How To Care For Your Dog: A Step-by-Step Guide

How To Care For Your Dog: A Step-by-Step Guide

A new dog is a fun addition to any family. But first, it’s important to give your furry friend some basic care. Here are the basics of caring for a dog.

Are you preparing to bring a new pup into your life? Whether it’s your first time, it’s been a while, or you’re just looking for a reminder of what you need to make your new furry family member’s transition home as easy as possible, we’re here for you! 

At WINPRO Pet, we’ve made it our business to love your pet almost as much as you do. With that in mind, we designed this checklist with all of the essentials that you need to welcome your new bundle of joy home (even if that bundle is 75 lbs. and fully grown). 

First of All, You’ve Gotta Choose Your Pup

If you’re only just starting your journey as a potential first time dog owner, taking the time to make the right decision when it comes to what type of dog you adopt can really save you a lot of frustration and heartache in the long run. 

A good place to start, if you’re considering a purebred dog, is with the AKC’s Dog Breed Selector. It goes through questions like whether or not you are a first time dog owner, if you have a house or an apartment with a yard, if you have small children, and other important questions. 

If you prefer a dog from an animal shelter or a mixed breed dog (which most people do, and the shelters are absolutely packed with them), there are also some serious considerations. For instance, puppies are often going to be much more work than adult dogs. 

Size is also a factor, both for their comfort and your own. And certain types of dogs, like those with working dog breeds in their genetic makeup, need a lot more exercise than “lazier” dogs. Be honest with yourself about what you want so that you can find the perfect dog for your life. 

It’s also important to note that dog ownership is not cheap. Between the vet visits, the supplies needed to provide your pet with the bare essentials (not counting all the toys and “fun” stuff), the training classes, and everything else it needs, bringing home a pet can be an expensive commitment… and it will continue to cost you money for the life of your pet. 

While pets pay that back to you double in the love and companionship they give you, first time dog owners should understand the financial commitment they are making before bringing their first dog home.

Prepare Your Home Beforehand

Once you’ve decided what type of dog you think will fit best in your family, make sure to take the time to prepare your home before bringing them home. Responsible pet ownership begins with preparation.

Once your dog is home, you’ll want to spend as much time as possible with them, without having to make multiple trips to the store or waiting for online purchases to arrive. 

For the first time dog owner, there are a few things to focus specifically on:

  • Food and water bowls
  • A crate 
  • Food storage bins
  • A leash, collar, and tags
  • A comfortable place to sleep
  • A dog owner's first-aid kit

Making sure you have everything you need before bringing your puppy home is the best way to ensure as easy of a transition as possible. Let’s dive deeper into some of these home prep must-haves for your new pup.

Puppy Proof Your Home

Good puppy care involves treating your new family member like you would any toddler in the home. You wouldn’t just let a 2 year old roam around your home unsupervised, right? Think of your new puppy the same way. 

Get down at their eye level and try to think like a dog. What looks like it would be chewable? Are there areas where they may fall and get hurt, or even get stuck? 

Try to keep all cables and electrical cords out of the way, and use baby gates to keep them out of any rooms that you want to stay “off limits.” 

Remember, Your Dog’s Gotta Eat

Making sure to have a plan for food before your puppy’s paws touch the floor is essential. 

When it comes to dog bowls, there are a lot of different options out there. People tend to pick them based on aesthetic factors, but is there a better way? 

Generally speaking, stainless steel bowls are best because they are more easily washable, don’t hold onto germs, and won’t break if dropped or kicked. If you have a larger breed of dog, it’s worth putting them on an elevated platform (aim for “armpit” height) to help with their digestion and reduce the risk of bloat. 

They are not only super easy to clean, but they are also durable and safer than plastic or ceramic. With any bowl, make sure that you have a way to keep it from sliding around when they eat, and consider raising both the food and water bowl up to “armpit” level to help reduce their risk of developing joint problems later on in life. 

Also, don’t forget to grab a measuring cup that you can dedicate to dog food only, so that you can measure out the exact right amount of food to keep your dog at a healthy weight. 

Choosing the Right Food

Of course, feeding your dog doesn’t stop at their bowl. You also have to have something to put in that bowl!

The types of food that you pick for your dog can actually have an impact on every other part of their life - their overall health, the amount of accidents they have, your dog's coat, how clean their teeth are, and more.  

