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March 30, 2016 7:07 AM   Subscribe

It has been a while since I've owned a dog and I am overwhelmed by the choices in food, collars and toys that I am seeing at the pet stores. I'd really appreciate some guidance.

I haven't owned a dog in nearly five years. The variety of dog food seems to have exploded during that time and I am having a hard time finding the sweet spot between quality and price. In addition the various collar and harness options seems equally overwhelming. We are meeting a 30 pound, 1 year old wirehair pointer mix later today and there is a good chance we will be bringing hime home. What are your recommendations? Is there anything I will need that I'm not thinking of (crate, collar, leash, food, treats, toys, poop bags)?
posted by a22lamia to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
It might be nice to get him a bed. If you'll be partitioning off parts of your house you might consider a baby gate as well. Besides that, it looks like you've got everything on the list. I buy Taste of the Wild for my dog--it's the cheapest high quality food I could find and it works for my budget. Just remember you're close to the pet store and can always go back if you forget something. :)
posted by lucy.jakobs at 7:13 AM on March 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

For food, I'd keep a link to the Dog Food Advisor handy - when our dog's regular food (Hi-Tek Naturals Grainfree) isn't available, we'll use it to find an alternative on the spot. It's also helpful for finding high quality food within your budget.

Beyond the things you've listed for your pup, I'd also suggest that you investigate good positive reinforcement-only dog behaviorists/trainers now, and ideally a (again, positive-reinforcement only - stay away from "alpha dog" approaches) basic obedience class. Even if your dog seems to be well behaved straight from the shelter, you'll want some classes to help refresh you on how best to interact with them - plus, classes can be fun for you and your dog =)

Oh! And start investigating boarding facilities now - look for one that you can take a tour of so you can be sure you're comfortable with how they'll take care of your dog. Our dog loves playing with other dogs, so places like Camp Bow Wow work well for her, but of course this will depend on your dog.

Good luck with your dog meeting (and I hope you'll post pictures!).
posted by DingoMutt at 7:23 AM on March 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

You could ask the rescue/foster/whoever what they are currently feeding the dog. I ended up just sticking with the kinda deluxe stuff they were giving my dog before I took him home. This site carries a lot of the higher-end dog food, and they frequently have really great sales, making it also a good place to stock up on Frontline and other pricey things.
posted by cakelite at 7:33 AM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

A few more things: for a harness, we really like the front-clasping "no pull" ones - ours is this brand, but there are others. It doesn't completely eliminate pulling, but it makes a big difference (and causes the dog to turn towards you when she starts pulling, which is helpful so you can redirect them).

Also, for walks I keep a treat pouch stocked with very small treats on my belt loop to keep my dog's attention on me and help take the scare out of any situations that might otherwise make her uncomfortable. This was at the recommendation of our dog trainer, and has been a huge help in making her feel more comfortable as we walk past people she might otherwise have barked at. Our trainer also suggested filling a squeezy camping tube full of peanut butter to use as a distractor or reward, but our dog isn't all that into it - for only $5, though, it may be worth trying.

Finally, if it snows where you are, these Pawz boots are great - I find them a little tough to get on, but they stay quite well and are surprisingly durable for something that's essentially a thick balloon. We started using these when we moved to a place that salts the sidewalks in winter - the snow never seemed to bother our dog that much, but the salt was definitely uncomfortable for her.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:36 AM on March 30, 2016

Gah, sorry for the multiple posts (I'll stop after this!) - but I just noticed that Nature's Miracle isn't on your list of things to get. This is definitely something you're going to want to have the minute you need it - even if your new dog is house trained, there will still be the occasional yarp, late-night diarrhea, and other surprise expulsions from time to time ...
posted by DingoMutt at 7:56 AM on March 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

Make sure you get a real leash and not a retractable one. Retractable leashes are awful. Don't make my mistakes.

If you have the budget for it, consider getting a few months of a BarkBox subscription. I came into my dog completely new to dogs, and I really liked getting a box of random stuff every month--treats and toys I wouldn't necessarily have gone out and bought myself, but it really gave me a good idea of the types of things my specific dog likes and doesn't like and helped guide future fun dog purchases.
posted by phunniemee at 8:00 AM on March 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

Might be a good idea to just continue with whatever food he is on right now, then transition to one of your choice a few weeks later, to minimize the number of things changing at the same time.

