Dog ownership 101
November 18, 2022 11:36 AM   Subscribe

We're thinking of giving a home to a rescue dog but neither of us have owned a pet before. I've watched a lot of videos about training dogs, and some about coping with a new puppy (which we don't want), but I'm missing the real basics!

It seems hard to find anyone going over the very basic things about dog ownership, maybe because it all seems so obvious to experienced owners. I'm talking about things like:

* When and how often to feed them
* When to take them for walks, and for how long or how far
* What kinds of food there are and when and why to use which one
* What kinds of lead, bowl, bed, toys, crate, etc do you need, or are good, or bad?
* What to know about taking them somewhere in a car
* Do they need to visit the vet periodically even if there's nothing obviously wrong? When and why?
* What do they need in terms of dental care, coat brushing, any other maintenance?

I assume a lot depends on the breed or the specific dog, and that whoever you adopt a dog from will tell you some of what he/she is used to. But I'd like to know some basics.

Any pointers to videos, articles, or books appreciated. Bonus points for anything UK-based.
posted by fabius to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is a great new dog owner guide. It has a lot of content plus clickable links for additional content (like how to pick the best harness for your dog).
posted by cooker girl at 11:51 AM on November 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I like Zak George's book and videos for training. He uses only positive reinforcement.
posted by bookworm4125 at 12:12 PM on November 18, 2022

Best answer: Do some petsitting/housesitting for free for a year or two first. Every household will tell you how they care for their dog. It will give you an introduction to "what is caring for a dog like" in a low consequence environment. Here are some dog book recommendations from a question I asked a few years ago.
posted by aniola at 12:32 PM on November 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Lots of variation but generally IMO

We've always fed our dogs twice a day. Amount will vary, you should get some guidance based on where you get the dog from. The vet will track their weight over time and give you feedback (more food? less food).

Lots of dogs will walk as much as you can handle. They sleep better and are less anxious the more they are walked. We used to do two walks a day with our first dog and now do one walk a day. It's also a chance to poop and pee around the 'hood that can be very exciting and a nice ritual - as much as the exercise. Some dogs run and play on their own and don't need the WALK as their only source of exercise.

Annual checkup at the vet, they need meds (heart worm and flea-tick prevention) and sometimes labs to get a baseline for their various functions.

Lots of leads, etc. and some of it depends on how much they pull, what will work best for them.

Dental care - we've never had much luck getting the dog to let us brush their teeth but if you can do it, it's better. The plaque accumulates and can cause health problems eventually. Or anaesthetic-dental-cleaning is expensive and not the easiest thing to put them through.

Brushing is probably always good, depends on their hair, and whether they like it or hate it.

Nail trimming is another thing, learning where to cut the nail, and how often. And whether you want to do it or have a mobile grooming service show up in your driveway and take them away and wash them and trim them, etc. All depends on what they are comfortable with, which you will learn!!!
posted by stevil at 12:32 PM on November 18, 2022

If you will permit some direct unsolicited advice, schedule training (positive only!) within a couple of weeks of the dog's arrival. That give them a little time to settle in, but then you both can get your bearings together. If nothing else, a good trainer will be able to help you learn to decode the dog's body language, which in some ways is confusingly different for newbies from primate body language, and potentially save you a lot of time and agita.
posted by praemunire at 12:38 PM on November 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Some medium-aged, 5 - 6 yo dogs at a shelter might be housetrained and socialized. The 1st dog I had as an adult was a Golden Retriever mix, about 7, easy to integrate into our home, great with my son who was also 7. Start visiting your local shelter and taking dogs to a pen to play. Shelter dogs need visits and love, and it will help you learn about temperament. Ask friends if you can walk their dogs, hand out with their dogs. Don't hurry, it's a big decision.

I've been reading that some people are surrendering pets to shelters due to inflation and the difficulty of finding housing, so this might be a good time to adopt.

My current dog is a standard poodle who is really sweet-tempered, gentle, fun, but also seriously food insecure. This is common in dogs who've been strays or been neglected. Her behavior is so much better when she has dry food available all the time; I give her canned food when I have my dinner. I have had to do this with other dogs who had been strays. My pup treated with somewhat benign neglect by her prior owner.

