How to Take Care of a Dog (Care Sheet & Guide 2021)

So, you want to get a dog? That’s great! Dogs are loyal companions that will shower you with love and affection and follow you to the ends of the earth as long as you take care of them. Humans and dogs have had a symbiotic relationship since the early days of modern humans, and the quality of the connection people have with their dogs has strengthened over time thanks to thousands of years of selective breeding.

Before you get a dog of your own, you need to make sure you know how to care for your new friend properly, and that’s where we come in. In this guide, we’re going to take a deep dive into dog ownership and tell you everything you need to know to make sure you give your dog the life they deserve. We’re going to cover feeding, cleaning, creating a safe environment, and much more. Let’s begin!

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Do Dogs Make Good Pets?

Dogs are naturally social creatures and therefore make excellent pets. Since dogs are pack animals, they offer a high level of interaction and intelligence and thrive with owners who have the time to train them and interact daily. If you lead a busy life, a dog might not be the best option for you. People who travel often and are away from home for large stretches of time should reconsider whether owning a dog is a responsible decision.

Unlike some cats, virtually all dogs need social interaction with both people and other dogs. The ideal dog owner has 1-2 hours per day to devote exclusively to their canine companion. This time can be broken up between walks, training, and playtime, but the important part is that you spend time with your dog every day.

In addition to social interaction, dogs have a variety of daily needs. Most dogs are fed two or three times per day and need their water bowls refilled at least a few times per day. It is essential to make sure your dog is eating enough and drinking enough water.

Dogs also need daily exercise, but how much depends heavily on the breed. Some dogs—like Border Collies, Labs, and Shepherds—require several hours of intense exercise per day. Walking, hiking, playing fetch several times per day is necessary to meet the activity needs of the most active breeds.

If you’re not so active yourself, consider getting a less active breed such as a Pug, Maltese, or Pomeranian. Smaller dogs are often more likely to be lap dogs and are usually better breeds for people who live in apartments or people who can’t commit to getting their dog more than one or two short walks per day. Matching your dog’s activity level to your own is the best way to ensure both you and your pooch are happy.

girl and brown doberman dog
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Where Can I Get a Dog?

Adult Dogs

When you’re looking to get an adult dog, you have several options. One of the best ways to get a dog is to rescue one from a shelter. Most animal shelters are constantly pressed for space and resources and struggle to house all the dogs in need of homes. By rescuing a dog, you could literally be saving their life.

Shelter dogs usually come from previous owners, and so many are already potty trained and have some level of obedience training. Virtually all shelters will let you interact with a dog for as long as you like before deciding if you want to adopt them. Additionally, shelters and dog rescues are staffed by knowledgeable, friendly dog-lovers who are more than happy to help you find the right dog for adoption. They will work with you to help match your activity level and lifestyle with a compatible dog to ensure both you and the dog are happy.

siberian husky
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Puppies

If you are looking for a puppy rather than an adult dog, rescuing from a shelter is still a good option. Many puppies are abandoned every year by owners that weren’t prepared to handle raising a puppy.

Another option is to contact a reputable breeder. Many dog breeders are verified by large organizations like the American Kennel Club, which offers you some peace of mind when selecting a breeder. You should investigate potential breeders thoroughly before committing to purchasing a pup from one by speaking with them, visiting their location, and asking any questions you have.

Under no circumstances should you purchase a puppy from a traditional pet store, as these businesses typically breed dogs for profit. Every year, millions of dogs are euthanized because of a surplus of dogs bred for profit, and these businesses are the main culprit.

siberian husky puppy lying indoor
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How Much Does It Cost To Own a Dog?