The other suggestions in this thread are great.
posted by splitpeasoup at 8:01 AM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another thing to remember to buy would be frontline and heartworm preventative medication. You won't need it *right* away (probably, depending on whether he's been treated), and you can always buy it from your vet, but it's a little pricey so it's worth planning for.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:02 AM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Regarding dog foods ... in addition to Dog Food Advisor (highly regard), the Whole Dog Journal's annual reviews of dog food are extremely good.

One thing to note: you can train your dogs stomach to handle swapping out dog food regularly. In fact, we mix brands of dog foods for each of their meals, so they are getting different types of nutrients in each meal. As WDJ mentioned, "Finally, remember that it’s a good idea to switch foods regularly. Choose several brands that contain the right ingredients and give your dog some variety over time. It’ll help correct the excesses, insufficiencies, or imbalances that result from the same food day in and day out."

You can turn your dog's meals into game, play and training opportunities. Many trainers advise you to avoid using the dog food bowl. Instead, you can use their dog food to do training, and/or play games. Our dogs love hunting for their kibble that we have spread throughout the house & yard, eating their meals from the Kong Wobbler, and also eating/training via the Treat & Train.

Have a wonderful time with your new pup!
posted by apennington at 8:07 AM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

You'll be fine, find out what they are feeding & feed him that at first. Stress & changes can give dogs tummy upsets adding in a change of feed & you are setting yourself up for stress diarrhea at the least. I'd stick with what they are feeding him for the first few weeks then slowly change to whatever you prefer.

Natures Miracle is a good call as even a well trained dog can have an accident while it's learning your routine & you are learning it's signals that it wants to go out.

Positive reinforcement dog training classes, not because I think you or the dog will need them but it is an amazingly effective way to bond with your dog. If your dog doesn't need any training for any issues then even something like the ones at Petsmart will be fine.

You want a good collar for everyday wear with his tags on. It is perfectly OK to just walk your dog on a collar & lead if that's what you like & the dog walks nicely on a lead. Harnesses are great for dogs that pull, escape artists & small dogs, or with my Rat Terrier dogs whose heads will not stop a collar slipping off. If you want to get a harness get one, check online to learn how to measure your dog so it fits right. I really like this brand but any correct fitting harness is fine if you want one.

Really your list of basics covers it all, I'd get a bed for in the crate & maybe one for out of the crate if you don't want him on the couch. Maybe a blanket as some dogs like snuggling. But seriously it's Ok to start simple & stay there or just slowly add & try all the new things, but you really don't NEED most of them. Good food, clean water a place to sleep, regular walks, vet visits heart worm & flea meds & some toys/chews, maybe some basic training & lots of pats & loving, seriously that's all they need, everything else is for the owner.
posted by wwax at 8:12 AM on March 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'd also recommend a seatbelt harness. People give us funny looks and ask questions, yes, but then a sudden stop doesn't cause my 50-lb dog to become a 50-lb projectile.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 8:49 AM on March 30, 2016 [7 favorites]

If you buy your dog treats, look to see where they were made. Some are from China, and they seem to have recalls and trouble with their supply chain. I look for foods and treats made in USA.
posted by hydra77 at 8:50 AM on March 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

The most important thing with food is how well your dog does on it. Get something with a decent ingredient list and see how it goes. If it makes pupper super farty or gives him a bad coat or some other thing that seems suboptimal, try some other food (probably with a different main protein).

Is there anything I will need that I'm not thinking of (crate, collar, leash, food, treats, toys, poop bags)?

I only say this because it's not actually on your list, not because I think you wouldn't: a vet! And along with that flea and tick protection and heartworm protection. People and vets differ on this but ours are on protection year round; this is going to be more important going forward as the climate gets fubared. Heartworm protection is cheap and safe.

Also some sort of horrible-effluent cleanup fluid. Nature's Miracle is fine, so is Anti-Icky-Poo. Check the directions; these aren't "apply a dainty spray to the surface of the carpet" things but more "soak the carpet and the underpad underneath where the dog did its horrible sinful business and then sort of squish-mash it around with your foot to make sure."

