A New Dog Parent’s Ultimate Guide
You got a dog! Now what? Here’s everything you need to know to set your new puppy up for success.18 minute read
You just brought your new puppy home. You’re excited. You're overwhelmed. Where do you even start with all the dog ownership information at your fingertips?
Let’s make sense of the noise so you can build a life you love with your dog. Here’s the ultimate guide to set your new puppy up for success!
- Remember your puppy is a dog, not a human. We’re both social mammals with an incredible ability to connect with each other, but we can’t expect our dogs to experience the world like we do.
- Set priorities based on your own lifestyle, values, and preferences. Your goals don’t have to look the same as everyone else’s.
- Make sure your household is on the same page. Create structure through a set schedule in the beginning. As you build healthy habits, enjoy more flexibility.
- Focus on meeting your puppy’s basic needs first. When your dog is physically healthy and fulfilled, she’ll be up for more challenges. These needs include nutritious food, access to water, regular bathroom breaks, adequate sleep, exercise, grooming, and positive social interaction.
- Socialization is more about exposure than saying hi. Get your puppy used to a variety of sights, sounds, surfaces, and objects. And make sure she knows you have her back in every environment.
- Start training foundational skills like name recognition and impulse control early. You’ll set the stage for more complex behaviors later on.
- Celebrate small wins. Puppy raising isn’t a race. It’s about building a meaningful, lifelong relationship.
First think about your long-term goals with your new puppy
It’s tempting to frantically Google “what does my dog need to know” and start following whatever the top results say. Don't do that. Pause and think about your own lifestyle and preferences first.
When you align your current priorities with value-driven goals, you’ll feel more confident about your decisions and stay motivated when things get tough.
Recognize who your dog is
Dogs are many things to us—friends, family members, teammates, comedians—but we also need to remember they’re canines. When we respect our dogs for who they are, we can set more realistic goals.
Researchers learn more about dogs every day. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Dogs don’t experience the world like humans do. A canine’s primary sense is smell, followed by hearing and sight.
- Dogs have larger social bubbles than we do. They still feel connected to their family, but from a greater physical distance. This explains why they often want to explore ahead of us on walks.
- Dogs have an associative memory, rather than an episodic memory. This means they learn patterns and develop “pictures” of certain situations as opposed to recalling specific events.
- They also have poor short-term recollection. Yelling at your dog for something she did twenty minutes ago won’t do either of you any good.
- That said, canines can experience one-trial learning. This explains why some puppies become afraid of all other dogs after being attacked once. We should prioritize general associations while avoiding single-event trauma.
- Dogs aren’t wolves. It’s not just their appearance that has evolved. Their personalities have too! Domestic dogs retain more juvenile traits throughout adulthood, which is called neoteny.
- Dominance is largely based on control of resources, which means we’re automatically in charge of our dogs’ lives—even without following outdated “alpha” training protocols.
Remember your life doesn’t have to look a certain way
Think about what you want, for both yourself and your dog, out of this new relationship. What drew you to a canine companion? What do you hope to experience together? What does your ideal lifestyle look like?
Most dog parents will have some similar goals like house training, sleeping through the night, and basic training communication. These can be viewed as the “vital few” of life with dogs: small things that have a big impact on overall harmony.
Beyond that, individual priorities will vary based on your personal situation and preferences.
|City apartment||Leashed walks, politely passing other people and dogs, finding accessible exercise outlets.|
|House with yard||Not digging in the yard, staying on top of leash manners, exposure to new environments.|
|Kids||Getting your puppy comfortable being touched, building her tolerance in case kids handle her poorly, avoiding resource guarding.|
|Other dogs||Sharing resources with other pets, acceptable play behavior, managing energy levels inside your home.|
|Frequent visitors||Socialization to many different people, comfort taking cues from your friends, the ability to calmly greet guests.|
|At home a lot||Preventing separation anxiety, still getting consistent exposure to the outside world.|
|In-office days||Crate training your puppy, ensuring she’s comfortable if a dog walker or friend needs to take her out.|
|Hiking and camping||A reliable recall (coming when called) for safe off-leash time and confidence in rural environments.|
|Patios and errands||Leash manners, being comfortable near things like carts and other people, the ability to settle around commotion.|
Ultimately, reflecting on who you are, where you are, and what you want will help you build the best possible life with your dog. And it bears repeating: Remember to think about what you want, not what your neighbor, family member, or friend might want.