One of the main reasons people abandon dogs to shelters is money. Many people don’t realize how expensive owning a dog can be and can’t afford to care for one properly. The main costs are:

  • The initial cost of creating a space for your dog
  • The recurring cost of food
  • The unpredictable cost of vet bills
  • Grooming

Even if you don’t crate train your dog, you need to invest in some items to create a space in your home just for your new friend. If you decide to crate train your dog, expect to pay between $25 and $100 dollars for a bare-bones wire crate, depending on how big your dog is. More expensive crates are collapsible and have extra features, but those tend to be more expensive and can cost several hundred dollars for top-of-the-line models.

Food Costs

Food is the highest recurring cost and can get quite expensive, especially if you have a larger dog. Small dogs need only ¼ cup to 1 cup of food per day, while larger dogs can eat up to 3 cups of food per day. The best way to estimate how much your dog food will cost is to use the price per cup and multiply by your dog’s needs. Rough estimates based on the average price of dry dog food give a monthly cost of between $15 and $55, spanning the range from toy breeds to giant breeds. If you have a medium-sized dog, $30 to $40 per month is a good guess.

a man hugging a dog
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Veterinary Costs

Vet bills are typically unexpected and can be staggering depending on what your dog needs. This can be hard to estimate and will vary for each individual dog, but rough estimates put the yearly cost of vet bills between $1,000 and $2,000.

Grooming Costs

Finally, most dogs need occasional trips to the groomer to keep them clean and healthy. Even if you brush and wash your dog yourself, nail care can be tricky and is usually best handled by a professional. If you have a short-haired dog that doesn’t need much grooming, your yearly grooming bill could be as low as $50, but a long-haired dog or a dog with a thick coat that needs regular attention could rack up a hefty grooming bill over the course of a year.

Overall, between the initial cost, food, vet bills, and grooming costs, the yearly cost of owning a dog is roughly between $1,500 and $2,000 per year. Most of the uncertainty is driven by the unpredictability of vet bills.

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What Kind of Home Does My Dog Need?

The previous section covered the bare necessities of owning a dog, but there are many more items that you’ll need to give your furry friend a great home.

Dogs need mental stimulation, and playtime is the best way to keep them sharp. Your dog doesn’t need a large bucket full of toys, but one or two dog toys can go a long way to keeping your pup happy and active. We recommend a small variety of toys that includes something to fetch like a ball or disc, something to tug like a rope toy, and something soft to chew or snuggle.

Most owners also need a dedicated brush to keep their dog’s hair untangled and unmatted. Make sure you get one without sharp bristles since some brushes are abrasive and can irritate your dog’s skin.

A dog bed isn’t technically necessary, but dog beds save the hassle of creating a cozy spot for your dog from scratch. Dog beds come in all shapes and sizes and are made to withstand the wear and tear of digging. We recommend picking one up even if you augment it with blankets and pillows of your own.

A set of dog bowls is also a good investment. Some large dogs can develop neck and back pain as they age if they eat off the floor, so consider buying a set of bowls that comes with a stand. While it’s not technically necessary, an additional layer of protection for your dog can go a long way to maintaining their quality of life when they get older.

Finally, for your own sake, you should have a variety of cleaning products on hand for when your dog inevitably makes a mess. Some dogs will have accidents in the house as they get older, but even younger dogs occasionally vomit, and when they do, it always seems to be on a rug.

dog inside soft sided doghouse
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What Should I Feed My Dog?

The easiest way to learn about feeding your dog a healthy canine diet is to consult your veterinarian. They will be able to guide you in purchasing dog food that is well-balanced and meets your specific dog’s nutritional requirements.

The general components of a dog’s diet are the same as a human’s, but dogs require different amounts of each nutrient than humans do. Modern dogs tend to be omnivorous and eat a variety of meat, kibble, and healthy vegetables. The safest bet for crafting your dog’s diet is to go with a quality kibble. Responsible dog food manufacturers balance their kibble formulas to make sure your dog’s nutritional requirements are met. This is where your vet comes in, since they will be able to steer you in the right direction towards the right food for your dog.

