The Ultimate Dog Care Guide: Owning and Caring For Your First Dog!

My name is Leah Spaulding, and I am here to guide you on your journey with a new dog.

I am the Vice President of a Pet Nonprofit Organization, I worked for three years at a holistic pet store, and I have helped train many dogs of all life stages.

Before I begin, the main ingredients for having a dog are simple: understanding their needs, and having the compassion to ensure those needs are met.

In return, dogs provide us with limitless love, laughter, and joy. They will be the first one to welcome you when you get home from work and the one that gets you out of the house to have an adventure.

Your cellphone will be full of cute pictures of them, which you’ll share with anyone that will look.

1. Things to Consider Before Getting a Dog!

Before you get a dog, there are many factors to take into account before bringing a dog home. It is important to determine if your lifestyle fits having a fur-child.

Dogs are a commitment of many years and they depend on you for their needs.

Dogs Cost Money

Adoption or purchasing costs are just the beginning–there are also the costs of vaccinations, preventative care, pet insurance, toys, food and more.

According to the ASPCA, the first year after bringing home a dog averages at about $1,750. Each year after that will average at about $900 a year(1).

It is important to evaluate your finances and your job stability to ensure your dog’s needs will be properly met.

Dogs Need Time

Telling the timeGenerally, dogs shouldn’t be left alone longer than four to six hours as an adult. Puppies and some dogs require constant care.

Ensuring you and family members are home enough is crucial for dogs so they can relieve themselves outside and socialize.

When you travel, accommodations will have to be made for your dog as well.

Living Space

Determining whether your living space is suited for a furry friend is extremely important.

If you rent your home, are there any pet restrictions? Is there space for the dog to play? Is there a yard?

Are there other pets that will need to be introduced to your new dog? These are important questions to ask yourself before bringing a pet home.

A note on “outside dogs”:  if you are specifically looking for a dog to be an “outside dog,” please know that dogs have been bred throughout time away from their wolfish qualities.

They are domesticated and depend on humans to take care of them. Dogs want to be a part of our home and our family.

2. Dog Selection: Where Should You Get Your Dog From?

If you’ve considered the important factors of dog-ownership and feel that it is the right time to bring a fur-child into your life, congratulations.

You have moved on to the next step: Dog selection. Will you adopt a dog from a shelter or purchase a puppy from a breeder? What breed will you choose?

Adopting a Dog From Shelters

As a pet advocate, I will always encourage adoption. Shelters are full of wonderful pets that need homes.

Contrary to popular belief, you can often find puppies, well-trained dogs, and even purebred dogs at the shelter if that is what you are looking for.

If you are at a shelter and find a dog that you like, take the time to evaluate their file. You can also ask if you can take the dog for a walk to see how they interact.

Often, dogs act differently in the shelter, so it’s important to see what they’re like outside before you decide to take them home.

You can also interview volunteers and employees of the shelter that have interacted with the dog for their input.

Shelter workers may have an idea of how the dog interacts with other dogs and cats as well, which may help your decision if you have other pets at home.

Getting a Dog From Reputable Breeders

Dog with tongue out

If you have your heart set on getting a puppy from a breeder, there are some important things to keep in mind.

Reputable breeders care deeply about the dogs that they raise and want to ensure they are going to the right homes.

Just as you should be researching the breeders, the breeders should be checking to make sure you are a good match for the dog.

You should also be able to see where the dog is being raised and meet the parents. Take special care to note the conditions where the puppies are kept and the health of the dogs.

Buyer beware if a breeder asks to meet you in a parking lot. In addition, puppies should not be sold younger than eight weeks old.

If you choose to purchase a dog from a breeder, ask them questions about their experience with the breed and the personality traits of the breeding pair.

They may also already have an idea of which puppies are shy and which are more outgoing. By the time dogs are eight weeks old, they should start showing their unique personalities.

Getting Your Dog From Pet Stores? (A No No)

Do not buy a dog from a pet store. According to the Humane Society of the United States, “the suppliers of pet store puppies are largely puppy mills, commercial facilities that mass-produce puppies for sale.” (2)

The issue of stores selling puppy mill dogs is a moral issue, but it is also a consumer issue.

Puppy mill dogs do not come from healthy breeding pairs that have had all of their nutritional needs met–and the puppies they produce generally grow up to have health and behavioral issues.

This does not apply to pet stores that have a humane model and host adoptions from legitimate shelters.

My non profit, Their Voice, helps to educate the community on the issue of puppy mills and educate community leaders to pass bans on the sale of puppy mill dogs. We have helped to get the ban passed in three local cities, the first three in Washington State to do so.