If you decide to get a carpet shampooer, do not fuck around with anything less than a Bissell Big Green. Like two or three times as much as a cheap Hoover, but like ten times better.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:55 AM on March 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

For pet waste bags, my very favorite kind is Earth Rated Unscented on the 300 count roll.

They're thick/strong, they're economical, they aren't an obnoxious color, and having them on the big roll is nice because the roll lasts forever.
posted by mochapickle at 9:24 AM on March 30, 2016

Especially with a new dog you don't yet know well, I recommend having two collars: one for attaching the leash to, and the other with your contact info on it. ID tags are no good if they're in your hand but the dog is already a block away. You could try some combo of a buckle collar with ID tags, a martingale collar (with or without embroidered contact info), or a prong collar if the dog is a puller.

For pulling dogs, I recommend a buckle prong collar like this one until the dog is better trained not to pull you down the sidewalk. It is absolutely humane because it only pulls so tight, not an infinitely tighter grip. It's like power steering for pullers.

Stay away from dog food you can buy at the grocery store or at mega chains like Petsmart. All that food, even IAMS and the like, is low quality food stuffed with fillers. I like Taste of the Wild and other brands sold at pet supply stores, and I also recommend the dog food review site mentioned above.

Retractable / "flexi" leashes are dangerous.

If you'll be taking your dog anywhere in the car, think about securing the dog inside the car so he doesn't become a projectile in the case of an accident. We used a jury-rigged seat belt situation (using regular walking harnesses, carabiners, and climbing straps from REI) because we like our SUV's back seat folded down, but there are also purpose-made car harnesses like this, as mentioned above, and also the crate option.

If you'll be bathing your dog in the tub, do as I did and teach yourself, via youtube videos, how to unclog your bathtub drain using nothing more than a screwdriver and some needlenose pliers. We like Dr. Bronner's soap for dog shampoo.

Tip for kongs and other toys that hide treats: Melt half a slice of American cheese inside the kong using your microwave. Put kong in freezer. A few hours later, your dog has a cheesicle kong. It takes a blessedly long time for a dog's tongue to get frozen cheese from inside a kong.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 9:25 AM on March 30, 2016

I like Costco's Kirkland Brand dog food for a balance of healthy and cost-effective. Even if you don't already have a membership, it's worth the cost of a membership for the savings you get: it's $35 for a 30 lb bag; comparable brands will be $50-60 for a 30 lb bag. Here's the dog food advisor review of it.

Whatever you do, try to avoid buying dog food in 5 lb bags. I did that for a long time, and I still do sometimes, but the cost savings between 5 and 30 lb bags are enormous.

On treats: I would get a small variety of different things to see what your dog is interested in. Something hard to chew on (like a bully stick), something softer (like a dried tendon), "training treats" like dried lamb lung (sounds disgusting but dogs love it) or liver treats. He may not be interested in much right at first, or it may be a good way for him to settle in or for you to win his affections. :) Once you know what he likes, you can buy more. However, I'd avoid rawhide chews until you know how aggressive a chewer he is. My dog is is a pretty weak chewer so rawhides are ok for him as long as I can supervise him. But rawhides can be really dangerous for other dogs.
posted by lunasol at 9:36 AM on March 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't use a retractable on anything that weighed more than 10 or 15 lbs. My dad was severely injured (and permanently scarred) when his golden retriever ran around behind him and the thin retractable cord dug into his skin and muscle. I've also learned through experience that thin leather leashes that aren't reinforced can literally just snap.

I don't know the situation with the dog you're specifically looking at, but you should find out if he's already been chipped. When you take him to the vet they can scan for one.

For toys I would get a couple with squeakers and a couple without. Some dogs are excavators and will do anything in their power to remove squeakers and will sometimes eat/swallow them. Once you determine which type of dog you have, future toy purchases can be guided by your experience.

For new dogs we always continue their current food (even if it's garbage) for the first couple of weeks while they settle in, then slowly introduce our preferred food. To prevent wolfing (and vomiting) we serve food in spread around in a mini-muffin pan for a few months, then switch to a normal bowl. It's so nice to have a dog that eats slowly and chews their food.
posted by xyzzy at 9:38 AM on March 30, 2016

Also I recommend taking your dog to positive reinforcement training. Not only will it train/reinforce good doggy-human communication and behavior, it can really help develop bonding and trust. My dog has learned several commands and stopped pulling on her leash thanks to positive reinforcement training & since training her it's been easy to teach her new language and commands.
posted by mochapickle at 9:39 AM on March 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Especially with a new dog you don't yet know well, I recommend having two collars: one for attaching the leash to, and the other with your contact info on it. ID tags are no good if they're in your hand but the dog is already a block away.

