First-Time Pet-Owner Guides

First-Time Dog Owners

You have a dog! Congratulations! Take a moment and breathe in the smell of their fur, give a solid butt pat, and get licked on the mouth. Now it's time to consider their veterinary care. Dogs should get vaccines once a year, around the same time every year. The rabies vaccine is universally required; the distemper, parvo, bordetella (kennel cough), and leptospira vaccines are strongly recommended. It's also important to keep your dog on preventatives for fleas/ticks and heartworms year-round. Most veterinarians require a yearly negative heartworm test in order to prescribe heartworm prevention. As far as flea prevention, there are OTC options, but a prescription from your vet will be much more effective.

Day-to-day, there are a lot of ways to show your dog you care. Puppies should eat three times a day, and adults twice. Look for a food with protein as the first ingredient, and avoid grain-free foods as they often contain other fillers that are not good for your dog. Follow the directions on the bag to make sure you're feeding the right amount for their weight and activity level. You also get the privilege of taking your dog for walks! Bare-minimum once a day, you should go out for 10-15 minutes. Of course, younger dogs need longer - if you're walking a puppy, you should be out of breath by the time you get home. If at all possible, go out in the morning and in the evening, as well as a couple quick bathroom breaks throughout the day. Try to vary the route you take, as dogs love to get new smells!

For any dog with an unknown history, be careful taking them around other dogs. Especially if your dog came from a shelter, they will need a few months to decompress. Once you feel like you understand them, you know their tics and triggers, then you can start working on their doggy skills. Start by walking them across the park from another dog, and then slowly come closer, watching for any changes in your dog's behavior. Tail wagging and alert eyes are signs of positive interest, but be careful of going too quickly - an overexcited dog can turn playtime into a fight. Flattened ears and stiff posture are signs of fear, and you should remove your dog from the situation. Eventually, with repetition, they will feel more comfortable around other dogs. Once they've mastered leash-walking around other dogs, they're ready to try a well-supervised visit to the park!

Now that you've mastered the daily care of your dog, you can start training together. There are loads of books and videos out there, so you have your pick. Whichever one you choose, give it a few weeks trial, and then if it works, stick with it. The act of training is itself a learned behavior - if you train your dog the same way for every word, they will start to learn faster. Positive reinforcement is key - if your dog knows they get rewarded for doing what you want, they will gladly do it; that's how dogs were domesticated to think. They're not called "man's best friend" for nothing! If you use punishment, your dog will only listen out of fear; that's the opposite of love. As soon as you turn your back, your dog will do whatever they want, because they haven't learned what they are supposed to do, only what they're not supposed to do. Think of it like this - if you were trying to teach a toddler the alphabet, you wouldn't just have them scribble on a piece of paper and keep yelling 'No!' until they make a letter; you would show them how to write the letter and then make gentle corrections, rewarding them every time them make progress. There are whole dissertations on dog training, websites and series and channels you can read and watch through, but the SparkNotes are these: work together, with love and patience, and you can't go wrong.

First-Time Cat Owners

When picking a cat, remember that personality is more important than color - some cats are very vocal, some are very sweet, some will play every moment of the day. Make sure you get a cat whose personality matches your own. If your lifestyle doesn't allow you spend a lot of time with the cat at home, just get a second cat. Seriously! They teach each other how to play, how to recognize feline body language, and how to use the litterbox. A sure-fire way to teach your cat not to commit Murderous Scratching is to have their new brother teach them for you.

Believe it or not, the best thing you can do with a new cat is to just leave them alone. Sometimes, cats just need to be in a small, dark room for a few days, so they can adjust to their new home. Bathrooms are a great option, because the spot behind the toilet is surprisingly comfortable for cats. There's the added bonus of the short bits of human contact that they get, letting them get used to you. Cats relate on their own terms; like toddlers, if you push them, they will throw a fit. Once your new cat(s) are starting to come up to you when you come in, you can let them explore the rest of their new home. Make sure to create plenty of hiding places for them - cats love a good Sideways-Box, or a blanket over a chair. Every room that you spend time in should have a safe place for your cat to quietly observe you. Unlike dogs, cats display affection by existing in the same area as you. Their mere presence is a sign of trust.

If you're getting cats, you probably have plants. Make sure the plants aren't poisonous to cats, because your cat is both willing and able to eat them. Lilies, aloe, cacti, and many other plants will make your cat seriously ill; spider plants and too-much-catnip will just give them an upset stomach.

The total number of litterboxes in your home should be one more than the number of cats you have (eg, 2 cats --> 3 litterboxes). You should scoop their litter every day, because they can get very ill from stepping in their own waste and then licking their paws. Ideally, you should completely empty, bleach, wash, and refill the litterboxes with new litter every week.

If your cat wakes you up at five in the morning by stepping on your face, don't give in. They will never forget. If you're able, get an automatic food dispenser - your cat will think that the machine feeds them, so they're more likely to leave you alone when they get hungry. It also solves the 'each roommate feeds them twice a day and now they're twenty pounds' problem.

Just like humans, cats have Terrible Twos, during which they become moody and difficult. A two-year-old cat, biologically, is like a teenage human - they're full of hormones, and they will yell at you. They may start to be aggressive or territorial towards others in the home, or cause destruction and devastation in their wake. The best way to curb these behaviors is to get your cat spayed (girls) / neutered (boys). We schedule several months out, so if you recently brought a cat into your life and would like to get them fixed at SOS, it is never too soon to get them on the schedule.

Shelter Outreach Services of Ohio
3500 E Livingston Ave, Columbus OH 43227
(614) 396-8707
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