If you are interested in banning the sale of puppy mill dogs where you live, I encourage you to write to your council members and community leaders and spreading the word about the dangers buying a dog at the pet store!

Now that you’ve decided what route you would like to go in for obtaining your dog, it’s time to consider what breed or mix of breeds suits you as well as the age group.

3. Dog Selection: Understanding The 7 Groups of Dogs

There are seven groups that dogs are categorized into that can help to narrow your search for the right breed.

There is the herding group, the terrier group, the toy group, the working group, the hound group, the sporting group, and the non-sporting group.

The Herding Group

Smiling dogThe herding group includes dogs that have a history of working on farms moving livestock.

Some examples of herding dogs include the border collie, the Australian cattle dog, and the German shepherd.

Dogs in the herding group are generally intelligent, loyal, and high-energy. They require a household with the energy to keep up and space to play and run.

The Terrier Group

The terrier group has a multitude of breeds that were originally bred for hunting small game. They are typically small, spirited, and affectionate. I have a rat terrier, and he is a wonderful mix of playful and cuddly.

Other examples of terriers include the Yorkshire terrier, Jack Russell terrier, and the American hairless terrier.

Like the herding group, they will need their humans to be active and room to roam.

The Toy Group

The toy group includes the smallest dogs of the seven groups.

The chihuahua, Italian greyhound, pug, and Pomeranian are some toy breeds.

They are spunky dogs that love to be cuddled in your lap, and they are a great choice if your living space is on the small side.

The Working Group

Dogs in the working group were bred to perform a task. They have a history of assisting humans in jobs ranging from pulling carts, herding, pulling sleds, tracking, guarding, and more.

Some representatives of the working group include the boxer, the Doberman pinscher, the mastiff, and the Siberian husky.

They are alert, protective, and smart. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), however, they “may not be for the first-time dog owner.”(3)

The Hound Group

The hound group includes breeds like the beagle, dachshund, and whippet.

There are a variety of shapes and sizes hounds come in, but they all have ancestral DNA from dogs bred for hunting. Some of them may have a characteristic bay, like the beagle and basset hound.

Hounds can be divided into two categories: sighthounds, which use their keen eyesight and speed to hunt, and scenthounds, which follow their powerful noses.

Since the hound group is so diverse, there are many personality traits a hound dog could have, but they are likely to be energetic and trusting.

The Sporting Group

The sporting group of dogs includes dogs that were bred for assisting hunters and retrieving.

They love exercise and have great instincts.

Examples of sporting dogs include the golden retriever, the labrador retriever, and the pointer.

They tend to be active and loyal dogs.

The Non-Sporting Group

The non-sporting group is the category for any dog that doesn’t fit any of the others. For that reason, they are hard to characterize because it is the most diverse group of the seven.

Perhaps if the other groups don’t resonate with you, a dog from the non-sporting group will be right for you.

Some examples of non-sporting dogs include the dalmatian, the bulldog, the poodle, and the American Eskimo dog.

4. Dog Selection: Which Dog is Right For You?

Smiling old dogThere are pros and cons to every age group of dogs.

Puppies are yours to train how you prefer, and you will get to watch them grow and mature, though there is something to be said about the difficulties one can face potty-training them and going through the teething phase.

A young adult will be past those growing pains, and they will still be eager to play and learn tricks.

Adopting an older dog from the pound can also be very rewarding–they are wise, probably already trained, and just want to hang out with you.

Older dogs are often overlooked at the pound, but have a lot of love to give.

Once you’ve narrowed your search to a group and age, it’s time to investigate which specific breed suits your lifestyle.

Things to consider include their breed-specific activity level, lifespan, size, costs, friendliness with kids and other pets, grooming, trainability, and personality traits.

I encourage you to research using the internet, books from your local library, and personal accounts from friends and family.

You can search by dog breed, age, and location on Pet Finder

Officially pets features a wealth of knowledge on breeds and breed comparisons. 

5. How to Prepare For a New Dog

Once you’ve accepted the responsibilities of bringing a new dog home, it’s time to prepare to bring a dog home. Ensuring your home is properly set up for your dog is a crucial step.  

Making sure your family is on the same page for training is important for integration. If you are bringing a puppy home, special care is especially needed.

