Prepare Yourself for the Evolving Challenge of Dog Ownership

Written by:

Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ
Published: December 20, 2011

Bringing a canine companion into your life is an adventure in caregiving that will likely last for many years. Whether you are currently dog-less, or keep multiple pets, daily compromises to your current lifestyle must be made for a new pooch to positively transition into your home.

The following are my top planning points to perform before, during, and after a dog’s adoption.

Days to Weeks Before the Adoption

Dog Proof Your Home

Akin to a child entering the family fold, responsible pup parents must ensure their new canine kid's safety in both indoor and outdoor environments.

If portions of your home are designated dog-free, partition off these areas with a gate or other suitable obstructive apparatus. Place all trash baskets in cabinets, or purchase tip-proof bins with canine proof lids.

Remove all rodenticides (D-Con, other), snail bait, fertilizers, and other substances that may be inadvertently consumed by a curious canine mouth. Switch to pet safe cleaning products (SeaYu Clean and Green and others), as any aerosolized or surface-applied chemical can be absorbed through a dog’s nose, eyes, skin or mouth, with resulting toxicity.

Outfit Your Dog for Function and Form

Your dog's security during transportation and on excursions from the confines of home is a top preparatory priority. The appropriate use of accessories — including collar, leash, choke chain, harness or others — facilitates safe socialization and exercise.

Don't let the joyful ride home end with disaster as a result of distracted driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), "In 2009, 5,474 people were killed in crashes involving driver distraction, and an estimated 448,000 were injured." Protect yourself and your dog by providing a secure means of canine vehicular transport. Select a rigid crate for a small dog (or cat) and seat belt harness for a larger bodied dog.


Within 24-48 Hours of Adoption


Acquire Medical Records

At the time of adoption, collect all medical records detailing previous vaccinations, deworming, surgeries, medications, supplements, and other treatments. Provide these records to your veterinarian during the initial examination.

Pursue a Veterinary Examination

Having your dog examined by your veterinarian establishes a baseline of current wellness and creates a realistic plan to readily manage physical exam abnormalities. Fecal ovo (egg)/parasite floatation and Giardia ELISA tests should be performed to evaluate your dog for parasites that are capable of contaminating the home environment and infecting other animals (including you). Blood, urine, radiographs (x-rays), and other tests may also be needed determine your dog’s current state of health.

Microchip implantation and registration

Besides providing a collar and tags, increase the odds that your pooch will return home safely, if unforeseeably separated, by having a microchip implanted. Upon being scanned at a veterinary facility or animal shelter, the microchip's code will make it so that you will be efficiently contacted. Always keep your most accessible personal information registered with the chip's manufacturer.


Within Seven Days of New Dog Ownership

Dietary Modifications

Depending on the quality of the food your dog has been eating, a food change may be in order. Under the guidance of your veterinarian, create a plan for transitioning your dog to the healthiest food possible to promote long term wellness and weight maintenance.

Human grade whole food ingredients, natural moisture, and lack of undesirable ingredients (protein and grain meals, by products, preservatives, artificial colors and favors, etc.) should trump convenience when choosing a food. You can reference the University of California’s Davis Veterinary Nutrition Services and BalanceIT to help you design an appropriate home prepared canine diet.

Slowly reduce the previous option and add the new food over a period of seven days or more. Avoid sudden dietary changes, as vomit, diarrhea, or other digestive upset can occur.

Activity, Socialization, and Training

Your dog's well-being depends on the activities you provide. Create safe spaces for learning and positive behavioral interaction, both in your home and social settings.

The ideal exercise for your pooch should be non-traumatic, provide physical and behavioral stimuli, and fit into your daily schedule. Examples include walking or hiking on lead or running and playing off lead.

Start with leash led walks around the familiar terrain of your neighborhood. Work up to increasingly liberating leash-free play, provided your dog exhibits responsiveness to verbal and non-verbal commands.

Commit to daily training sessions throughout your dog's life regardless of juvenile, adult, or geriatric life stage. Pursuing training in a group setting with other dogs and owners will provide you the opportunity to direct positive behavior under the specific guidelines of an experienced trainer. Additionally, the presence of other dog owners gives you the opportunity to share the ups and downs that are inevitably associated with the canine training process.


If you still feel ready to undertake the commitment of dog ownership, then good luck, be patient, and stay positive.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Image: Cardiff by Dr. Mahaney