Whole Dog Journal's Blog March 3, 2015

Advice for a First-Time Dog Owner

Posted at 09:00AM - Comments: (33)


My son was lucky enough to land his first job out of college working for a company that allows employees to bring their dogs to work. The company has about 140 employees, and my son tells me that on any given day, about a dozen or so dogs can be found around the office.

He brings his dog to work one or two days a week. Cole, an American Black and Tan Coonhound-mix, is very well behaved, but he’s also about 1 years old – an adolescent – and not ready for “office work” all day, every day. On the days he’s planning on bringing Cole to work, my son gets up early and takes Cole for an extra-long run before work, to help ensure that Cole is relaxed and calm all day, not looking for other dogs (and people!) to play with, or whining with boredom.

I am proud to say that my son reports that he has been told a number of times that his is the best-behaved dog at the office, and that several co-workers have asked for his dog-related advice. One such co-worker went so far as to ask my son for advice on choosing his first-ever dog! While my son is a gifted dog handler – having had to handle dogs for modeling for WDJ since he was five! – he felt a little over his head with this request. So he asked me to help his friend ;)

Via email, I asked his friend/co-worker what he was looking for in a dog; his first response was that he wanted a really friendly dog who enjoys being petted. He’d prefer a dog with a short coat, medium-sized . . . but these were not deal-breakers in the right dog, and he had no breed or sex biases. He did emphasize that he’s never had his own dog before – so what that tells me is that he needs an easy dog, preferably an adult, with either some training or highly trainable, and very well-socialized. He is hoping to be able to bring his dog to work, too, so the dog must be really good with other dogs.

I think I found a good candidate for him at my local shelter; I took some pictures and video of the dog and sent them to him, and he’s interested. We’re planning for them to meet this weekend. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

In the meantime, he asked me one more question via email: “Do you have any suggested readings on preparing for a dog?” And I thought I would put that question to you! If a person had time to read ONE book before bringing their first-ever dog home, what book would you recommend?

And, to take things one step further, if you had ONE piece of advice to share with a first-time dog owner, what would it be?

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Comments (33)

I have read lots of books on dog training and behavior, and I recommend doing this. My most favorite is My Smart Puppy by Sarah Wilson and Brian Kilcommons. I also like Patricia McConnell's and Suzanne Clothier's books--and others. Also, a new dog owner needs to realize that there really is no one best way to train a dog. If he puts in the time and treats the dog kindly he should end up with a happy, well-trained dog.

Posted by: Carolyn Turner | March 13, 2015 9:21 AM    Report this comment

- I do agree with the comment saying: "Books: If someone wanted to read only one book before getting a first dog, my advice would be not to get a dog until they're prepared to put in a lot more thought, effort and research!"

After having had my first rescue shepherd-rottie mutt for 13 years, I adopted a 4 month old German shepherd from North Shore Animal League who had been surrendered by her owners - I was totally unprepared for the difference in temperament (non-stop energy, always alert) and behavior. Brought me back to when I was raising my toddler son - which leads me to the most valuable @pieces of advice.

1 - Puppy proof!!!! All socks, shoes, underwear, loose wires papers. Keep kitchen counters immaculately clean, so dog won't even be tempted to jump up - set that puppy up to succeed!

2 - Socialize!!! go out to the mall sit outside and teach that pup good manners. obedience classes help the dog learn to focus on the owner rather than the other pups - as it should be.

Work hard in the first few years and you will reap the benefits. Good Luck.

Posted by: Em | March 8, 2015 7:25 PM    Report this comment

Advice: very first step - offer to take care of friends' dogs while they travel, need a break, etc. If you haven't had the experience of being 100% responsible to and for another being, you don't know how it will really feel. (skipping happy hours to get home and let your dog out, and so forth). You have to be sure you're really ready for the commitment.

Then, start with a young adult dog - hopefully past the adolescent regression stage. A 2-3 year old dog has a developed personality and you can make a better decision about companionship. Everybody loves puppies and every puppy is loveable! But they are SO much work, and there are so many ways for the new owner to make major mistakes...

Books: If someone wanted to read only one book before getting a first dog, my advice would be not to get a dog until they're prepared to put in a lot more thought, effort and research!
;-)

How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend by the Monks of New Skete is the book that made me realize what we owe our dogs, and therefore delay several years before knowing I was ready. (and that's a good thing!)