Check with the breeder or shelter where you are getting your puppy from to see what they are already eating, or ask your veterinarian if they have any advice about what the best foods are (check with them about supplements too, we recommend WINPRO Gut Health as a great way to promote overall health in young dogs). Keep in mind that, if you plan on switching foods, you should always do it gradually to reduce the risk of tummy troubles. 

Dogs, unlike cats, are not considered “obligate” carnivores, meaning that they don’t need to eat meat to be healthy. However, unless there is a specific reason not to feed your dog meat, meat still makes the best protein source. Look for the protein source and other real foods to be at the very top of the ingredient list. 

Reading the label is key, and they are set up similarly to the nutritional labels on the food that we eat. They will also give you an indication of how much food you should be giving them according to their body weight. 

Ask your vet for recommendations that are nutritionally appropriate for your new pup, no matter what life stage they’re in. 

Between the right food and the right canine supplements, this is imperative if you want to keep your dog around as long as possible. Never underestimate the power of quality nutrition!

The Importance of Crate Training

If we’re all honest with ourselves, the vast majority of us let our dogs sleep with us in the bed. It’s just part of the way that we build the bond with our pets, and we’re certainly not going to be judging you here (we’ve all done it, too!). However, although your new dog may be attached to you at the hip, they do still need to have their own space that they can retreat to when they want to be alone. Shelter arrangements should be at the top of your new dog to-do list.

One of the best ways to practice good dog care, although it is hard for a lot of people, is to crate train your pet. Crate training guarantees that your dog has a safe place where they can go to get away from stressors, as well as a place that you know you can keep them safe when you have to leave them alone. 

Dogs are naturally drawn to wanting a den, and a crate gives them that. What you’re really doing is creating a sense of security for your dog, which they are probably lacking as they transition from their old home into their new one.

Your dog’s kennel should be in a place with as little stimulus as possible. It should also be away from the main area of the house, so that your dog is able to retreat to it when they feel stressed out or fearful. That also means that small children should not have access, especially during the times that your dog needs its own space. 

A Comfy Dog Bed Is Key

You should also make sure that your dog has a comfortable place to lay down, especially if they are older. 

It’s ok to not spend a ton of money on a dog bed right off the bat, especially if you’re not sure whether your dog is a chewer or not. But once they’ve settled in, memory foam beds are a great investment in the future of your dog's bones and joints. Make sure you get one that is relatively easy to clean (we like washable covers).

While you may not think about it, dogs actually spend the vast majority of their day either laying down or sleeping, so they need a place where they can do that without it causing them pain (especially seniors). 

Collars and Leashes Are More Than Just Fashion Accessories

Although this is one of the dog essentials that people tend to get the most excited about, buying your new pup his or her own collar and leash is about so much more than just having them look cute. According to the ASPCA, about 15% of home owners had experienced a lost or stolen pet within a 5 year period of their 2012 survey. However, the vast majority of them were able to make it home. But how?

Making sure that you keep your dog safe by having them wear a collar and a tag is likely part of the reason. Opposite from what you might have heard, though, a lot of people suggest putting your own name on their tag instead of theirs. 

Although we don’t like to think about it, there are plenty of people in this world who don’t have you or family pet's best interest in mind. Instead, if they have your dog’s name at their disposal and they have found them wandering around lost, it’s much easier for them to keep them and claim ownership. 

Personal information like your name, your e-mail, and your phone number is great, and a microchip is even better. And, no matter how great your dog may seem off leash, always keep them on one when you walk them in public to make sure they don’t get scared and run off. Traditional leashes are considered much safer than retractable, as well.

The Fun Stuff…

Now that you have the right food bowls and food, a place for them to comfortably retreat and sleep, and a cute but functional collar and leash, it’s on to the fun stuff!

Especially if you’re bringing home a puppy, you need to be prepared with the right toys to keep them mentally engaged and happy. In fact, toys are considered one of the dog essentials just like all of the other things we’ve mentioned! 

The benefits of having the right toys for your dog are endless—they keep them from chewing up inappropriate things (like your shoes and furniture), they keep them from getting bored, they can be used as a reward, and you can even use them to increase your bond with them (especially if they’re new to your home!). 

Try to focus on buying a variety of different types of toys, like tennis balls, chew toys, squeaky toys, and toys that can be filled with pet friendly treats like peanut butter. This type of stimulation really is irreplaceable. 

