Tips for getting your first dog

Pet ownership has soared in recent years, with more than half of UK households owning at least one pet in 2020/21. But pet ownership is not something that should be taken lightly, and preparations need to begin well in advance of bringing a dog into your home.

From doing your research on the different types of breeds to buying dog insurance, there’s a lot to think about before picking your first pup.

Unfortunately, not enough pet owners are giving it adequate thought, with the Dog’s Trust reporting a 35% post-lockdown increase in calls related to giving up dogs for adoption.

Owen Sharp, the charity's chief executive, said: "Following the boom in pet ownership during the pandemic, which saw millions of us delighting in the companionship of a dog, today's figures have sadly come as no surprise to us.

"As owners' circumstances change, puppies grow into boisterous 'teenagers' and as the country unlocks, many owners are being forced to reconsider the place in their lives for their pet."

The RSPCA says that everyone thinking of getting their first dog should take some time to understand just how much of a commitment it’s going to be – and to be honest with themselves about whether they have the capacity to look after it with the level of care required.

That brings us to our first tip…

Speak to other dog owners first

Pretty much everyone knows someone who owns a dog. A good place to start is to grab them for a chat, quizzing them on everything from the costs associated with dog ownership to how much care they require.

The idea is to get a feel for whether dog ownership is right for you – and it’s fine to admit when it isn’t. It’s much better to make an informed decision against pet ownership than to go out and buy a dog, only to give them up a few months later.

If you don’t know anyone who you can put your questions to, you can always go on a pet forum, where there will be plenty of dog owners who are more than happy to provide some honest answers.

Dog on sofa

Research the different breeds

Lots of prospective dog owners have an idea of what breed they want, while others are unsure – all they know is that they want a dog! However, it’s important to keep an open mind on breeds, or else you could end up buying a dog that doesn’t fit in with your lifestyle.

All breeds are different, requiring varying amounts of exercise, attention and care. For example, some breeds, like Beagles, need two hours of exercise each day, which for some people will be more than they have time for.

Unfortunately, some breeds are more vulnerable to developing a health condition than others, which could prove an issue for households which are short on funds. While dog insurance can cover many health issues, if it’s a pre-existing condition, protection can be hard to come by.

So, make sure you do your research on the different dog breeds. Try not to be led by looks so much, but by a dog’s temperament and needs. 

Buy your puppy responsibly

No owner sets out to buy a dog irresponsibly, but it’s easy to be led down a path thinking you’re getting one thing, and then get something else altogether.

If you end up being ‘dog-fished’ i.e., buying a dog which is not what it seems, you could find yourself with a pup that has all kinds of health problems. Poorly bred puppies often get sick in their first year and many owners suffer emotional and financial hardships as they try to set their dogs straight.

We have written an entire guide on how to buy a puppy responsibly, and have also produced some tips on avoiding a pet scam. So, there’s no reason why you should be led down the garden path by dodgy dog breeders.

Get stocked up on supplies

It’s all been fairly serious stuff up until now, but getting a puppy for the first time should be exciting. One of the best things about getting a puppy is being able to fill your home with everything a dog needs.

So, prior to their arrival, take a trip to a pet shop (it’s much better to get it in person rather than online, in our opinion) and get some supplies. The Blue Cross suggests you should look for:

  • A suitable, comfy bed
  • Food bowl
  • Water bowl (that won’t easily tip up!)
  • Lead or harness
  • A plain-buckle collar with an ID tag. This is a legal requirement for dogs in the UK.
  • Toys for playtime
  • Toys for helping to clean their teeth
  • Crate for sleeping or travelling

If you’re working on a budget, it can pay to shop around rather than buying everything from the same pet store.

Make sure you get the right food

Dogs love their food – some breeds more than others! It’s easy to over-feed a dog for this very reason, or give them the wrong kinds of foods – dogs can be very persuasive when they want to be.

However, it’s important to be informed on what the best food is to give your dog and what things you should guard against giving them. If your dog eats the wrong thing, it can give them an upset stomach (or worse) requiring a trip to the vets, which is rarely cheap.

A healthy diet – as long as it’s teamed with adequate exercise – will also ensure your dog maintains a healthy weight. Obesity can lead to all kinds of serious health issues, so it’s essential that you take the time to understand what food is best for your breed and size of dog.