Sign up for a class, it will be fun, you'll learn a lot, and the trainer will be able to help resolve questions and issues. I loved The Other End of the Leash, Patricia McConnell and Don't Shoot the Dog: The Art of Teaching and Training, Karen Pryor, and there are good videos on youtube. My life has been enriched by the dogs who've lived with me.
posted by theora55 at 1:11 PM on November 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Almost all of this will vary a bit depending on the dog's needs. If you go with a foster-based rescue, you can ask about what the dog's current daily schedule is like and whether that's working well.

Even though you're looking for an adult dog, I think you'll find a lot of this basic info (and more!) at r/puppy101.

My own suggestions for a starting point for an "average" dog:

-feed 2x daily (but we feed more like 3-4x). This doesn't matter much except some dogs will get hunger-pukes if their food isn't split into multiple meals, and leaving food out all the time isn't recommended.

-1-2 short or 1 long daily walk will be fine for many dogs (I prefer 2 short because my dog is anxious and gets overwhelmed)

-any vet-recommended diet will be fine. I like Hill's and Pro Plan best for my own dog. Beware of all advice from people you know, facebook groups and pet store employees. Many think they know more about nutrition than vets, but don't.

-avoid retractable leads, especially for untrained and/or large dogs. Avoid equipment that tries to "teach" through pain like prong collars, ecollars etc. Otherwise any equipment is fine.

-fosters should let you know if they have a problem in the car, most dogs will not but some may get anxious or vomit. Look up how to safely restrain them, i.e. a crash-tested harness or crate - loose dogs are very unsafe for everyone.

-yes, annual vet visit is needed for vaccines, checkup and heartworm/tick preventative (these preventatives are NOT cheap unfortunately but they are very important)

-teeth should ideally be brushed daily, or more realistically a few times a week is fine. Many people don't do it, but it'll help avoid a very expensive dental cleaning in a few years. You don't mention nails but you'll need to learn how to trim them or regularly bring them to a groomer etc for it. Long nails are actually painful for dogs. Coat brushing really depends on the breed mix, most dogs will be fine with briefly brushing once or twice a week, some never need anything, and some will need extensive daily brushing/detangling. Some breeds and mixes will need regular professional grooming, or considerable effort from you to do it at home.
posted by randomnity at 1:14 PM on November 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Dog Walking Needs By Breed
posted by Lanark at 1:55 PM on November 18, 2022

All great advice above. When rescuing, be prepared to give the dog time to adjust. I think you can start training after they settle in. Training should start as very short bursts and be very positive for you and the dog. These should be simple commands that work for you so you have a working set of phrases to help you both get each other.

Accidents happen, and just take the dog outside immediately after.

Dogs respond to a love, patience and positive attention. Be ready for surprises but just keep thinking “simple and kind,” and you’ll go a long way. The vet will help fill in key questions after they get to evaluate the dog, too.
posted by glaucon at 1:58 PM on November 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

My favorite thing about dog training is trying to figure out what's a thing that they want to do, that I can get them to wait for and then give them a treat when they do it. Sit, wait, don't go in the house until I say it's okay. There are plenty of moments in the day (putting down the food bowl, letting them outside) to reinforce with reward, the reward being something they already want. Treats are great to help indicate that hey this thing I'm asking you to do is GREAT, but if they want something you can kind of leverage that as well. Dogs are good at finding patterns, if this happens then that happens, so try to harness that if you can.

Also, glad to see the comments about settling in - you won't know what kind of separation anxiety they have until you leave them for a bit. You can practice leaving for 30 seconds, or five minutes, and just see what they do. We try to give a kong with peanut butter before we go, sometimes, as a way to give them something to engage in and making our departure a positive thing. We also don't make too big a deal about leaving or returning, so it's just a normal non-exciting thing that happens.
posted by stevil at 2:46 PM on November 18, 2022

You can just use a different brand of dog food as treats. No need to pay extra for something labeled "treats!"
posted by aniola at 6:01 PM on November 18, 2022

