My dog, Buster, is no doubt the love of my life.
It’s been a little over a year since we welcomed him into our home as our furry family member. But, like every relationship with a human or otherwise, ours is nothing if not tons of work and lots of ups and downs.
I’ve never had a puppy before Buster. Throughout my childhood, I had a myriad of smaller pets ranging from fish and hermit crabs to even a small white mouse. Let me be the first to say that none of these pets prepared me for Hurricane Buster last summer.
That’s what inspired me to write this list for you. Adopting a puppy is a huge deal, so I felt that these 10 tips summed up what I wasn’t prepared for when my family and I adopted Buster. If you’re thinking about adopting a puppy, here’s what you should think about before you do!
🐶 Do research on what type of breed may be good for you and your lifestyle.
Not every dog breed is right for the way you and your family live your lives. Some dogs are good for a small apartment in NYC to take short walks or cuddle on the couch with. Others need more open spaces to run, wrangle or hunt. Each breed has their own stereotypical personality type that you can read up on online. You should definitely take these into account when you’re trying to figure out which breed is perfect for you.
Buster is a Morkie – a mix of the Maltese and Yorkie breeds. Morkies are known to be attention mongers who strive to impress their owners. They’re very social dogs who are very attached to their families and often suffer from separation anxiety. I’d be lying if I said these facts weren’t true.
🐶 …And the places you could adopt from.
If you’re not picky about what breed you want (and also want to make a huge difference in an abandoned dog’s life!) then check out a local animal shelter! These dogs are looking for a loving home and yours may be just what they need.
Adopting a dog from a shelter can also be a really rewarding experience. Dogs in shelters may have gone through serious trauma or abuse in their previous homes. Dealing with these issues may not be for everyone. However, I know many people who adopted through a shelter and have found the most loving and caring dogs through it.
My family found Buster unconventionally, however. After a sip-and-paint class with some of her friends, my mom came across our pup at a pet store in a nearby mall. The shop owners let my mom hold him for a little bit, and, as my mom describes it, it was an “instant connection” and love at first sight. She bought him on the spot and in secret, not even telling my dad. To validate her success, she sent me a picture of him and asked my opinion of him. I never thought she’d actually buy him.
The next day, on her suggestion, we drove over there just to look at the puppies, which wasn’t completely out of the ordinary. She pointed out that puppy that she had shown me, but next to his cage was a big ‘Sold’ sign. I figured he would be sold quickly since he was such a cute puppy. Then, my mom said something that I thought was a joke at first. “He’s sold to us.” I broke down crying in the pet store and soonafter I held him in my arms for the first time. My brother and I were unanimous in choosing his name, and so Buster became a part of our family that day.
A few months later, I was curious about Buster’s genealogy and I tried calling the pet store where we adopted him. The line was dead for some reason, and after some snooping, I found out that the pet store had closed under multiple animal abuse charges. I’m super lucky that Buster ended up healthy, but in the future I would definitely adopt from a more reputable shelter.
🐶 Research, research, research. Education is your best arsenal.
Once we got Buster home, I was still clueless as to what to do next. Pinterest was a really great resource for me as a first-time dog owner. There are some really great infographics on there that easily sum up useful information that I used throughout last summer. Some of the most useful ones I found:
- Pet Communication 101 – I used this to help learn Buster’s body language so I could figure out what he’s thinking without possibly hurting myself in the process.
- What Your Dog’s Walking Says – Really useful when I started potty training him and walking him multiple times a day.
- The Psychology of Dogs – For some quick and interesting facts about how dogs think.
- Canine Body Language – An easy reference to learn doggy body language.
- Dogs Don’t Bite Out of the Blue – What I used when I tried to cut out Buster’s puppy biting.
- Healthy VS Harmful Dog Food – Because it’s important to know which table scraps are okay for your pal to eat.
We also received an awesome packet from our vet that gave us some tips on how to manage our puppy, especially in the first month. You can bet we had a ton of questions, and we asked our vet as well as veteran dog owners we knew to help clear the confusion we had in the first few days post-adoption.
🐶 Puppy-proof your home.
Puppies are basically just furry babies that have the capacity to run wild with reckless abandon. Buster has a penchant for being mischievous and causing trouble one way or another, just like many other energy-filled pups. Make sure you check that your home is ready for a great amount of puppy power. For us, that involved buying baby crawl gates that block our stairs and living room, as well as rolling up our beautiful carpet in our family room. We also invested in some spray that claimed it blocked out dogs’ urine smell for the inevitable accidents that happened in our home. I’m still not convinced it worked entirely (I’ll get back to this once I talk about potty training).
🐶 Dogs, just like people, have personalities and tics. Figure them out early.
One of the great things about Buster is that he’s a super friendly and sociable dog. I learned quickly that not all dogs are like him. One of our neighbor’s dogs had it out for Buster and would always growl and sneer when he’d come near him for reasons I didn’t understand. Others would cower, since Buster always had a lot of energy and sometimes came off a little strong.