If you’re unsure, your vet will usually be happy to point you in the right direction. There’s often breed-specific food you can buy, which will have guidelines on how much to give your dog depending on their age and activity levels.

Choose your vet

Speaking of vets, now’s a good time to think about which of the local veterinary practices in your area you would like to put your dog in the care of when they are sick, or simply needing a check-up or their vaccinations.

If you’re lucky, you might have been given a personal recommendation, but don’t just take it blindly, as convenient an option as that might be.

As part of your own research, look at the vet’s opening hours, especially it’s emergency treatment availability. If your dog needs to be rushed in, outside of opening hours, you might be referred to a 24-hour practice. If this practice is more than a short drive away, you might want to reconsider, as the last thing you want is to have to drive miles in order to get your dog seen in an emergency.

Vets

Book up some dog training sessions

If you’re buying a puppy, it goes without saying that you’ll need to get them in for some professional training – at least, if you want to stand a chance of them listening to your commands!

On a serious note, things like recall training are essential from a dog safety point of view. If your dog ends up catching something in their sight that they want to chase, it’s crucial that you’re able to get your dog to come back with a simple command.

There have been occasions when dogs have run across busy roads, with their helpless owners unable to do anything about it. Unfortunately, such events can end tragically or with the dog requiring treatment for a serious injury.

Prior to the arrival of your dog, observe a few classes. And remember to book your new pup in for some sessions early on, as they can prove very popular.

Dog training classes aren’t regulated, so they can vary in quality. The proof is usually in the pudding – do sessions look well-organised or do they descend into chaos?

Something to keep in mind: “Blue Cross only recommends taking a class where the trainer uses modern science-backed training methods, which focus on rewarding a dog using praise, food and play for doing well rather than punishment when they don’t get it right.” Avoid trainers who use pinch or choke collars, too.

Take some time off work to help them settle in

One of the big issues with people buying dogs during lockdown is that they have spent all day, every day with their new addition – no bad thing in itself, but now many people are getting back to the workplace, this means their dog is being left at home for hours on end.

Dogs are social creatures and, ideally, would have the company of the pack for every minute of the day – but obviously this is not always possible. If they are not acclimatised to spending time on their own, they can suffer from separation anxiety, which can lead to destructive behaviour.

The last thing you want after a busy day at work is to come home and find your sofa has been ripped to shreds. Taking some time off work to welcome your new arrival allows you to prepare your dog for when you’re not around. Start gradually, leaving your dog for five minutes, working up to longer and longer spells, to a maximum of four hours.

If you work eight-hour shifts or longer, you will need to ensure that somebody can come in and sit with your dog or take them out for a walk, to break up the day. If this is not going to be possible, you will seriously need to re-evaluate whether a dog is the right pet for you.

Understand your legal rights and responsibilities

Owning a dog is a big responsibility. It’s not something that should be taken lightly, and there are laws and etiquette that you need to know so that you don’t land yourself in trouble.

The first law to be aware of will come into effect as soon as you collect your new pup. When bringing them home, make sure they are “suitably restrained”, as per the Highway Code, so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves if you stop quickly.

“A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars,” the Highway Code explains.

Other laws of note include excessive barking (if it causes “a material interference with the comfort and enjoyment of another’s home”); the Dangerous Dog Act; and The Animal Welfare Act. It’s worth doing a bit of light reading around the laws – but most owners are conscientious and the application of common sense usually suffices.

Dog on Lead

Look after your dog’s health with specialist dog insurance

Last, but by no means least, you want to ensure you’re protected with some comprehensive dog insurance cover. With the right cover, you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to cover treatment costs should your dog get ill or injured – the insurer will help you pick up the bill.

At Purely Pets, we make it easy for dog owners looking to take out dog insurance. We know it can be a bit of a minefield with all the different types, which is why we only offer one simple type – Lifetime cover.

Lifetime cover means that your dog will be protected throughout its years with you. So, if your pet was to develop a condition early in their life, you can claim – up to the benefit limit imposed in the policy – for any ongoing treatment, provided that you keep renewing your policy every year.

Before deciding which type of dog or puppy insurance cover is right for you, it’s always worth getting a few quotes. Purely Pets can provide you with an online quote in just a few clicks.

Benefits of choosing dog insurance through Purely Pets include:

  • 24-Hour Vet Helpline
  • Excess from £60
  • Online customer policy management

Get a quote for pet insurance today.

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.