You can also decide to make your dog homemade dog food, but this path takes much more effort and is typically unsustainable for most people. Raw meat is often a central piece of homemade dog food, but you need to make sure to practice good habits for preparing raw meat to reduce the possibility of your dog contracting a food-borne illness. Some homemade dog foods include vegetables and grains as well, but the right balance of each ingredient can vary a lot between breeds. Once again, consult a veterinarian before creating your dog’s diet.

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How Do I Take Care of My Dog?

Feeding

The most important aspect of taking care of your dog—according to your dog, at least—is feeding. Most dogs do well on a twice-per-day schedule, once in the morning and once in the evening. Some dogs will only eat until they are full and can do well being fed once a day as long as they have access to their bowl throughout the day.

Golden Retriever eating
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Water

Dogs need water just like people do, so be sure your dog always has access to clean water. It is important to refresh the water a few times throughout the day to prevent mold and bacteria from forming. It is good practice to clean your dog’s bowl a few times per week with regular rinses each day.

Socialization

As pack animals, dogs are extremely social and require regular interaction with people and other dogs. Dog parks are great resources for getting your dog exercise and socialization simultaneously. If you don’t have a dog park near you, try to socialize your dog with other dogs owned by family and friends. The more time your dog spends around other pups, the better adjusted they will be.

pitbulls playing
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Exercise

How much exercise your dog needs depends heavily on their breed, but all dogs need some exercise every day. The least active breeds only require a few low-key walks per day, while the most active breeds need several hours of intense exercise. If you have an active breed, be sure to allow them ample time and space outside to run and explore.

dachshund playing at the beach
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How Do I Know If My Dog Is Sick?

Even if your dog appears outwardly healthy, you should still take them to the vet once per year for a check-up. Regular check-ups will help ensure your dog stays healthy as they get older. Many dogs require teeth cleaning a few times throughout their lives, and your vet will advise you when these are appropriate.

Besides regular yearly visits, we recommend erring on the side of caution and taking your dog to the vet as soon as you notice something seems off. Many serious conditions and injuries can be fixed if they’re given the proper attention early enough. If you wait and see if they get better, it could make the situation worse.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell what is wrong with your dog, so learning to spot the signs of some common illnesses is a good idea.

1. Fleas and Ticks

If your dog spends any time outside, they could wind up with fleas or ticks. Fleas cause excessive scratching that is easy to recognize and treat with medication, but ticks are harder to spot and require a thorough examination. If you suspect your dog could have picked up ticks, carefully comb through their hair looking for any dark spots. This process can take some time, but it’s important to find ticks so that you can inform your vet. Some tick-borne illnesses are serious and can be life-threatening.

removing mite and flea from dog paw
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2. Kennel Cough

One of the most common illnesses in dogs is kennel cough. Any time your dog is around other dogs, it’s possible for them to catch kennel cough from another infected dog. Luckily, kennel cough usually isn’t a big deal and will pass within a few days. If your dog develops a dry cough, odds are it is kennel cough. However, if the cough doesn’t go away on its own after a few days, consult your veterinarian.

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3. Ear Infections

Dogs with floppy ears, like hounds, are particularly susceptible to ear infections, but all dogs can develop them. If you notice your dog scratching their ears more than usual, rubbing their head on the ground, or shaking their head repeatedly, they could have an ear infection. Most ear infections aren’t dangerous and respond well to antibiotics. Make sure to call your vet if you suspect your dog has an ear infection.

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Conclusion

We hope this guide helps you decide whether a dog is the right pet for you and has given you some insight into what goes into caring for a dog. Dogs are wonderful pets, and most dog owners treat their dogs like family. The bond between a dog and its owner is special and unlike any other cross-species bond.

Informing yourself about how to properly care for your dog is the best way to cultivate their love and trust and give them the life they deserve. A lot goes into taking care of a dog, but we promise it’s worth it. As long as you are prepared emotionally and financially, becoming a dog owner is one of the most rewarding decisions you can make.


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