Accept that your goals can change over time
Something that feels unimportant now might become a priority later on, and vice versa. That’s okay! When we think about long-term goals, we don’t have to plan out our entire future. We want to be thoughtful about what we’re doing, where we’re going, and why.
Just make sure to be clear when communicating expectations to your puppy. If you used to allow her on furniture but now want her to stay on a designated dog bed during movie nights, for example, take the transition slowly. Use lots of positive reinforcement so she doesn’t feel stressed by the sudden change.
Make sure your household is on the same page
Raising a new dog can be a lot. Extra sets of hands are great for taking care of puppy chores, but the more people at home, the more complicated things get. Not only do you have to manage your new dog, you also have to manage everyone else’s expectations.
Thankfully, a consistent routine and open communication will help everything fall into place.
Create a schedule to start
A consistent daily schedule helps everyone at home build healthy habits—you, a partner, kids, and your new puppy.
In the beginning, defined structure makes sure your household stays consistent. This consistency creates clarity. Then over time, you can embrace greater flexibility! Following a schedule doesn’t mean you’re stuck with strict rules forever. It does prepare you and your puppy for more harmony later on.
Questions to discuss with your family
In order to be clear with your new dog, you need to first have open communication with your fellow humans.
Here are some conversation starters to get everyone in your home thinking:
- How will you divide up puppy tasks (like potty breaks and meal times)?
- How will you keep track of what’s already been done each day?
- Will one person take the lead on training?
- Will our dog be allowed on the furniture?
- What should our dog be doing while we eat?
- Are there any “deal breakers” for specific family members?
- What are you most looking forward to as a new dog parent?
- What are you most worried about?
- How can you work together to mitigate those concerns?
Meet your new puppy’s basic needs
Success as a new dog parent starts with keeping your puppy physically and mentally healthy. It’s exciting to think about specific tricks and adventures and accomplishments, but fundamental needs come first. Baseline fulfillment prepares your puppy to tackle bigger challenges later on!
Food, water, and bathroom breaks
How much should you feed your new puppy?
Growing puppies require different types of nutrients, and in different quantities, than adult dogs do. Make sure to choose a food specifically designed for puppies until your dog is around six months to a year old.
Once you pick a complete and balanced brand, the label should include feeding guidelines. But remember they’re just rules of thumb. Adjust up or down based on what you know about your puppy, considering questions like:
- How active is she?
- Is she getting additional calories from treats?
- Is she finishing all of her food now? (If she’s not, you might want to feed her less. If she is, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should feed her more — dogs are often inclined to over-eat just like humans.)
- Is she growing at a healthy rate?
Keep in mind that labels will often give recommendations in amount per day. This means you’ll have to do the math yourself of how much to feed at each meal! Most puppies do well with frequent small feedings three to four times throughout the day. As your dog gets older, you can settle into a more traditional breakfast and dinner routine.
When in doubt, consult with your veterinarian. Not all puppies have the same caloric needs.
Should your puppy have access to water at all times?
Puppies need more water than adult dogs, and the exact amount can change based on their activity level or other conditions of their environment.
As a general rule, growing dogs need a half to one ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. This means a puppy weighing ten pounds needs between five to ten ounces of water per day (a little more than one half to one and a fourth cups). A puppy weighing 20 pounds needs one and a fourth to two and a half, and so on.
We recommend giving your puppy free access to water whenever you can. Dogs are generally good at regulating intake on their own. She should drink when she’s thirsty and stop when satisfied.
There are two exceptions where you might want to restrict your new puppy’s water access for short periods of time:
- If you're going to be away from home, consider taking their bowl away 30–60 minutes before you leave. Make sure to give your pup a potty break immediately before departing.
- At night, you might restrict access for a little longer since a sleeping puppy doesn't require as many water breaks. Most puppies are okay if they don't have water within two to three hours of bed time.
We want to point out that you should not restrict your puppy's access to water as a general method for preventing house training accidents. It can quickly lead to dehydration. That brings us to one of the most commonly asked questions.
How long can your puppy hold her bladder?
Puppies can typically hold their bladders and bowels one hour for every month of age, sometimes plus one. So if your pup is eight weeks old (two months, which is usually the soonest you’re allowed to pick them up from the breeder) she can only hold it for two to three hours.
Beyond this general rule, you should expect to take your puppy out:
- First thing in the morning
- Last thing at night
- After playing or chewing a toy
- After spending time in the crate
- Upon waking up from a nap
- After eating and drinking
Phew, we know that sounds like a lot. Thankfully, puppies do develop quickly. After a few months of consistent house training, your dog will be able to hold her bladder just as well as an adult (grown dogs should still get the chance to relieve themselves every six to nine hours).
