Having a companion dog can be a wonderful and joyful part of your life but is also a big commitment and responsibility; they require care and understanding, shelter, a balanced diet, daily exercise, veterinary care, training, enrichment, and more.
When you are bringing a new dog into your family there are many things you will need to consider. A good place to start is by taking your dog to the vet to make sure that all of their vaccinations are up to date and to talk about the basics of dog care.
For everyone who cares for a dog the following are some important things to consider:
Dogs should be provided with a clean, comfortable, and safe environment which meets their physical and mental needs.
Where dogs have access to an outdoor backyard area this must be escape-proof and include sheltered areas to protect the dog against weather extremes such as the wind, rain, cold, heat, sun etc.
You should let your dog sleep inside, if they would prefer to, and where this is possible and safe. Avoid leaving a dog with children unsupervised.
If it is not possible to allow a dog to sleep indoors, a well-built, well-furnished, and weatherproof kennel with comfortable and warm bedding should be provided. Kennels should be warm, dry and draught-free, off the ground near the house, and not in a thoroughfare.
The kennel should be protected from rain and excessive sun. Ideally the roof of the kennel should be hinged to make cleaning easier. Washable rugs, cushions or blankets should be used for extra comfort and warmth and bedding should be cleaned regularly.
Household and garden dangers
Every year many dogs suffer from health problems caused by their environment. Their human companions are often shocked (and horrified) when they discover that their dog has been exposed to a danger in their own home, often a danger they were not aware of.
Have a look at these articles for more information on household and garden dangers for your dog:
Behavioural interactions and enrichment
Dogs also need appropriate opportunities to express behaviours that are rewarding to them, and which include choice, control, and positive challenges. This helps the dog to experience good welfare and avoid negative experiences (e.g. frustration) and the development of abnormal behaviours.
It is important to provide your dog with appropriate opportunities for positive interactions with other animals, humans, and the environment. This includes the early introduction of suitable socialisation and reward-based training – see the section below on socialisation and training).
If it also important that you understand your dog’s behaviour and how to communicate with them. See this article for more information: “How do I communicate with my dog?”
Enrichment involves mentally and physically stimulating activities that engage an animal’s mind, body, and senses (e.g., smell, taste, sound, smell, touch). Enrichment is essential for the physical and mental health of all dogs and allows them to engage in natural behaviours (e.g., smelling things, playing, digging, running, exploring, and interacting socially). It allows dogs to do the things that are inherent to being a dog. See the article “Why is enrichment important for dogs?” for more information.
Socialisation and training
Early appropriate socialisation and reward-based training are essential for dogs – these help them to experience good welfare and develop behaviour that is appropriate to their lifestyle as a companion animal. Owners should proactively socialise their puppies and dogs in a safe and positive way – see this article for more information.
Puppies have a ‘critical socialisation period’ between about 3-17 weeks of age. Puppy preschool is highly recommended as a starting point. Classes are usually available through veterinary clinics for puppies from 11-12 weeks of age. You can also take your puppy to meet with the puppies and dogs of your friends and family, either at your house or their house. But you should make sure that the other dogs and puppies are friendly, healthy and up-to-date with their vaccinations.
Training methods for puppies and dogs should be based on reward-based and training positive reinforcement.
Reward-based training is enjoyable for the dog and positively enhances the relationship between the dog and handler. This approach revolves around positive reinforcement – i.e. rewarding behaviour that we like. Rewards may be in the form of a tasty food treat or verbal praise such as “good dog!” in a pleasant tone of voice, to be given when the dog performs the ‘good’ behaviour.
Reward-based training also involves generally ignoring any ‘unwanted’ behaviours. In this way, the dog is not rewarded for any unwanted behaviour. If dogs are not rewarded (i.e. receives no attention or treats) for a certain behaviour, then they tend to stop doing it.
Aversive methods/devices and physical punishment must not be used in training programs. Punishing a dog for ‘unwanted’ behaviour can actually exacerbate the problem.
See these articles for more information:
- Is it important to train my dog? What sort of training would you recommend?
- What is reward-based dog training and why does the RSPCA support it?