Essential Dog Supplies

There are many dog supplies that you will need to get, necessities include:

  • Food and water bowl
  • Collar
  • A 4-6 foot leash
  • Dog shampoo
  • Nail-trimmers
  • Plastic poop bags
  • First-aid items
  • Toothbrush
  • Dog-safe enzymatic toothpaste, read our recommendations for the best dog toothpaste here
  • A pooper-scooper
  • Toys
  • An ID tag
  • Grooming supplies
  • An enzymatic cleaner
  • Food
  • Training treats

You may also consider purchasing a pet bed if you are not sharing your personal bed and a hard carrier crate for travel.

Dog First Aid Kit

Putting together a dog first-aid kit is a must for an unexpected pet emergency. According to the ASPCA, your kit should contain the following:

  • Absorbent gauze pads
  • Adhesive tape
  • Cotton balls
  • Fresh 3% hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting (always check with veterinarian or animal poison control before giving to your pet)
  • Injured dog[an instant] icepack
  • Disposable gloves
  • Scissors with blunt end
  • Tweezers
  • OTC antibiotic ointment
  • Oral syringe or turkey baster
  • Liquid dishwashing detergent (for bathing)
  • Towels
  • Small flashlight
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Styptic powder
  • Saline eye solution
  • Artificial tear gel.

I also highly recommend putting a list of your veterinarian’s contact information as well as the nearest emergency vet and keeping it on the fridge or somewhere you can find easily.

If there is an emergency, you don’t want to be scrambling to find things.

Put everything together in a pet emergency bag and keep it somewhere you can grab quickly. You will be grateful you did.

Dog ID Tag

What to put on an ID tag is simple. Include the best phone number for you–usually your cell phone number–along with your dog’s name on the tag.

If you are comfortable with it, you can also include your home address. For more information and useful tips on dog tags, click here!

Making sure your dog’s tags are up-to-date with current information is important. If you move or get a new phone number, remember to get a new tag engraved.

Dog Grooming

Small not groomed dog Grooming supplies depend on your dog’s coat and individual grooming needs.

If you have a short-haired, smooth-coated dog like a chihuahua, you may only invest in a comb that you use very occasionally.

If you have a dog with a thick undercoat like a husky, getting an undercoat deshedding tool is a must.

For more on grooming your dog, click here!

If you have a dog like a standard poodle, you may opt out of getting grooming supplies and instead take them to a groomer regularly.

Finding The Right Dog Food

Picking a dog food can be a daunting task. I studied pet nutrition for three years working at a holistic pet store, and in my experience, a few ingredients should be avoided.

Ingredients I recommend avoiding include wheat, corn, soy, and animal-byproducts.

Though dogs are omnivores, they have not adapted to eating grains as humans have.

Animal-byproducts should be avoided because the source of the meat is not indicated.

I recommend finding a dog food with a specific meat listed as the first ingredient.

I strongly recommend going with brands found at small, holistic pet stores over big-box stores, because small stores tend to research brands before stocking them on their shelves.

There is very little regulation on pet food, so buyer beware if the food is suspiciously cheap.

Entertaining Your Dog: Dog Toys

Choosing dog toys can be a hard task at first. What will your new dog like to play with? I always recommend starting with a few basics.

You can always get more once you learn what your dog likes! If the dog is past puppy-hood, grab a durable-looking stuffed toy and maybe a rubber toy.

If you have a puppy, look for toys geared toward teething that have “nubs” on them–they will massage your puppy’s gums!

Avoid any stringed toys until you learn how your dog plays–ingesting string is dangerous. Never leave toys unattended with a new dog until you know how they behave.

Training Treats

Training treats are a must for any new dog. They are a very useful tool for positive reinforcement.

Look for a low-calorie training treat that is small like kibble. That way, you can use many in a day and not upset your dog’s stomach.

Like my recommendation for dog food, I recommend treats that do not have wheat, corn, soy, or meat-byproducts listed in the ingredient panel.

Here’s a couple of brand I like:

Alternatively, if your dog is food-driven enough, you can use their kibble as training treats, making them work for their food. 

The House Rules

Older age dogHaving a plan for training in your household is a must.

Decide with your family if your dog is allowed on the furniture and on beds. Decide if there are any places that will be off-limits to your dog.

Agreeing on the boundaries for your new dog and being on the same page with everyone in your family is crucial.

If there are inconsistencies in training, it can be very confusing for your dog.

6. What to Expect When Bringing Your Dog Home?

When you adopt a dog from a Shelter, some steps may be taken before you can take them home.

These may include a mandatory neuter/spay program, microchipping, or vaccinations. When you fill out paperwork to adopt a dog, a shelter representative will go over what to expect. If they don’t, feel free to ask.

When I adopted my rat terrier, they had him neutered and microchipped the day before I could pick him up. They gave me a list of instructions for his post-surgery care.

You can also expect the dog to experience a range of reactions to his or her new environment, including nervousness, excitement, or fear. Take special care to ensure the dog is coming home to a peaceful place.

Acclimation to your home environment can be tough when you have other pets or young children.

That being said, there are steps you can take to make the process smooth as possible if you plan ahead.

7. Introducing Your New Dog to Your Resident Dog(s)

Although we set about creating this guide for first time dog owners, you may already have a dog, or other pets at home!

Therefore, the introduction to other dogs should be planned out.

When I moved in with my husband, my rat terrier (Bean) and his wonder-mutt (Bandit) had a very carefully orchestrated introduction–and it payed off wonderfully.

Introduce by Scent

We first introduced them by smell. The blankets that they slept with were switched.

Bean got Bandit’s blanket, and Bandit got Bean’s blanket.

They sniffed with interest, acquainting themselves with the scent.

Introduce by Sound

The next step was to put the dogs in kennels across the house from each other.

They could hear each other and smell each other, but they couldn’t see each other yet.

Let Them Investigate

When one dog was outside, the other one would be free to wander the house, investigate the other kennel, and sniff to their heart’s content.

Meeting on Neutral Ground

Golden labradorIt was time for them to meet each other. The most crucial element of introducing your new dog to your resident dog face-to-face is to set their first impressions outside of the home.

Pet MD recommends “A neighbor’s backyard, a ballpark (when no other dogs or people might interfere), or any other enclosed area” for this meeting place. (9)

When my dogs met, they were on neutral territory, which means Bandit wasn’t worried about guarding his territory.

They dogs were in a safe place, and us humans were standing by in case they didn’t get along. They checked each other out, and have been best friends ever since.

8. Introducing Your Dog to Your Cat(s)

Calm Your Dog

Introduction to Cats Takes Patience, first, take your dog on a long walk and make sure they have had plenty to eat.

This will help to level their mood for introductions.

Let Your Dog Investigate

First, put your cat in a safe place–like a bedroom with the door closed.

Allow the dog to roam around the house, sniff, and investigate.

Controlled Introduction

After that, keep your dog on a leash and with you at all times.

If an interaction happens with the cat, the cat will be able to run away if they are scared.

This may continue for days–keeping the dog on a leash as the two animals learn to interact.

Slow Integration at Their Pace

Eventually, they will come to an understanding, and you can start having short, monitored off-leash moments.

The dog can work it’s way up to being leash-free in the house by earning your trust in those interactions.

9. Introduction to Children

Introduction to children can be a wonderful experience. Kids love dogs–so it seems like introductions will be easy and seamless.

Though that may be the case, it still requires preparation.

The Ground Rules

Sitting down with your child to explain how to interact with a dog is a great first step.

Giving them a guideline on how to interact–how to pet the dog, how to talk to the dog, and to stay calm–will smooth the introduction.


I highly recommend the first interaction to be a walk in the neighborhood followed by a relaxed pet in the living room.

It gives your children and dog time to be next to each other and get acquainted before they are directly interacting.

Of course, all interactions should be closely monitored by you.

10. Bringing Home a Puppy!

Chocolate LabradorWhen you bring home a puppy from a breeder, you will begin the first day of many months babysitting before your dog matures and can be trusted.

The breeder may send you home with dog food that they recommend. They may also ask you ahead of time to pick up supplies, like a pet carrier.

For potty training, my first recommendation is to take your dog outside frequently.

If you have a puppy, you should take your dog out every half an hour to go to the bathroom at first. Potty-training is a much easier process if mistakes are avoided in the house by going outside frequently.

When your dog relieves itself outside, reinforce the good behavior by immediately giving them a training treat and praise. Repeat this until your dog gets it!

Officially Pets has many articles to help guide you through caring for a puppy:

For more on puppy training, click here.

For more on potty training, visit this article.

11. Caring for Your Dog: Health Care

Finding Your Dog a Vet

Choosing a veterinarian can be a difficult choice, but there are a few things you can do to narrow your search.

First, what vets are within a drivable distance that you are comfortable with? Then, what veterinarians have good reviews online and from family and friends?

The internet has numerous websites where users rate their experiences–including Google reviews and Yelp–which you can use as tools to help you seek a vet that is right for you and your pet.

Micro Chipping

Micro chipping is a simple technology that can help identify your dog if it gets lost. It’s the size of a grain of rice.

