11 Things Every New Dog Owner Should Know

updated Aug 10, 2020
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(Image credit: Elissa Crowe)

Yay, you got a dog! Welcome to the happiest place on earth: a home with a creature that loves you unconditionally and exuberantly. It’s the best. There are a few caveats, though. (Just a few!) Sometimes they eat things they shouldn’t. Sometimes they go places they shouldn’t. Sometimes they do things they shouldn’t. That’s about it. Otherwise yay, dog!

Okay, in all seriousness, your dog, being a creature that likes to be around you, will probably spend a fair amount of time in the kitchen with you. So there are some things you should know — here are 11 to get you started. Trust me, you’ll learn more as you go!

Our Experts

1. You might need new trash cans.

You need to keep all garbage cans well-covered and secure, Dr. Klein says. You don’t have to have seen cousin Eddie’s beast Snots nosing through the trash on National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to know that dogs like to go digging for all those treats us silly humans throw away. Remove temptation and keep a lid on it. Some trash cans have a “pet-proof” lid; if your dog is big and/or willful, maybe get one of those.

2. You also might have to rethink where you keep things.

You can’t leave things on the floor or lying about, says Dr. Klein. That includes everything from bags of dog food — which they can get into with terrible consequences — to purses or bags that might contain medication. Basically, if you wouldn’t let your dog have it, don’t put in in their reach.

3. You’ll need a labeling system.

Anything in your kitchen that could be potentially dangerous should be labeled, says the vet. If Fido does somehow get into a box of medicine or some DIY cleaner you keep under your sink, you’ll need to know what exactly is in it, so you can tell your vet.

4. It’s important to keep key numbers nearby.

And on that note, keep the number for your vet, the emergency vet clinic, and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center Phone Number, which is 888-426-4435, on your fridge for easy reference. Sure, you can store them in your phone too, but what if someone is housesitting or just visiting when calamity strikes? There’s a charge for that hotline, but it’s well worth it. My husband used it when our dog ate cold medicine that was left on the table (see #2!) and, thanks to quick intervention, she recovered completely before I came home from the trip I was on.

(Image credit: Adrienne Breaux)

5. You’ve gotta know what dogs can and can’t eat.

There are some handy lists here of fruits and veggies that are OK and not OK, along with other common foods. The big no-nos, says Dr. Klein, include grapes and raisins (which can be toxic and will cost a couple thousand dollars and a couple days at the vet), onions and garlic, chocolate (especially darker chocolate), and, in his experience one of the most dangerous, corn cobs. Also watch out for anything that contains the artificial sweetener xylitol, which can even be found in many dogs’ all-time favorite treat, peanut butter. Meanwhile, let Rover enjoy treats like pineapple, blueberries, sweet potatoes, eggs, honey, celery, and cucumbers.

6. Dogs shouldn’t eat too quickly.

If you’ve got a fast eater, you can slow them down and keep them safe, Tyler says. “Particularly deep-chested breeds are more likely to bloat from guzzling their food down,” so it’s important to put the brakes on. Bloat is the technical term for when dogs eat too quickly and get too much gas in the tummy, which enlarges the stomach and makes it hard for the dog to breathe.

A lot of people have success with a special dish, featuring maze-like walls that force the dog to slow down (although when my Cash was a hungry puppy, he simply ate the rubber lining of the one we bought, so be careful what type you buy and keep an eye on your dog). Some dogs get irritated with those too, Tyler cautions, and then you can end up with food aggression. Another option is to feed them smaller meals more frequently, or even hand feed them, which will also add to the bonding experience. Maybe the easiest way to do it is just drop an obstacle they have to eat around, like a kong (which, by the way, is the best thing ever).

7. There are ways to make feeding time less frantic.

Wanna get your pooch to chill out while you’re getting his dinner ready? What, you’re not into nonstop barking and jumping while you open cans? I lived with that for almost 12 years with our little Pomeranian until Tyler taught us this trick. Now dinnertime is a calm affair and the dogs sit quietly until I give them the OK.

Basically, put the food down, and when your pup makes a move toward it, pick the food up. Wait till he’s sitting calmly, then put it back down.

“The trick,” he explains, “is to let the dog understand cause and effect of what will bring food. If we want the dog to be calm we won’t move the food till they’re calm. Just wait him out. Ultimately at some point he offers the behavior you want because you’ve got something he wants.”

8. And you can stop the begging while you eat your dinner.

Oh, those puppy dog eyes. Does your dog know how to work you? If your dinner now comes with a side of begging, you can teach your dog some better manners, Tyler says. Of course it starts with not feeding them from the table (if it’s happened once, they will literally never give up hope that it can happen again).

“Good habits are as hard to break as bad habits,” Tyler says, so “set up good habits by showing them where you’d like them to be when you eat. Attach their leash to something immovable, like the leg of the couch, or something near you so they can see you, but far enough away to not have their nose in your plate. Give them a bed, make them comfy, and tether them before you start eating. At the end of the meal, if you’re having something dog-acceptable, give them a bite, or another favorite snack, and spend a minute petting him. Make that a ritual and they’ll learn ‘If I go here while mom or dad eat, I get a reward.'”

9. You have to be careful with your plants.

Some common houseplants can actually be harmful to your pup. Some shocking no-nos include aloe vera, tulips, and daffodils. (If you’re going to have them in your kitchen, make sure they’re up high and way out of reach.) You can find a full, searchable list here.

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

10. You can make your own treats.

There’s no need for store-bought dog biscuits. Your dog may never leave the kitchen if you make these bacon-y biscuits, but he’s guaranteed to love you forever.

The recipe: Homemade Dog Treats

11. It’s all worth it.

Yes, there may be dog hair in everything you cook, you’ll probably trip over your dog more than once, and you may even shoo them out of the kitchen from time to time. But there really, seriously, truly, is nothing better than looking down to see those sweet, soulful eyes looking back up at you. Even if it’s only because you’re holding a treat in your hand.

What are some things you learned when you got a dog? Share your tips in the comments below.