...and getting the dog chipped is a good idea too.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:58 AM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I like a 4 foot leash. It gives you so much more control when you pass another dog and the dog will still have a great time being out for walkies. I agree retractables are THE WORST especially from the point of view of other dog owners. People who use them basically have no control over their dogs - it's like a fishing pole with no reel.

For toys, rawhide has been considered bad for a while. It can cause blockages. Someone now makes one that is supposed to dissolve faster, but whether those can be trusted I don't know. My dog enjoys disemboweling stuffed toys, tennis sized rubber balls (he peels tennis ball fur), antlers, and toys made out of fire hose material which are getting popular and hard to destroy.

You won't be able to get heartworm preventative treatment unless the dog had been tested for heartworm (hopefully the rescue did that) and the pills can't be bought over the counter for that reason.

If your dog is a fast eater, these bowls are fantastic: Outward Hound Fun Feeder Interactive Dog Feeder. We went from meals being a 30 second affair followed by throwing up to a several minute puke-free event.

Decide before they come home whether they'll be a furniture/your bed dog and be consistent from minute one if the answer is no. If yes, get a washable blanket to cover whatever they'll be allowed on to protect it. Doggies are dirty even if they seem clean!

Also from minute one, I highly recommend you not giving bites of your food to the dog. Once you start, it's impossible to stop. They have evolved to make sad puppy eyes for a good reason. It's not good for them and it's highly annoying. This is a do as I say, not as I do thing. It's too late for us. Save yourselves... Good luck!
posted by cecic at 10:02 AM on March 30, 2016

I wouldn't buy too many expensive toys or chew things until you get a sense of the dog; our dude tears up anything soft, while there's dogs twice his size that keep soft toys around for years. He also chewed up several rubbery toys early on, but now that he's calmed down, we feel more comfortable giving him those.
posted by redsparkler at 11:13 AM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Start with whatever food the dog is currently on. You could ask your vet what kind of food they recommend. Then slowly transfer over. Never change food quickly!

Also agree not too buy too much expensive stuff because you don't know what your dog will like (or destroy!). I was glad I got my dog's bed at Ross because he chewed it up in about a week! I don't buy him expensive dog blankets, I buy $5 baby blankets at Ross.

I really hate retractable leashes. They give you zero control, and can really injure you (as mentioned above).

I'd find a local training class, and get in one quickly. Even if your dog knows some commands, it will really create some structure for you and the dog. I took my dog to a 6-week class at Petco (about $100) and it was great for both of us.

I like the "no pull" harness idea, but I tried the EZ-Walk on my dog and he slipped right out of it for some reason! We switched to the Gentle Leader which is great for reducing pulling.

In terms of protecting your stuff from your dog, definitely get Nature's Miracle or another enzyme cleaner. Oxi-Clean is also great on fabrics (either as a laundry additive or for scrubbing upholstry). Also get a waterproof cover for your mattress. Even the best-trained dogs will eventually pee on your bed, it just happens. Also, I got new couch throw pillows recently and sprayed them with Scotch Guard first, and its really helped keep them clean (my dog things the pillows are his own personal dog beds).
posted by radioamy at 11:54 AM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had a big list for you that I somehow deleted but I want to tell you that you want a clicker (and to visit Karen Pryor's site, as well as check out the many great youtube videos on clicker training) and these awesome treats for training. Also good for training are the low fat mozzarella sticks from the supermarket -- nip off tiny little bits from them as training treats. Works for all size of dog. This is my favorite treat pouch.
posted by bearwife at 1:05 PM on March 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

Don't forget we need a picture! :)
posted by tardigrade at 3:30 PM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nthing Dog Food Advisor. Also agreeing with the comment about items from China. Read the labels!!!!! Do not buy any dog food or treats that come from China or are sourced from China. It not safe for consumption!
posted by Hanuman1960 at 10:07 AM on April 12, 2016

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