Patricia McConnell, YES YES YES - her training books are wonderful, and The Other End of the Leash is deeply insightful.

Sternberg - great; Pryor - really helpful

and if you can find Daniel Tortora's book The Right Dog for You, grab it - It's old, but really interesting. Uses mini personality tests to assess the owner, in order to find a great fitting dog breed. Exercise needs, of course, but also grooming effort, stubbornness, attentiveness, neediness, outgoing/sociability.

Posted by: kelly a | March 5, 2015 5:44 PM    Report this comment

I would recommend Tamar Gellar's "The Loved Dog". My girl is happy, well adjusted, and I am happy with her positive format to training.

Posted by: destinysfate | March 5, 2015 10:39 AM    Report this comment

Without question, the first book I always recommend is Dr. Ian Dunbar's "After Getting Your Puppy" available at no charge from his web site, DogStarDaily. Book is full of insights and "ahha moments" useful to new owners with pups, adolescents, or adult dogs.
Best advice, audit a class before signing up. Go without your dog. If they won't let you watch, walk away. Make sure you are comfortable in the class, that you understand and could follow the trainer's instructions, and that the clients are being successful, and there's lots of happy tail waggin' going on.

Posted by: prodog | March 4, 2015 2:41 PM    Report this comment

To help understand dogs read any book by Dr Stanley Coren.

Posted by: SundogsHawaii | March 3, 2015 10:19 PM    Report this comment

Always listen to your dog. Don't ignore him. He will talk to you with his eyes, his ears, his tail. He will make a variety of barks that have different meanings. While you are learning your dog's language he will be learning yours. Once you both understand each other, all the other dog training will be easier.

Posted by: SundogsHawaii | March 3, 2015 10:06 PM    Report this comment

Understand that you are making a commitment to a living breathing being who has needs 24 /7. You cannot ignore just because you are focused elsewhere. Plan for the future: who can care for your dog if you must be away or sick, how do you make time to walk, play, and interact with your dog everyday. Commit to a basic obedience class, those 6 weeks will pay dividends throughout a lifetime if you apply what you learn. Learn about dogs, how they think, what they need. Learn about breeds, then pick a mixed breed because they make the best dogs. Every dog is different, respect their differences. Know that however much work this companion might be, the rewards are greater.

Posted by: gypsy hunter | March 3, 2015 6:42 PM    Report this comment

Definitely purchase a subscription to Whole Dog Journal and do not expect your Vet to be your dogs advocate. That is your job and it will take a lot of work and dedication to an animal that will give you unconditional love.

Posted by: Christy | March 3, 2015 4:56 PM    Report this comment

My advice for first time dog owners is to do your research on the breed of dog you are thinking about getting so you can determine BEFORE you get the dog so that there won't be any surprises!! You don't want to find out you can't run 3 - 5 miles twice a week with you Huskie, Visla, Weimeriner etc and should have adopted a Grey Hound instead! Or you can't be home enough to meet the needs of your Yorkshire Terrier and should have chosen the Maltese! Don't know what I specifically mean by all that? Then you need to do more research!

Posted by: jkj92200 | March 3, 2015 3:52 PM    Report this comment

I forgot to name the one book that I would recommend. My recommendation is one that someone has already mentioned. It is Successful Dog Adoptipon by Sue Sternberg. Ms. Sternberg has spent many years working in the Shelter System learning what it takes to have a successful adoption. Just Ms. Sternberg's description of what the demeanor should look like of the potential adoptee was priceless in helping me choose my girl.

Posted by: Sara's Mom | March 3, 2015 3:38 PM    Report this comment

I adopted a two and a half year old lovely mixed breed dog who was in foster care. She had been rescued when her people discarded her and the other female because they both had just had litters. Sixteen puppies and two mommies went into foster care. Her person had refused to have any of their dogs spayed or neutered and she was the mother of many litters over the span of her short life. Fortunately everyone was adopted and I was the lucky person who got her. She was so grateful to have someone adore her and provide for all her needs. She came to me fully housetrained and has never chewed anything. She was a star in her obedience class and passed the Therapy Dogs International Exam a year aftet I adopted her on her first try. So what I am suggesting is that adopting a young adult dog from foster care who is already housetrained and familiar with human expectations sure made getting my first dog a stress free and joyful experience.

Posted by: Sara's Mom | March 3, 2015 3:20 PM    Report this comment

I would say increase your circle of friends who have dogs.....and read a lot of the books mentioned in the other posts. But your son's co-worker is off to a good start because of your help.

Posted by: Olivia | March 3, 2015 3:20 PM    Report this comment

I second "Bones Would Rain From the Sky," because I loved the book, because it's not difficult or off-putting, because it taught me so much and made me want to learn so much more, and because it helped me to learn from my dog - who is still and always wiser than me.

Posted by: Comet's | March 3, 2015 3:11 PM    Report this comment

Please, Please, do your homework on the type of dog for YOU! Some dogs need A LOT of exercise, some don't. Think long term...You may tire out after a year or two of play, play, play. Some dogs don't. Be sure and establish early that YOU are the leader of the pack. But never holler, hit or abuse. Everything can be done calmly and firmly. Read, read, read is good advice. It's not as hard as this all sounds. Just love them and things, even training, seem to fall into place.

Posted by: jab | March 3, 2015 3:08 PM    Report this comment

I would highly recommend "Training the Best Dog Ever" by Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz and Larry Kane. It's a 5 Week Program Using the Power of Positive Reinforcement, for Puppies and Adult Dogs. It won the Association of Pet Dog Training's "Canine Life and Social Skills Award", as well as the Dog Writers' Association of America's "Best Training and Behavior Book Award!" The first chapter explains why positive reinforcement is so much better than punishment. The second chapter is Preparing for Dog Training, and covers choosing the right dog for you, adopting from a shelter, working with a breeder (including how to know it's not a puppy mill), your training goals and plan, and your daily routine, as well as preparing your home and family, equipment and supplies to purchase, dog proofing and setup, furniture rules, yard setup, car setup, safety rules in a home with kids, and other pets in your home. The subsequent chapters concerning the steps to training are so explicit, you can't go wrong!

My one piece of advice would be to read this book, use the positive reinforcement method, and follow the plan it proposes! In 5 weeks you will have as delightful, friendly, happy, well-trained dog!

Posted by: Chloe's Mom | March 3, 2015 2:40 PM    Report this comment

Anything by Patricia McConnell, and "Culture Clash" - not an easy read, IMO, but well worth it.

Posted by: Diane | March 3, 2015 1:22 PM    Report this comment

I would recommend Successful Dog Adoption by Sue Sternberg

Posted by: hareynolds | March 3, 2015 12:28 PM    Report this comment

I've read many books and one is not enough. I would highly recommend "A Small Furry Prayer" by Steven Kotler. Even though it may seem like it doesn't apply I think it contains many elements that resonate with first-timer as well as experienced owners.

Posted by: dadshop2000 | March 3, 2015 10:57 AM    Report this comment

Not a book but a website by Dr. Ian Dunbar chocked full of great dog information...www.dogstardaily.com..

Posted by: LK | March 3, 2015 10:54 AM    Report this comment

Many good comments. To the book suggestions, I add that most any book by Nicholas Dodman is excellent -- full of great advice and easy to read. His first was Dogs Behaving Badly, written in 2000. I still use the advice in it daily, even with my two guys who never even consider behaving badly! Maybe that's why! I checked Amazon before posting this note and saw that Dodman, a veterinary behaviorist, has a new book that I ordered immediately!

Posted by: bseale | March 3, 2015 10:53 AM    Report this comment

I echo tinydcr's sentiments - good vet, great trainer and socialize like there's no tomorrow. And listen to your gut instincts. That will take you a long way as a good pet owner.

Posted by: AB in AR | March 3, 2015 10:35 AM    Report this comment

For someone considering a basset hound, Diane Morgan's " A Basset Owner's Survival Guide" is an absolute must.

For anyone wanting to understand what your dog is trying to tell you: "The Body Language and Emotion of Dogs" by Myrna M. Milani, DVM

Posted by: DrSandi48 | March 3, 2015 10:10 AM    Report this comment

I'm with the group that says one book is not enough. But I would put Suzanne Clothier's "Bones Would Rain From the Sky" at the top of the list. And my advice? Find a good vet, a great positive trainer, and socialize socialize socialize! If you don't have certain opportunities, create them or find a video or audio tape.

Posted by: tinydcr | March 3, 2015 9:51 AM    Report this comment

I adopted my doggie 2 months ago. Prior to that I adopted an older dog (6-7yrs) who had way to many issues - sepatation anxiety/being destructive when left along. So when me and my husband decided to adopt a dog, we did lots of research, evaluated our lifestyle and current habits and went to see prospective dogs together. Evaluating the cost of having a dog, the initial expense, and seeing how the dog will fit in our lives was crucial. While we wanted a Vizsla, we realized that we did not have the active lifestyle such brred needs to thrive and be an awesome dog..... Since I am the primary care taker, I started making space for welcoming our future dog (i.e. evaluating how I needed to change my routine to provide adequate exercise, etc.). In the many readings I did - I really enjoyed the following books written by monks: "How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend"

Posted by: Morena | March 3, 2015 9:49 AM    Report this comment

Education, books etc. are all positive steps towards choosing your first Dog. I would add in a commitment to spend time with and provide exercise for your dog is critical. My 12 year old Lab spends the entire day with me in my studio. He also goes outside each morning and evening to do my ranch chores with me. Lots if running around and checking out ranch condition. His mental health is excellent as well as his physical well being.this helps him be a calm and respectful dog all day while I am working. Secondly, commit the funds to his everyday food choices. High quality food is very important for his long term health. Do some research, and just because that bag of food is sold by the veterinarian doesn't mean it is the best choice. Too many pet foods have been found to be contaminated. My dogs only eat one brand of food and I don't stray from what is working. They also get raw food and raw bones. Don't fall for the cute or tasty looking fake food for your pets. Enjoy time with them and be prepared for the day they leave you. It is a long term commitment worth every day, and I assure you when they leave this world it will leave a hole in your heart, but if you give them a quality life it will expand you as a human.

Posted by: Lavendar Lou | March 3, 2015 9:43 AM    Report this comment

"The Power of Positive Dog Training" by Pat Miller
And I would second the advice about any trainer who tries to get you to treat your dog unkindly (or who does so). Walk out, find a trainer with dog smarts and never look back. I had the misfortune of running into a bad one with my latest pup. She had a problem with huskies and assumed cujo status on a sweet tempered, sleepy (late evening class), puppy. I gave her a couple of chances to get it right then asked for my money back and went to a proven trainer who knows and loves dogs. It was a longer drive but my sweet tempered pup is now a sweet, loving, gentle grown up husky with great training.

Posted by: Chaosbean | March 3, 2015 9:25 AM    Report this comment

I would recommend that any first time prospective dog owner read LOTS of books, not just one, though I really like The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnel.

My advice would be to do as your son's friend has done and that is to seek advice from other people who have well adjusted dogs and to make careful consideration before aquiring that first dog. In other words, NOT to make it an impulse aquisition.

Posted by: PJKutscher | March 3, 2015 9:25 AM    Report this comment

Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor. Useful for dealing with humans too

Posted by: KATHY HALL | March 3, 2015 9:05 AM    Report this comment

I recommend the book "On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals" by Turid Rugaas.

the advice I give is to use common sense/judgement as if you were treating your own self when it comes to the health and well being of your new furry friend. Do your research when it comes to finding a reputable vet that is open to alternative methods of treating (before you bring your new friend home).

Posted by: emptyspace | March 3, 2015 8:57 AM    Report this comment

I've two favorites; no matter how many copies I find on the second-hand market, and give away, I keep Martin Goldstein's "The Nature of Animal Healing," and Suzanne Clothier's "Bones Would Rain from The Sky."
And anything by Juliette de Bairacli Levy.

Posted by: Beau's Beau | March 3, 2015 8:53 AM    Report this comment

I can't think of just 1 book that would satisfy everything...perhaps look through Pat Miller's works to see what appeals most. But my one piece of advice: If anyone, especially a trainer, encourages you to use force or apply punishment or anything aversive to your dog, RUN - don't walk - AWAY. You are your dog's advocate & protector, and don't let anyone advise you to harm that relationship. Don't let them bully you into feeling that you're "soft" and "spoiling". That's just them being a bully - you be wise enough to recognize that & ignore their advice.

Posted by: maestrodog1 | March 3, 2015 8:45 AM    Report this comment

My one book would be 6 weeks to the family dog by Patricia McConnell and my piece of advice would be to find a great vet and dog class.

Posted by: paws39 | March 3, 2015 8:38 AM    Report this comment

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