There's no question that puppies are cute, but all that awesomeness can distract from the fact that getting a puppy is also a serious matter. Among the precautions and preparations to consider are vaccinations, a leash and a constantly filled water bowl. With the help of Dr. Katy J. Nelson, a Virginia-based veterinarian and member of the Iams Pet Wellness Council, and Dr. E'Lise Christensen, a New York City-based veterinary behaviorist, we've put together a checklist of commonly overlooked recommendations.
Know Your Breeds
Whether you're buying a dog from a pet store or adopting from a shelter, you should research the breed you're considering and make sure it's a good match for your lifestyle. "Many people do not carefully consider what breed they are getting; they just see a dog they think is cute and get it without a thought as to whether or not their personality and lifestyle is appropriate for this type of dog," says Nelson.
Puppy-proof the House
"Think of puppy-proofing like baby-proofing -- you must protect them from themselves," says Nelson. In fact, she says the baby-proofing items found in home improvement or baby stores are just what you'll want. It's also very important to make sure all medications are locked away. The No. 1 call to the Animal Poison Control Center each year is for human medication ingestion. Another tip: "Get down on your hands and knees and crawl around to see the world from their level," says Nelson, and you'll find plenty to puppy-proof.
Prepare the Children
Kids and puppies gravitate to each other, but kids are understandably the least informed and certainly the least restrained when it comes to puppies. Christensen says it's very important that puppies have only positive experiences with children. Kids therefore need to be taught restraint, and all puppy time should be supervised. "They should only touch the puppy gently, and only at times the puppy is interested in interacting," she says. "They should play remote games, such as fetch or chase the kibble, rather than hugging, lifting or grabbing a puppy."
Learn Dog Body Language
Misinterpreting body language is an area where adults can be as uninformed as children. It's easy to assume a dog's body language is self-evident, such as a wagging tail, but that's far from the truth. "A wagging tail doesn't (always) mean that a dog wants to be petted. Some dogs that are wagging their tail may be very upset and may even bite," says Christensen.
Choose a Food
Most breeders, pet stores or shelters will send you home with a short supply of the puppy food your dog was eating before going home with you, and you should use it at first. You'll then want to transition them to the food you've chosen, based on research and a consultation with your (future) veterinarian. Christensen also suggests deciding on a single location for feeding and sticking to it. The regularity and routine will help with training.
Open a Savings Account for Your Dog
Among her list of supplies for responsible ownership, the first thing Christensen notes is money for veterinary bills and care. Estimates can range from several hundred to a couple of thousand per year, so set up an account and contribute to it on a regular basis, little by little. You'll be happy that you have it when the time comes to use it.
Lastly, both experts urge you to do more of your own research on these and any other puppy preparations you make. "Educate yourself on what your dog needs to live a long and healthy life," says Nelson.
Elijah Merrill is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and Discover.