The Early Days of Dog Parenthood

Making sure you have all of the right dog essentials can seriously help to ease the transition of your new pup into your home. Once you bring your puppy home, it’s important to start building healthy habits together and building the foundation of a long and happy life together. 

In the first few weeks and months of your puppy’s homecoming, make sure you start their training and figure out their exercise routine.

Start Training Early

It’s never too early to start teaching your new puppy (or adult dog!) tricks. In fact, starting the training process early can help increase the likelihood of success, as well create a great bonding experience for you both. If you think about it, your puppy comes to you as a mostly blank slate or a new beginning.  

A common mistake that new dog owners make is not training their dog until it is too late and their habits are much harder to break. However, with a little forethought this doesn’t have to be the case! The importance of house-training cannot be over-emphasized, but socialization training and obedience training are also essential. 

If you’re a first timer, it’s well worth the time and money to take a few puppy training classes. This not only helps you better socialize your pup (which is super important to having a well-adjusted adult dog later on), but it also gives you access to professionals that can help you help your puppy be the best version of themselves. 

If you’d rather go it alone, do some research and find good training tips from reputable sources, like the American Kennel Club. Remember, your puppy really is a baby, and they aren’t immediately used to you speaking English or knowing what to do. Positive reinforcement works way better than negative, and you’re learning alongside your new dog so go easy on yourself (and your pup) if you don’t get it right the first time. Life is a series of learning experiences, after all!

We recommend starting your training schedule with staying or "heel," as a lot of dog trainers cite that as one of the most important tricks they can learn. If your dog manages to get off leash or find themselves in danger, being confident that they will listen to you when you tell them to stop can literally save their lives. 

Exercise Isn’t Optional

If you’re the type of person who likes to come home at the end of a long day and sit on the couch, you may want to consider if you’re really ready to get a dog. During hot summers and cold winters alike, your dog needs to get outside on a regular basis. For dogs, exercise isn’t optional… It's mandatory. 

All major dog groups need exercise periods every day to stay happy and healthy, both mentally and physically. Imagine if you were stuck in the house… you probably would get a little antsy too! The good news is, studies have shown that having a dog also makes you healthier.

Even the smallest dogs need to get plenty of physical exercise in order to be mentally content. Those needs can vary according to your dog’s size, breed, age, health, and interest. For instance, higher energy dogs like Belgian Malinois will need to get more exercise than a lower energy dog like a Basset Hound. 

Obviously, puppies need a lot more exercise than an adult dog. If you’ve ever witnessed the phenomenon known as the “zoomies,” you’ve already seen this in action. But that doesn’t mean that those needs drop off once your puppy reaches adulthood

Good dog care should always involve physical exercise on a daily basis, whether that is throwing the ball around in the backyard, taking a hike, or just walking around the block. Dogs who don’t get enough physical exercise often take that energy out elsewhere, like chewing up inappropriate things, barking, or excessive licking.

After a long walk or run with your dog, consider giving them a supplement meant to help them recover more quickly, like WINPRO Recovery. That way you can stay as active as you want with your pet for as long as possible, first time dog owner or not. 

Caring for Your Pup’s Long Term Health

All of the above dog care tips mean nothing if you don’t surround them with quality care from a licensed, qualified veterinarian. This should start within a few days of getting your dog, whether that dog is still a puppy or a full grown adult. 

Not only can your vet help you decide a feeding schedule, bathing schedules, other precautions to take with your new pet, but proper veterinary care is one of the best methods of prevention of rabies, worms, intestinal parasites, and other ailments. They can also give you puppy first aid tips ahead of time like a simple dressing for their foot in case of a wound, and they can advise you on the correct way to deal with seasonal conditions like extreme humidity.

Veterinary dog care should occur at least once a year, and twice yearly when your dog becomes a senior. But, in the event of a veterinary emergency, having a pre-established relationship with your vet means you can get to the veterinary hospital quicker and they will already know your dog’s history. Really, vet care is absolutely non-negotiable, and likely the most important dog care factor to take into consideration.

In addition to finding a vet you love, you’ll also need to consider flea, tick, and heartworm medications. Let’s learn more about the best ways to care for your new pet’s long term health.

Find a Great Veterinarian

Unlike having a baby, you don’t have to wait until after they’ve come home to establish care with a local veterinarian. You also don't want to wait until you have a hurt dog to find a vet you love.

Starting the process ahead of time allows you to do your research so that you can find one with good reviews that you can trust with your pet. Word of mouth is also important, so make sure that you ask any of your dog-loving friends!