The process of microchip implantation is also simple: it can be done with a hypodermic needle–just like getting a shot.

If your furry friend turns up at a shelter, someone will scan for a microchip and your dog will be returned.

Neutering or Spaying

Neutering or spaying your dog is recommended by most veterinarians and pet specialists. There are many reasons for this.

First, you will be doing your part to reduce the chance of more puppies in the world when there are already so many waiting for homes in shelters. For more information on this, click here!

Second, you are greatly reducing the chance of your dog getting certain types of cancer, according to the Animal Health Foundation (4). In the case of male dogs, you may also be avoiding aggressive behavior.

The age your dog should be neutered or spayed should be discussed with your veterinarian, as recommendations can vary among breeds.

Typically, however, dogs have the surgery between six and nine months of age.

Dog Vaccinations

A cute white dog

Vaccinations are crucial to protect your dog from preventable diseases.

The core vaccinations recommended by the American Animal Hospital Association include a rabies vaccination, a canine parvovirus vaccination, a distemper vaccination, and a hepatitis vaccination.

Please note that keeping your dog up-to-date on their rabies shot is required by law in all fifty states of America.

There are other important vaccines, and you should discuss whether they are recommended for the area you live and your dog’s specific needs.

These vaccinations include the bordetella shot, the dog flu shot (canine influenza), lyme shot, and leptospirosis shot (5).

Getting Pet Insurance

Insurance is highly recommended, but optional.

Many companies provide pet insurance to provide a safety

net to pet owners for expensive health care costs like unexpected surgery.

There are many to choose from, so it’s good to weigh the pros and cons of what they offer and the cost.

Keeping Your Dog Healthy!

Helping your dog maintain a healthy weight through exercise and proper meal sizes is very important.

Just as it is for humans, being overweight can cause diabetes, high blood-pressure, and joint issues, among other things.

On the other hand, being underweight can weaken the dog’s body greatly. Helping your dog to maintain a healthy weight can add years to their life.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “because excess weight can reduce your pet’s life expectancy by more than two years, keeping your pet trim gives them the best chance of a longer, healthier, and pain-free life.” (10)

Whether your dog is at a good weight doesn’t just depend on the scale, it also matters what a healthy body shape looks like for your specific breed of dog.

If you visit the veterinarian for regular checkups, they will mention if your dog is over or underweight, but you can always ask if you are unsure.

12. New Dog Food? – Potential Issues…

Transitioning food can mean tummy-trouble. Often, bringing a dog home means changing their diet. You can ease the transition a couple of ways.

If you have any of the previous food your dog was given before they came home with you, you can integrate a mix of the food over a span of time.

For instance, you can start with a mix of 75% of the previous food and 25% of the new food for a couple of days, progress into a couple of days of 50% of the previous food, and so on, so forth.

Using Pumpkin

dog eating treatsIf you don’t have access to the previous food, or if your dog is experiencing tummy issues even with mixing the dog food, there is still hope.

Find some pureed pure pumpkin. It can usually be found in packets at your local pet store, but if not, you may be able to find a can of it at the supermarket.

Keep in mind it needs to be pure pumpkin without any added seasonings or other ingredients.

My favorite brand that makes easy-to-use pumpkin pouches is available on Amazon here: Pumpkin Puree Digestive Supplement Pouches For Dogs

If you have a small dog under fifteen pounds, just a half a teaspoon once or twice a day can make all the difference in their digestion.

If the dog is over fifteen pounds, start with a teaspoon once a day, and if it doesn’t help, you can do two a day. Don’t over-do it! A little bit goes a long way.

I compare pumpkin to Pepto Bismol commercials–because it helps all of the same issues (diarrhea, constipation, upset stomach). It seems to simply calm the tummy.

13. Dog Health Problems to be Aware of!

It’s crucial to know when to contact your vet. If you are ever in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to call and ask.

That being said, there are a few things that definitely indicate you should call your vet:

  • Lethargy
  • Whimpering
  • Limping
  • Bleeding
  • Trouble breathing
  • Excessive diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Refusal to drink or eat
  • Seizures

Remember, if it crosses your mind that you may need to involve the veterinarian, go ahead and give them a call.

Your dog relies on you for help and a quick call will let you know what to do.

Canine Cancer

Canine cancer is common, and catching it early is important.

Just like our doctors recommend for us humans, it is important to do routine thorough checks for any lumps, bumps, or abnormalities on your dog’s body. “Cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs over the age of 10,” according to Pet MD (8)

Diabetes in Dogs

Diabetes in dogs comes in two different forms: insulin-deficiency diabetes and insulin-resistance diabetes.