Exercise and play
Dogs need regular exercise, at least once a day for most dogs. Forms of exercise can include walks, off leash runs, and structured play. Ideally, dogs should be given the opportunity for off-leash exercise in council designated areas where they can be safely let off the leash. All exercise should be supervised, and the dog kept within calling distance. Dogs should always be under the control of the owner, either physically via a leash or by verbal command. If you know that your dog does not respond to your instructions it is unwise to let him off leash. For information on how to teach your dog recall see this article:
A large backyard will offer the opportunity for some exercise, but this is not a substitute for regular walks where your dog has the opportunity to explore, experience interesting sights, smells and sounds. and socialise with other dogs and with humans if they want to.
Ensuring your dog has ample opportunities to exercise, socialise and engage in activities and interactions they enjoy will help them to experience good welfare and help avoid them feeling frustrated and bored and the associated development of unwanted behaviours such as escaping and destructive behaviours.
Dogs should not be exercised immediately before or after eating as it can cause problems such as bloat (which can be fatal), particularly in deep-chested dogs.
Dogs require a nutritious balanced diet that is tailored to their size, age and any health conditions they might have. Dogs should be fed a high quality premium commercial food. Feed adult dogs at least twice a day. Please see the articles “What should I feed my dog?” and “What should I feed my puppy?” for more information.
Ensure that your dog always has an adequate supply of fresh, clean water.
You can use food as a way to provide your dog with enrichment and mental stimulation. See “Why is enrichment important for dogs?” for more information.
Grooming and bathing
Regular grooming is essential, particularly for long-haired breeds. It is best to get your dog used to grooming early in their dog’s life, using reward-based training so that these necessary activities are an enjoyable bonding activity and part of their routine.
Grooming removes dust, dead skin, loose hairs, grass seeds and tangles.
The need to bathe your dog and how often will depend on the individual and their coat type, skin, health, as well as their amount and type of activity. For example, a dog who regularly swims in the sea and/or rolls in mud will need bathing more often than a dog who does not. When necessary, dogs should be bathed using a shampoo specifically prepared for dogs.
It is important to regularly check your dog’s nails and trim them, or have them trimmed, when needed. Don’t forget to check and trim the dew claws also.
You can ask your veterinarian for guidance on grooming, bathing, and trimming nails for your individual dog.
For more information, see this article: “Why and how should I groom my dog?”
Our pets need regular and consistent dental care to make sure their teeth stay healthy and functional for as long as possible. It is important to take care of your pet’s teeth at home, they also need regular check-ups with a vet to really stay on top of their dental health.
For more information, please see this article: “How should I take care of my cat or dog’s teeth?”
Your dog will require regular (at least annual) visits to the vet for vaccinations and general health checks. Your vet can also advise you about flea, tick, and worm prevention.
If your dog is not already desexed, you should discuss the prevention of unwanted/unplanned breeding with your veterinarian and the best timing and approach (options could include surgical desexing or other safe suitable methods, such as appropriate gonad-sparing surgical or non-surgical sterilisation).
Care for your dog when you are away
If you are away from your home for any period of time and are unable to take your dog with you, you must make arrangements for the care of your dog. Consider what kind of care is most suitable for your dog. There are a number of options to choose from depending on the needs of your individual dog. Some examples of these options include:
- House/pet-sitter – Have a trusted person (e.g., friend, family, neighbour) or house/pet-sitter from a reputable agency stay at your house to care for your dog and provide company and enrichment. This option is ideal for dogs who prefer minimal changes to their environment and routine, and who become stressed by unfamiliar animals and/or environments. If your dog has not met the person before, you can arrange a meet-and-greet beforehand to see if they are compatible.
- Take your dog to stay with a trusted person – Have a friend, family member, neighbour or pet-sitter from a reputable agency care for your dog at their place. If your dog has not been to their place before, you can arrange a visit (ideally with your dog) or short trial stay beforehand to see if this option will work for your dog.
- Boarding facility – Think about whether your dog is likely to cope in a boarding facility environment (e.g., do they get stressed by change or other animals).
If you think this option will work for them, the next step is to find a good boarding facility. Your dog should be safely contained and receive regular attention and exercise in a boarding facility. They will require up-to-date vaccinations, worming and external parasite control to stay at most facilities. For more information about what to consider and how to find a good boarding facility – see this article.
If it is likely that your dog will find the boarding facility environment stressful, one of the other options above may be a better choice for your dog.