Your veterinarian will be your first and best asset when it comes to taking care of your pet, especially as a first time dog owner. They can walk you through your choices when it comes to what food to feed your dog, can discuss behavioral issues and possible discomfort, and can handle any emergency situations that may come up. 

In addition, your vet will be the one making sure that your dog stays up to date on all of their necessary vaccines. Keeping your pup on the proper vaccination schedule means greatly reducing their risk of catching the big, scary illnesses that may lead to serious issues and even death. Things like rabies, distemper, parvovirus, and bordetella are still out there, and prevention through vaccines are really the only way to protect your pet against them.  

In most cases, the first vet appointment will check a stool sample (to rule out and treat any potential parasites), take blood for a basic panel, verify your pet is free from heartworm, and start out any necessary vaccinations. It’s recommended that you have your pup checked out by a vet within 48 hours of bringing them home, for the safety of your puppy, your family, and any other pets in the home.

Not only is this important to keep your pet healthy, it also establishes the relationship between your dog, yourself, and your veterinarian. 

Similarly, the importance of dental care cannot be overstated. You should also find a doggie dentist before any possible tooth issues arise.

Signs of a Sick Puppy

It’s also helpful puppy care to know the signs that you may be dealing with a sick pup, especially if this is your first dog. Sick dogs don’t always look like sick humans, so you’ll want to pay attention to the more subtle symptoms, too. Here are just a handful of things that should trigger you to give your vet a call:

  • Lethargy (excessive sleepiness) - Yes, puppies sleep a lot. But if your puppy seems to be doing nothing but sleeping, or is hard to wake up, it may be a red flag.
  • Lack of appetite - Most puppies are voracious eaters. If your pup doesn’t have much of an appetite, or if they vomit immediately after eating, check with your vet. 
  • Goopy eyes - Puppies eyes should always be clear. If you notice any squinting, watering, or discharge, schedule an appointment with your vet.
  • Diarrhea - Parvo, one of the scariest diseases your puppy can get, often counts diarrhea as its first symptom. While diarrhea can happen for a bunch of reasons, it should always be evaluated as soon as possible (especially in puppies).

The Importance of Flea, Tick, and Heartworm Medications

There’s no question that owning a pet can get expensive. It can be tempting to sometimes cut corners in order to save money, and one of the ways that some pet owners do that is by not purchasing flea and tick medications. Unfortunately, that can have some very serious repercussions for your pet. 

Fleas, for instance, can not only take over your home fairly quickly, but can also cause secondary skin infections in your dog. Flea allergy dermatitis is one of those conditions, which can be not only very itchy but can also lead to systemic infections. Fleas can also bite the human members of the family, and children are especially susceptible. 

Ticks and heartworm are also equally as potentially dangerous. Heartworm is also a major concern, especially in the South, so it’s just good dog care to make sure to spend those few extra bucks on name brand medication to help prevent all of those bites. 

It’ll keep you, your home, your family, and your pet as safe as possible from many of those small but dangerous threats that we don’t think about as often as we should.

Look For a Doggy Day Care

Although it's nice to think that we'll be able to be there for our pups 24/7, there are some situations where pet sitters, dog walkers, and even dog daycare might be necessary. Ideally, you'll wait a while before taking an extended vacation after adopting your new dog. However, you should research a quality dog service or find trusted neighbors well ahead of time in case of an emergency. 

To Summarize

Hopefully this guide helped you learn just a little bit more about the essentials of dog care, whether you are a new dog owner or have owned dogs for years. 

Taking care of your dog is more than just head pats and tricks, and focusing on making sure you’re providing them with all the right essentials will not only keep them happy and healthy, but strengthen the bond you share with each other. You can count on WINPRO Pet to be right there with you, every step of the way.



Dog Breed Selector - What Breed Of Dog Should I Get? | American Kennel Club

Crate training 101 | Humane Society

Dog Dens | American Humane 

How Many Pets are Lost? How Many Find Their Way Home? ASPCA Survey Has Answers | ASPCA 

7 reasons why dog toys are important | RSPCA Victoria

Dog Training Tips: How to Train a Dog | American Kennel Club

Get Healthy, Get a Dog: The health benefits of canine companionship | Harvard Health

How Much Exercise Does a Dog Need Every Day? | American Kennel Club

Dog and Cat Foods - Management and Nutrition | Merck

Canine and Feline Vaccination Guidelines | UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine