Dog Care Basics: Taking Care of Your New Dog

Pet Care & Safety
Golden retriever puppy in doorway

First-time dog owners always have questions. How often should a dog be bathed? When should toenails be trimmed? How often should a dog be fed? There are so many aspects of dog care that first-time owners may not know. Thankfully, though, caring for a dog doesn’t have to be difficult.

Food and Feeding

Go online to search for dog food recommendations and you will be overwhelmed by the passionate discussions. Dog owners feel strongly about their favorite dog food types or brands. Be careful getting in the middle of those, especially if you’re a new dog parent. There are too many types of foods and it’s confusing.

Just feed a quality dry or canned dog food. Look at the ingredients list. If the foods are whole foods and ingredients that dogs should eat (meats, vegetables, and a bit of fruit) and the food is made by a reputable brand then give that food a try. You can find a reputable brand by searching for dog food recalls – avoid those with numerous recalls

Later, when you are more experienced, if you wish to try a different brand or type of food, go ahead. Make changes to your dog’s diet gradually to avoid gastrointestinal upsets.

Puppies under six months of age should eat three times a day. Dogs older than six months can eat twice a day.

Play and Exercise

Playing with your dog should be a part of your daily routine. Play is good for both of you. You’re having fun and your relationship grows stronger. It’s also good exercise.

Retrieving games, hide and seek games, and tug games are the most popular. However, you and your dog might make up your own too.

Hard core exercise such as jogging or running alongside your bicycle needs to wait until your young dog’s growth plates have closed. Exercise that is strenuous and repetitive at too young an age (generally under a year and a half) can damage growing bones and joints. Talk to your veterinarian for guidance.


Training should be a part of every dog’s life. Not only does early training teach puppies and young dogs how to live in your home and our society, but it can prevent problem behaviors from becoming habits.

For example, when your puppy learns to sit for praise and petting, then you remove his need to jump on people.

Kind and fun yet structured training is also a great relationship builder. You will be cooperating with each other, working together, and learning to understand each other.

Ongoing training helps keep this communication strong. Training shouldn’t be like boot camp. Instead, have fun! Do some trick training, therapy dog training, scenting games, or look at something totally new, like carting. There are lots of things you can teach your dog.

Keep Safety in Mind

Dogs, especially puppies, are curious and often get into trouble because they have no idea what’s dangerous in our homes and yards. A dangling electrical cord looks like something fun to tug on from a puppy’s point of view.

In the house, look at things from the dog’s height. Tuck away cords, put away the remote control, make sure people put away their personal things that the puppy (or dog) could chew. Use baby gates to block off certain areas or hallways. Prevent problems from occurring.

Do the same in the back yard. Pick up yard tools, pool chemicals, and have the kids put away their toys when they are done playing. Put temporary fencing around the gardens. Choose pet safe fertilizers and other yard care products and make sure you follow the directions.

Body Care and Grooming

It’s important to touch your dog every day, from his nose to the tip of his tail and all parts in between. When you do this, your fingers will feel if there is a problem. Don’t count on being able to see a lump, cut, or tick – even short hair can hide a lot. When you touch your dog, you can find a minor problem before it turns into a bigger one.

Grooming is an encompassing term that includes brushing and combing your dog’s coat (short hair and longer coats), cleaning ears, wiping gunk from eyes, cleaning teeth, trimming toenails, and giving your dog a bath. Bathing your dog only needs to happen as needed since bathing too often can dry out his skin and coat which will cause him to chew and scratch. It depends on the dog, but “too often” is typically more than once a month. The other care chores should be done as needed too, but usually at least once a week.

Dogs with a longer coat, or a curlier one, may need professional grooming which includes bathing, drying, brushing, and a haircut. The groomer will advise you how often your dog needs to be groomed. The home grooming chores still need to happen in between those visits too. If you have never owned a dog before, ask your groomer to show you how to clean your dog’s ears and trim his toenails.

Meet Your Veterinarian

I consider my dogs’ veterinarian more than their health care provider; she is also a great source of up-to-date information. I can ask her if heartworm has become a problem in our area or if a new vaccination is needed. I understand that money can be tight, we all face that at times. In those cases, make a list of questions or problems before you take your dog in so you remember everything. Just keep in mind your veterinarian can help you with guidance about vaccinations, spaying and neutering, and many other aspects of your dog’s care.