There is no greater joy than welcoming a dog into your home. For years I wanted to become a dog mom, but with college and a job that kept me away from the house for 12–14 hours at a time, it was literally impossible to commit to giving a fur baby the love and attention he or she deserved. I grew up with dogs, but a family dog is very different than having your “own” dog. The bond between you and your four-legged family member is so different when you raise them, nurture them and are their pack leader.
As life would have it, after moving with my fiancé into our first apartment, we decided we wanted to add to our little family, and along came Lola, my seven-pound Yorkie, a pint-size piece of love and affection. She was adorable, sweet, an only child and the apple of every single person in our family’s eye. Now that she is 4 years old, I sometimes look back in retrospect and notice things I would do differently, but unfortunately these are things we learn as we go and lessons I can only share with first-time pet owners — or save in my back pocket for if we decide to add to our pack.
1. Say no to people food
I would never give my dog people food if I would have known just what a terrible rabbit hole this would become. It’s important never to introduce your dog to a food you wouldn’t want them to continue to rely on over time. As a puppy, Lola was given natural dog food and did well with it, but gradually I began to think people food would be better for her if I made it myself.
That worked for a short while, but now if I ever want her to return her to dog food to make sure she’s getting everything she needs nutritionally, she looks at the food with disgust and walks away. Yorkies are finicky with food by nature, but it’s so important to start them on a diet you want them to stick to. A few scraps of meat here or there is okay, but keep in mind it’s like human beings introduced to a prime-cut steak and then being given a hot dog the next day — we’re always going to hold out for the steak!
2. Get them socialized
I would have introduced my dog to the concept of dog parks much earlier so that the entire idea of it wouldn’t scare the poop out of her. (Literally, this has happened — not fun.) Now she has what I would call “single-dog syndrome,” because she’s the only dog in the house, which makes it hard for her to feel comfortable in a large area of other dogs. Don’t get me wrong, she loves people and kids, but dogs she could really care less about. I think a lot of that has to do with not putting her in environments with other canines to get acclimated as a puppy.
3. Pet insurance — yes or no?
If I could go back in time, I don’t think I would have spent the money on pet insurance. I learned that most of the things you take your pet to the vet for are not even covered, such as routine visits, shots and vaccines, which is what you spend most of your money on yearly. The only time it really pays out is, heaven forbid, if your dog is in an accident — which, I know, is why they call it insurance. The amount of times that happens far outweighs the amount of the monthly payments, which can be between $40 and $80 per dog. I think at first I wanted to have insurance because I thought if I didn’t I was being a bad “mom,” but over time I have found that even if I had it in the rare instance she gets sick and I have to do an emergency visit, I could easily just put that $50 aside in a savings account to cover those events. Each dog is different, so pet insurance might be smart for you and your pup, but after three years I found it was not helpful or cost-effective for me.
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4. Introduce pet stairs from the get-go
I have a small dog, and it’s difficult for her to get up and down on furniture or a bed at night, plus it’s not good for their joints to jump down on the floor all the time from a pretty decent height. I would’ve introduced the concept of dog stairs early on for my small dog, so she could manage herself. Now, unfortunately, she looks at the stairs and walks completely around them. I’ve tried buying three different styles, but she has no idea what to do with them. Each gets the same treatment: a look, a walk around and a bark to have me put her onto the bed or the couch. This means multiple times throughout the day and night, I have to be on call for when she wants to be picked up, which can sometimes keep us up an extra hour until she settles in to sleep.
5. Quit with the treats
I have to admit I spoiled Lola quite a bit in the treats department. At first, treats were used for training and teaching her tricks, then slowly every time I was in the store I would see something and couldn’t leave without bringing something home. Soon my dog started to associate plastic shopping bags with treats, digging her head into any bag that came in the house, thinking something was in there for her. The issue now is sometimes she wants treats over food.
6. Don’t move things around
It’s important for a dog to have a routine, and that isn’t just when it comes to eating and going outside but where you put their bed and foot bowls. I have moved Lola’s puppy bed a few times, but I have learned to set her up in the places she gravitates toward on her own and leave her things alone. Dogs like structure, so don’t move their sleep/rest and food areas too much.
7. Introduce them to children
It’s important that your dog — especially if it’s small — is around kids early on. Thankfully, my dog loves kids and babies, but we didn’t have any around when we first brought her home. As we consider starting a family, it’s important that your dog is well adjusted to little ones, even if it’s by having him or her join you to visit a friend or family member who has them.
8. Say no to guests giving your dog food and treats
There’s nothing wrong with telling family or friends your “rules” when it comes to your pets. Let them know politely but firmly if you don’t want them to give your dog treats or table food. This happens often when you take your pooch to people’s homes, and they say, “Oh, but she likes this.” Don’t shy away from saying, “Yes, I know, but if she eats that, she may become sick, or she may not want to eat her dog food.” Once you let guests know the first time, they usually won’t break your rules.
Overall, when it comes to dogs, if you don’t start teaching rules when they’re young enough to make them second nature and part of their daily routine, it’s very tough to break those habits. All pets need love, attention and good health, and those are all things we can give. But keep these other things in mind if you plan to add a dog to your family any time soon.