Despite this, Buster also has his anxieties. For example, one day, my brother dropped a ball into Buster’s food bowl, which made a loud sound as it was knocked out of place. Buster saw the whole thing happen and was terrified. He refused to eat from that bowl from then on, and we had to buy him a new set of ceramic bowls that would have no chance of making a noise like that ever again. Things like that happened throughout my first year with him. Now that I have a better understanding of him, I can troubleshoot and stop the trigger of his anxiety quicker.
🐶 Potty training will be a pain.
This is probably one of the worst things about having a puppy. Different breeds will respond to it in various ways, but it took Buster about 2 months to finally get his peeing pattern down reliably. We used to take him out every 2 hours or so until he understood that his business was meant for our backyard and not our kitchen floor.
It also became cumbersome to try and keep track of all of these bathroom runs. In response, I created a Weekly Wellness Chart that kept track of Buster’s bathroom, napping, and eating schedule all in one place. You can click that link to download and print it for you to use! It was inspired by a similar chart I used at a Montessori school I worked at the previous summer that charted our babies’ schedule, including diaper changes, naps throughout the day, and bottles. I slowly began to realize that the similarities between babies and puppies were uncanny, and that my time in the Montessori school helped me prepare for this moment.
🐶 So will the biting.
Who knew that such a little furball could hurt so much?! Much to my chagrin, I learned that puppy teeth are sharper than regular dog teeth. Sometimes, it was hard for me to play with him because his bites caused me so much pain. To try and mitigate this, we bought a ton of toys that Buster could sink his teeth into. It took him a little while, but Buster finally learned the word ‘No’ and stopped gnawing on my ankles, my sneakers, dirty laundry and basically anything he could get his mouth on. His baby teeth fell out soonafter and now he’ll only bite me on accident when we play together.
🐶 Try to teach your dog a few basic commands.
The first thing I taught Buster to do was to “sit”, which was a little hard at first. The best advice I can give for teaching commands and tricks is to be consistent. We used to give Buster treats for going to the bathroom outside right when he did so. After his walks, I’d give him more treats and go through his “daily commands”, as my mother would call them. I used to put Buster in the same spot every time, and when he did something close to what the command was, I’d give him a treat for it. For sitting, I’d sometimes have to tap or push lightly on his lower back side, and he’d sit. Eventually, he got the idea without me having to do anything except say the word.
I also paired the command with a word that I would say every time, and sometimes a hand gesture. When I got into slightly more advanced tricks like “paw”, I’d say the word, then hold on to his paw. It took him about a month, but Buster eventually got it. I taught him how to give me his other paw soonafter. This summer, I taught him how to “beg” and the “look and leave” treat trick, and I hope I can teach him more in the future!
🐶 Sign up for a puppy training class and socialize your puppy.
We still have yet to do this, but I’ve heard so many success stories from enrolling your puppy for a training class. You can do this in a group or one-on-one with a trainer. We found out about one from our local animal hospital, but also found that they run classes at Petco as well. They’ll help teach you tricks that will help your pup be more obedient (which Buster sorely needs, so we’ll have to do this soon!). They are a little bit on the expensive side, but I’m sure it’s totally worth it.
Even if you can’t do this right away, I strongly urge you to at the very least socialize your dog with other dogs early on. I’ve seen dogs that not been properly socialized and they are angrier and jumpier around other dogs. You can unintentionally create an overall unfriendly or even dangerous dog around both people and other dogs if you don’t have them interact with the outside world.
🐶 Be prepared to make some sacrifices.
There is definitely a learning curve as to how to manage everyday life with a puppy. Hanging out with friends, vacations, even running to the grocery store – you have to think about what you’re going to do with your puppy, and he always comes first. Last year, I had to say no to a beach trip to stay with my dog for the day, since no one else was around to watch him.
Within the first month of having Buster, we had to leave him with a dogsitter because we had planned a cross-country road trip before we adopted him. From time to time, some of my friends and neighbors help out and watch him for day trips and such. Making sure you have a reliable support system for your pup before adoption is so important, because puppies need lots and lots of love and care!
*Bonus!* Remember why you adopted him, and have fun!
A lot of people ask me about Buster, and the number one thing they ask is how we include him in our family so much. I answer that it’s really easy for us because we consider him as a member of the family and not just a pet. We took him apple picking in the fall. We swim with him in our pool in the summer. We took him to a “Bark in the Park” baseball game for a local minor league team. I made him a “treat house” for Christmas. We threw him a birthday party, complete with a cake made with ingredients safe for dogs in the shape of a bone. We include him in as many aspects of our lives that we can, and he makes things so much more fun.
Sometimes my mom, dad and I get so stressed out about taking care of Buster and get lost in the little details that we lose sight about why we adopted him in the first place. When it comes down to it, he’s the perfect addition to our family and we love him so much. He brings so much joy and happiness into our lives and while he may be lot of work, he’s worth it.
If you’re considering adopting a pup of your own, I hope these tips will help you out! Best of luck to you and your new furry friend. Current dog-owners: what else should newbie dog-owners know before they adopt? Let me know in the comments! 🐾