They both increase glucose to dangerously high levels in your dog, which can lead to very serious issues.

Thankfully, it is very treatable with diet, exercise, and injections. As the American Kennel Club puts it, “if your pet is diagnosed with diabetes, don’t panic.

With good veterinary support, you should be able to provide the right care for your pet and ensure you both many more happy years together.” (11)


A dog with fleasIf you live in an area that is prone to fleas, there is preventative care you can do to prevent an infestation. If your area is prone to flea problems as mine is, it can be a troubling thought to encounter fleas.

With the naked eye, you can see fleas as small, brown, oval-shaped pests. Under a microscope, these creatures are horrifying nightmares–and infestations can be likewise.

Preventing fleas from feeling welcome to feast on your pet can be very easy, and there are many options available for you to choose from. Some holistic approaches can be very effective.

Sprinkling pet-safe grade diatomaceous earth in your dog’s fur will make their hair a very unwelcoming environment for fleas, because it is microscopically sharp–though it can’t hurt your pup or you.

As a side note, it has the consistency of baby powder, so a little goes a long way–and if you pat your dog, it will poof into the air! I still recommend using it–and it is safe to use with any other flea treatment.

14. Flea Deterrents

Peppermint and clove sprays are also an effective holistic approach as a flea deterrent.

As a bonus, it smells great and will keep pesky mosquitoes away. This can also be used with any other flea treatment.

Topical Flea Drops

Topical flea drops can be used regularly for flea treatment. They are applied to the back of the neck directly on the skin, and are absorbed in your dog’s bloodstream.

Please keep in mind you are using a pesticide on your pet, and follow the directions carefully.

Many of them can only be used once a month and should not be used with chemical flea shampoos–which also have pesticides in them.

As another word of caution, there are websites dedicated to animals that have been harmed or worse with low-quality flea treatments (typically sold in big box stores with the cheapest price tags).

Because dogs don’t currently have rights, products that are not safe for our pets can remain on the market.

Research carefully to find a topical flea drop company that you trust. A couple companies I would be comfortable to recommend include Advantage II or Frontline.

Your vet may also have brands they recommend and sell at the clinic if doing the application is not something you are comfortable with.

Oral Treatments

Your Veterinarian can help you decide if oral flea medication is an option for your dog.

If your dog has a history of medical issues or allergies, it may not be the best choice, as it cannot just be washed off like a topical treatment.

Flea Collars

A dog looking forwardSome flea collars on the market can be a useful tool to deter fleas. That being said, I don’t personally like them.

They can be very irritating to your dog’s skin and leave angry rings on your beloved pet’s neck. Also, like the topical drops, some flea collars can be dangerous.

If this is the option you would like to go with, research the brands carefully, follow directions, and never use additional pesticide products at the same time.

Flea Shampoo

In my experience, flea baths are worthless. You are scrubbing your dog with pesticides, which means you cannot use another, longer-lasting option when you need to just to kill fleas in the bathtub and give your dog a few flea-free days.

The thing is, anything that suds should kill the fleas, so bathe with a gentle dog shampoo, and then use a flea deterrent that will actually have some lasting effects (up to months).

My Personal Flea Solution…

I have extensive experience troubleshooting flea problems in my town and there were many months when I worked at the pet store where almost every customer came in asking questions about fleas.

If you find black specs in your dog’s fur (flea poop) and see small brown oval bugs crawling on your dog’s skin, your dog most likely has fleas.

My favorite solution is to pair holistic flea treatments with one effective monthly topical product to tackle the problem.

It is safe to use diatomaceous earth in your pet’s fur, like this one: Lumino Organic Diatomaceous Earth For Pets 5 oz.

I also like to supplement that with peppermint spray in the problem areas. I recommend Vets Best Flea & Tick Spray.

15. Dog Allergies: What To Look Out For?

Just like people, dogs can have food allergies. The most common allergies seen in dogs are wheat, corn, and soy.

In my experience, the dogs that are most prone to have food allergies are pitbulls and labradors.

What does a food allergy look like? Typically, food allergies present in a few tell-tale signs: irritated and itchy ears and feet.

Your dog will lick his or her feet frequently and seem to suffer from chronic ear infections. If these issues are occuring, you may have a dog with a food allergy.

Try eliminating those common allergen from your dog’s diet for a few months and see if they improve.

Ensure that the ingredients have been eliminated from snacks and treats as well. I’ve seen complete transformations with some dogs just by slightly changing their diet.