Some of the norms and expectations around dog ownership also definitely vary according to culture ....e.g I believe in the US crating is a big thing but it's not done at all here in Australia; my dogs growing up were strictly outdoor animals and now my own dog is, other than walks, totally an indoor beast. There are reasons for both of these changes which make both situations probably quite reasonable but often the rhetoric around it is quite extreme with everyone being sure they have it right for all situations. Disentangling norms from things that are more hard and fast things required to keep your dog happy and healthy can be a bit messy and complex, just fwiw.
posted by jojobobo at 6:02 PM on November 18, 2022

Best answer: When and how often to feed them

There are lots of different ways to handle this that are all basically okay. It depends to a certain extent on the dog. I have a young border collie now who nibbles throughout the day and is not at all inclined to overeat. We keep food in her bowl all the time and she eats as much as she wants whenever she wants. If we tried to feed her at set times and then take away the food she would probably be even thinner than she is now. But most dogs will overeat if you try that.

The most common recommendation seems to be to feed twice a day - morning and evening. But you can feed smaller amounts more often if you want to. A lot of trainers recommend using all or part of your dog's daily kibble throughout the day as training rewards.

When to take them for walks, and for how long or how far

Highly dependent on the dog, what other exercise the dog gets, and whether you have a yard. If you don't have a yard and the only time the dog can pee or poop is on a walk, you will need at a bare minimum a walk in the morning, a walk as soon as you get home from work, and a walk before bed. Some dogs need to go out more often than that. At least one of those walks needs to be long enough to get the dog a good amount of exercise. The Dog Walking Needs By Breed link above seems pretty reasonable. I thought the recommended mileage seemed high at first until I remembered how much more ground my dog covers than the distance I walk. (She gets one long off leash walk every day - about an hour and a half - plus 20-30 minutes off leash in the mornings and often some fetch in the yard or an on leash outing in the afternoon.) If you have a safe place to walk off leash, that will exercise your dog a lot better than an on leash walk. If you don't, unless you have a really small or low energy dog you'll probably need to add in some other exercise like playing fetch in the yard or going to a dog park. If you have enough other ways to exercise the dog, you don't necessarily need to go on walks at all, at least not every day, but most dogs will benefit from it.
posted by Redstart at 6:25 PM on November 18, 2022

We have two rescues. I have a fenced yard, so first thing I let them out in the back yard to go to the bathroom. I feed them a little dry food in the morning, primarily to let them know there's food (they both have histories of living with other dogs that took their food). They don't always eat that, until I put moist canned food on top around dinner time.

Older dogs from shelters are usually great, often house-trained, and often overlooked by many so they are very very happy to have a home.

I won't pretend to be an expert trainer, and probably don't follow a lot of the rules, but one thing I will say - be consistent with the language for each thing you want them to do. I don't know that they understand language per se but when the same sequence of sounds is always associated with the same activity, they seem to "get it".
posted by TimHare at 9:20 PM on November 18, 2022

I'll also mention two concepts I wish I had known from day one: #1 "mental enrichment" and #2 "cooperative care". You can get tons of info just from googling those terms, but in essence #1 is providing some challenging/destressing daily activities for your dog (making them happier, more relaxed, less likely to do destructive behaviours and less likely to need very long walks) and #2 is not simply practicing handling/nails/grooming regularly, but actually doing it in a way that the dog enjoys or is at least neutral to, rather than just tolerating it without biting you (and usually needing restraint). This typically involves going very slowly with lots of rewards and giving the dog the choice to decline, but again, if you search that term you'll find some detailed guides. If you're on Facebook, the "Nail maintenance for dogs" group is an excellent resource for doing this with nail trims.
posted by randomnity at 6:07 AM on November 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

A few thoughts from someone who adopted a rescue dog as an adult (the shelter was very confused that we wanted a dog, they kept asking us "you're sure you want a dog? but you've never had a dog? either one of you? even as a kid? but you're sure you want a dog?" and we're like .... yeah, that's why we came in, you have dogs here that need homes, I want a dog....):

- leashes. My dog would get anxious if we left him alone with a leash and would chew through it and then be very proud of himself. So keep an extra leash in the house.
- cars. My dog loved car rides. We had a harness for him so he could be buckled in and not be a 50-pound projectile if we stopped suddenly. We also had a car seat cover that reduced the amount of hair on the car seats - that way, if I needed to drive people around, I could take the seat cover off and not have to immediately vacuum the seats.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 7:06 AM on November 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

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