Your puppy needs a lot of sleep
How much sleep does your puppy need?
Puppies need more sleep than you might think! Most experts agree that growing dogs need between 18 and 20 hours of sleep a day. (Think about it. That means they might only be awake for four to six hours.)
Puppies will naturally sleep at various times throughout the day along with a longer stretch at night. Often, they’ll nap as long as they can until their bladders (or family members—we know puppies can be impossible to resist!) wake them up.
How can you encourage your puppy to get enough rest?
If you don't have one already, consider buying a kennel for your dog. Crates aren’t unkind. In fact, they provide a private den that taps into your puppy’s natural safety instincts. A comfortable kennel will help her sleep deeply overnight and give her a quiet place to retreat to during the day.
Your dog might struggle to get used to her crate at first, but with your calm presence and positive reinforcement, she’ll quickly learn that it’s a good thing. It's something you can train and work on together.
We also recommend setting consistent bed and wake up times that correspond with your puppy's age and how frequently she needs potty breaks. For daytime sleeping, it's best to remain flexible, but it’s a good idea to schedule a handful of two-hour naps to ensure adequate rest and keep up your crate training.
Exercise and fulfillment
While sustained jogging or running is not recommended for young dogs whose bones haven’t finished growing—you’ll want to check with your veterinarian before embarking on any high impact activities—puppies still need daily exercise.
Exploratory neighborhood walks are a great way to get your new dog moving without overdoing it. Games like tug are classics for a reason too.
Beyond physical activities, you can fulfill your puppy’s canine instincts in a variety of ways:
- Enrichment meals fed in snuffle mats or puzzle toys (this lets your dog practice natural foraging behaviors)
- Food searches for treats hidden around a room (they get to use their noses)
- Low-energy games for eye contact and name recognition
Exposure to the world
Early socialization is one of the most important things you can do with your new puppy. Exposure to a variety of sights, sounds, surfaces, and objects will help their brains develop. It's also the perfect opportunity to prepare your dog to seamlessly share your life as she gets older!
- Sights like balloons, people approaching, other dogs playing, and different lighting (many dogs are more wary in the dark)
- Sounds like the television, car horns, loud laughter, and knocks on the door
- Surfaces like concrete, wood, tile, laminate, carpet, grass, and even sidewalk grates
- Objects like the vacuum, blender, coffee maker, and lawn mower
When socializing your puppy, keep in mind:
- Healthy socialization is more about exposure than interaction. Your puppy doesn’t need to engage with everything in her environment. Instead, focus on helping her feel confident and connected to you while the world goes by around her.
- Prioritize introducing your puppy to the environments you want her to visit when she’s older. Are you a nature enthusiast? Spend time getting used to the stimuli of hiking trails. Do you plan to take your dog to pet-friendly patios? Go on some short visits while she’s still young.
- Think about what mindset you want your dog to have in different contexts as she ages. Try to create those emotions while she’s young! For example, you might take her to the park when she has a lot of energy to play but to a patio when she’s already tired.
- Differences that seem subtle to us can be jarring to a puppy without life experience. We might just see “a person”, but our dogs pay more attention to height, facial hair, accessories, and body movements. We might think it’s simply going to the bathroom, but our dogs’ picture of a situation changes if they’re on leash or in a new place.
- Old dogs can learn new tricks, but puppies are best suited to learn about the world in their first three months of life.
- Don’t overdo it. Short, sweet exposure is always better than pushing your puppy to the point of exhaustion.
- If your puppy seems overwhelmed, show her you have her back. Does she shy away when someone tries to pet her? That’s okay. Don’t force it! Instead, feed her treats while the person speaks in a pleasant voice nearby. Don’t put pressure on her to be touched. Does she seem nervous to meet another dog? Same story there.
Routine veterinary care and grooming
How often does your puppy need to go to the vet?
From the time she’s first born until about four months of age, your puppy should be seen by her vet once a month. This means you’ll have to take her to two to three check ups after you bring her home from the breeder.
After that, you can reduce your visits to once a year for:
- Booster vaccinations (your vet’s recommendations will depend on your geographical location and daily activities)
- Flea, tick, and heartworm prevention
- Stool analysis
- A brief dental exam
It’s important to find a vet you trust! While they’re the experts, you should always feel like you’re making decisions as a team. Make sure you’re comfortable asking questions and sharing concerns.
How often should you groom your new puppy?