There are also medications your veterinarian can prescribe to lessen skin irritation like prednisone.

Hotspots are irritated, sometimes raw-looking areas of the skin. Dogs won’t want to leave it alone, insisting on scratching or gnawing at it relentlessly–making them worse over time.

If you notice a hotspot on your dog, it should be washed with antibacterial soap and kept dry until you can see a vet.

Normally, hotspots are an indicator of an allergy, which your veterinarian should be able to help you pinpoint the cause and treat the issue.

Kennel Cough

A dog with its tongue outKennel Cough is a very contagious respiratory disease typically spread at boarding facilities and dog parks.

It is characterized by a runny nose, sneezing, lethargy, and a low-grade fever.

It may sound like the common cold for us, but it can be a serious issue for dogs if it leads to a secondary infection, if your dog has a weak immune system, or if they are under six months old.

Normally, symptoms will dissipate within a couple of weeks, but it’s critical to let your vet know as soon as you see any of those symptoms, as they could be indicators of a more serious health issue.

There is a vaccination for kennel cough that you may want to consider if your dog is exposed to other dogs often.

Some more good news–many boarding facilities and doggy daycares now require the vaccination.

Canine Parvovirus

Parvovirus is a dangerous and deadly viral disease that prevents a dog’s body from absorbing nutrients properly.

It is spread by coming into contact with a dog carrying the disease, so it is crucial to keep any unvaccinated puppies away from strange dogs or areas where strange dogs roam.

Pet MD has this to say: “Young puppies should be vaccinated beginning at six weeks of age, with at least two vaccines after 10 weeks of age, and should not be socialized with unknown dogs until at least two weeks after their third vaccination.” (12)


Periodontal Disease is a preventable disease that is caused by plaque build-up on your dog’s teeth.

Over time, the build-up enflames your dog’s gums and can cause many other health issues, even affecting your dog’s organs.

As I said before, this is entirely preventable by brushing your dog’s teeth regularly. For instructions on how to clean your dog’s teeth, click here!


Rabies is a preventable disease often spread by biting. It is characterized by changes in behavior and frothy saliva, among other things.

It is a very scary fast-progressing disease that affects dog’s brains. That being said, it is entirely preventable with a simple vaccine, and the vaccination is required by law in most countries.

When your vet reminds you that your dog needs another rabies vaccination, take it seriously. Keeping your dog up to date on vaccinations is a part of being a responsible dog owner.


Ringworm is actually a fungal infection, despite the name. It appears as a ring-shaped welt on the skin and it is spread when your dog comes into direct contact with an infected animal, person, or thing.

It is very treatable, and your veterinarian will be able to recommend the best course of action.


Roundworms are the most common parasite for dogs to have. Sometimes dogs get the parasite from eating small animals like mice.

Puppies can be born with it or get it from their mother’s milk.

As stated by the Pets & Parasites Organization, “to get rid of roundworms that are passed from the mother dog, puppies should be treated at 2, 4, 6, and 8 weeks of age and then receive a preventive treatment monthly.”


Tapeworms are a parasite that lives in the intestines.

They are typically carried by fleas, so using flea prevention can also protect your dog from it.

Your veterinarian will ask for occasional stool samples to test for parasites, and if your dog does have something, rest assured they are very treatable.

16. Training Your Dog

A dog with a toy in its mouth

Training your dog is VERY important. It’s often recommended to take you new dog to training classes, especially if it’s your first time owning a dog!

However, there are common commands that you can learn to teach your dog by yourself.

Teaching Your Dog to Sit

Sit is a very easy command to teach. Using a training treat, hold the treat above the dogs head by its nose and move your hand in an upward motion.

As your dog follows your hand, its neck and head will lean back, and the dog will eventually sit. This may take patience.

Once your dog sits, reward them immediately with a training treat and praise. Practice this every day until they get it!

Teaching Your Dog to Stay

Stay is an important thing for your dog to know. I recommend teaching your dog this once they know sit.

Have them sit, and take a step back. If they stay seated, give them the treat. Next time, take two steps. Repeat until you can leave the room.

Your dog knowing stay will give you the peace of mind knowing that if there are dangers or distractions nearby, your dog will follow your voice commands and remain near you.

Training is helpful for first-time pet owners as well as seasoned ones. Learning the basics and beyond is beneficial for both you and your pup.

Again, taking your dog to a professional dog trainer is advised. However, there are some online dog training programs that can offer you a helping hand.

