is a long-term commitment!
So, let’s look at some practical things to consider now you’ve chosen to take on a puppy – or even an older dog.
Introducing a new pet into your household will inevitably mean a period of adjustment for you, your family and the dog. We all have long-standing routines in our daily lives and, while it seems natural to assume that the dog will just fit in with these, some considerable time and effort will be needed to ensure that the dog is socialized within your family group. Puppies need regular feeding with frequent, small meals for the first few weeks and also frequent toilet breaks, so someone will need to be available to assist with, and supervise, these essential needs. If you are a few months pregnant, or have a toddler at home, you may think you are available, but can you properly give the new dog the time it needs to acclimatise without causing other problems elsewhere?
A friend, who is a van driver, recently took on a rescue border collie with the intention of taking the dog with him each day on his delivery rounds only to find that the dog was terrified of the van and proved to be travel sick on the shortest journey – a consideration he had simply not considered.
We also need to be fair to other pets who may already be in our homes; few cats take kindly to the introduction of a dog, even a puppy, and this is a situation that needs careful management if the cat is not to pack its bags and seek a new home elsewhere. Similarly, older dogs do not always react well to the introduction of an energetic puppy and bringing a high energy breed of dog into a household where the older dog has become comfortable with shorter periods of exercise will inevitably cause problems for one or other of the dogs unless you are able to commit to walking the dogs separately at each exercise break during the day.
Introducing a new dog into homes where children are present is also an area which requires significant planning and constant supervision to ensure the safety of all concerned – including the dog! There’s lots of good advice available online concerning this issue and taking the time to prepare properly will make the whole process far easier and safer.
Preparation for the introduction of a new dog is a really good idea and it takes just a few minutes to draw up a checklist of things to consider and this takes all the guesswork out of the process.
Things to consider include:
- Veterinary check
- Suitable sized crate
- If at all possible, obtain a piece of material that smells of the puppy’s mother to place within the crate
- Warm, washable bedding
- Suitable food for the life stage of the pet (continuing with the food that the dog has already been eating is a good place to start)
- Bowls for food and water (the latter should be big enough to hold enough water for a whole day)
- Collar or harness and lead
- Identity disc with your contact telephone number engraved
- Poo bags
- A variety of toys suitable for chewing
- Puppy pads are a great start in the toilet training process
- A suitable, safe, comfortable means of securing the dog on your way home from collecting him
- Cleaning materials for when the inevitable accidents happen
Booking an appointment at your local vet for an immediate health check to discuss essential issues (such as vaccinations, parasites, feeding, microchipping – now a legal requirement –and neutering) should be the first and most urgent consideration.
Pet insurance is an absolute necessity, both to cover your unexpected vet bills and to provide third party cover in the event that your dog might cause an accident. This is another issue to discuss with your vet who will not want to recommend any specific policy but can tell you what to look for if you seek to compare premium prices. Policies may look the same on a search engine, but they can vary significantly in what is covered and to what extent.
Your checklist should also include all those things that a dog will need in your home.
You may have already decided that the dog will share your sofa and sleep on your bed but, even then, a new dog in your home will need a safe place of his or her own. Getting a crate is a really good idea, at least for the first few months, but ensure that you get one large enough for the dog to stretch out and be comfortable in, bearing in mind that young puppies grow very rapidly! If you cover the top and sides of the crate with a bath towel or some other similar covering, this provides a darker, more secure space for the dog.
This safe space is really important as a place to escape from the unwanted attention of children, other pets or even the noise and chaos of a busy family home. Some people remove the crate after a few months, but others find that their dog needs the comfort and security of their own den.
The other side of the coin is that young dogs need a lot of mental stimulation and it’s not unusual for dogs to deal with this by chewing – without any consideration of the value that any chewed articles may hold for you! Energetic play, with or without your participation, can easily damage furniture, shoes, glass, woodwork, carpets and kitchen units so take care to pet-proof your home: leaving the dog unattended requires serious consideration. Remember that animals also need mental stimulation (as well as space) to occupy themselves without discomfort. We can only leave our dogs unattended for short periods; never more than three or four hours at a time (and even less than that for puppies) and when we do so, they need space, plenty of toys and access to water and toilet facilities. Never leave a new dog unattended in the same space with children or with another strange dog.
Puppies are incurably inquisitive so please make sure that potentially harmful things (such as medicines, chemicals, live electrical supplies or sharp objects) are put outside the puppy’s reach, along with clothing, shoes and school books!
Remember that strange places, strange people, strange smells and strange noises, not to forget the trauma of a dog’s first exposure to the wider world (cars and sounds of traffic en route to your home), will be scary for any dog and kind, gentle behaviour is the very least that we can do to offer our new dogs the very best start in their new lives. We also need to remember that a new dog won’t yet know our house rules and all kinds of accidents will happen! Kindness and patience will always prove to be the best approach and, contrary to our default thinking, raised voices and impatient behaviour do nothing to aid a puppy’s training.