You’ll also want to get your dog used to having her nails trimmed and coat brushed as early as possible.
As a general rule:
- Your puppy’s nails should be short enough that they don’t touch the ground when she stands still. If they grow too long, they can affect her posture—which can eventually lead to gait, joint, and muscle problems. Most dogs need their nails trimmed every two to eight weeks.
- Depending on the length and texture of your puppy’s fur, she might need to be brushed anywhere from once a day to once every other week. Consult with your breeder or veterinarian for tailored recommendations.
- Your dog doesn’t actually need baths to stay healthy, but depending on how much she likes to wade in mud (or roll around in who knows what) you might want to give her one anyway. Use a gentle shampoo and pay close attention to any skin dryness. That’s a sign you might be washing too frequently.
A positive social relationship with you
Yes, regular interaction is one of your puppy’s basic needs! Dogs are social, cooperative mammals just like us. We don’t call them “man’s best friend” for nothing.
One of the most important things you can do with your new dog is spend time getting to know each other. Picking up on your puppy’s subtle cues is essential to being a great dog parent. Learn her body language and pattern match which signals (like vocalizations, body position, or facial expressions) usually indicate certain needs (like to use the bathroom or be removed from an uncomfortable situation).
The more you listen to your dog and communicate back in ways she can understand, the more you fill her trust battery.
And on the human end, connecting with your dog as a fellow creature gives meaning to the (sometimes onerous) work required to raise a puppy. Over time, your relationship will only deepen.
Start training your new puppy’s foundational skills
When your puppy’s basic needs are met, you’ll both feel ready to build more skills for your life together. Here are a few things it’s a good idea for every dog to learn.
If there’s one word your new puppy should know, it’s her name. You can start to build a positive association by saying her name, then immediately giving her a treat. Over time she’ll realize the sound is a cue to pay attention and that it means good things come from you.
This simple exercise can set the stage for more advanced recall and focus work as your dog grows.
Accepting a collar and leash
Chances are your new puppy will spend plenty of time wearing a collar and a leash, but it’s important to remember our dogs don’t come with a natural understanding of what these tools are. It can be scary for a young pup to be tethered for the first time! She might feel trapped or not know what to do.
Start slowly by creating a positive association between your puppy’s collar and her favorite things (like small, tasty treats or a favorite toy). Once she seems unbothered, you can start working on basic leash manners.
Impulse control basics
Impulse control is a valuable skill for all puppies to have. We live in a human world that’s often incompatible with our dog’s instincts. The ability for your puppy to pause before acting (like when she wants to chase a squirrel or pick up litter on a walk) can give you time to step in and keep her safe.
Here are some easy ways to start working on impulse control:
- Have your dog sit and look at you to “say please” before going outside, leaving her crate, or walking through any puppy gates in your house.
- Over time, this can create a habit where she doesn’t run out into the yard until you tell her it’s okay. It's especially helpful if you have multiple family members or visitors who might forget to close the door behind them.
- Practice a basic “leave it” command with your puppy’s favorite treats. When she disengages from the piece of food you’re asking her to ignore, reward her with an even bigger morsel. Keep sessions short and always end on a positive note.
Quick tips for success
If you remember nothing else, these three things will keep you headed in the right direction.
Group tasks together
Dog parenting can feel overwhelming, but stacking your activities can make things feel more attainable. Instead of treating each responsibility like a separate item, consider combinations like:
- Having a short play session after each bathroom break
- Using some of your puppy’s meal to work on her name recognition, impulse control, or other basic training skills
- Taking your dog on an outing designed to meet multiple needs at the same time—like a park to use the bathroom, play, practice wearing a leash, and watch the world go by
- Brushing your puppy’s fur before bed
Keep your schedule as detailed or high level as you need
Different households have different needs. Some of us thrive with exact, step-by-step plans. Others feel trapped when things are too set in stone.
You’re in control to create the routine that works best for you. We know it’s tempting to play the comparison game, but remember to come back to your own goals and preferences.
Celebrate the small wins
Puppy raising is full of baby steps that build together over time. Before you know it, the midnight potty breaks and simple training games set the stage for a big, beautiful life together. Don’t forget to celebrate every little success along the way.
Remember, this isn’t a race. It’s a shared life with an incredible creature.
Here’s to your new best friend
You and your puppy are taking part in a tradition that is 15,000 years old. Science suggests that humans and canines have both evolved to physically and mentally benefit from being together.
Just ask any dedicated dog parent: The dog-human bond is one of the most magical things you can experience. Enjoy the journey!