I highly recommend Brain Training for Dogs, which focuses on force-free positive reinforcement training backed by science. (7) As a plus, it comes with a money-back guarantee to work for your pup.

Here is Officially Pet’s detailed analysis by a certified trainer on the Brain Training for Dogs Course for more information!

17. Dog Behavioral Issues

It’s important to note that you should ALWAYS consult a trained dog behaviorist if your dog shows any sign of aggression or unhealthy habits.

Below are some behavioural issues that you may notice with you dog.

Destructive Behaviour

Dealing with destruction takes troubleshooting. If your dog is being destructive, it is important to determine the trigger. Usually, it comes down to anxiety, boredom, restlessness, or a mix of those.

Please remember that your dog will not understand if they are being scolded for something they did, only that they are scared by your tone and body language.

Instead of negative reinforcement, which is not effective, focus on reinforcing good behavior with treats.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a very common behavioral issue for dogs. They love to be around us, and when we are gone, they can get anxious.

Some useful ways to lessen their anxiety is by reducing the length of time they are left alone, giving them regular exercise and mental stimulation, playing classical music, and using natural calming remedies.

As stated by Pet MD, “melatonin is a hormone that occurs naturally in the bodies of pets and people. As a supplement, it can help us and our canine companions relax, de-stress, and sleep.” (6)

Before using any natural remedy like melatonin, discuss it with your veterinarian.

Excessive Barking

Barking is a way dogs communicate, but excessive barking is a behavioral problem that can be addressed.

When I worked at the pet store, I would often have customers asking what to do about a dog that barked too much.

If your dog barks when neighbors pass by the fence or someone rings the doorbell, understand that your dog believes he or she is protecting you and the members of your home by alerting you.

Using positive reinforcement, you can reward good behavior. With a lot of patience, excessive barking can be a thing of the past.

Mental Stimulation For Dogs

A german shepherdIf your dog is destructive due to boredom, they need more mental stimulation.

Getting puzzle toys, playing mental-stimulation games, making your dog work for their food, and teaching them new tricks are all great ways to exercise your dog’s mind and reduce destructive behavior.

There are a plethora of mental-stimulation games that you can play with your pup to curb destructive behavior.

You will wear out your dog’s brain the way math class did to you as a kid in elementary school! It is fun to make your own, as the sky is the limit.

The Ball Game:

One idea is to use a muffin tin and balls. Put treats in all or some of the holes, and place balls over them.

Your dog will have to get the balls out of the holes to get to the treats.

The Cup Game:

Another idea is to play the “cup game” using three cups. Place three cups upside down on the floor and put a treat under one.

Move the cups around. Once you stop shuffling the cups, your dog will sniff or paw at a cup. Reveal what’s under the one they indicate.

Another idea is to place kibble under one of their blankets or an old towel. This one is a simple one for the dogs that have trouble with the more complicated games.

Extra Tips

Teaching your pooch to respect boundaries like the door can be an effective tool to reduce barking and anxiety when guests come to your home.

Before you let your dog outside, teach them to sit patiently before you open the door.

Changing routines can also be an effective tool in deterring barking. Observing what triggers your dog to bark and changing the scenario can change their thinking.

If they bark when your kids are roughhousing, for instance, encourage your kids to play outside.

18. Caring For Old Age Dogs

I have a thirteen-year-old dog, so I am no stranger to having an elderly dog. Just like people, dogs get aches and pains as they get older–triggered by normal day-to-day activity.

My vet encourages us to let my dog Bandit exercise as much as he wants.

She says he should “use it, or lose it”–meaning elderly dogs can lose muscle-mass in their old age, and it’s important to find the right balance for your dog between taking it easy and staying fit.

My dog sleeps a lot, but he still plays in short bursts throughout the day.

There are many options available to make your elderly pup more comfortable.

You can give your dog daily massages, supplement their diet with joint-health supplements, prescription anti-inflammatories or pain medication, or even CBD oil (though controversial).

The right path for your dog’s health should be discussed with a veterinarian you trust.

The Ultimate Dog Guide: Final Thoughts

Smiling dogIt is so exciting to bring a new dog home, and you have made the responsible choice by researching a comprehensive guide!

Welcoming a new pup is a big responsibility, but it is worth the years of unconditional love, laughter, and joy that they will bring to your life.

Congratulations on taking the next step to welcoming a new member of the family into your home and thank you for trusting me to guide you on your journey!

If you have any comments or questions, please leave them below! We’re happy to help out! 🙂

Resources used in the article:













Brain Training for Dogs