Did you bring home a pandemic puppy? Check out wise advice for new dog owners from trainers, vets, and seasoned owners in Hong Kong
Bringing home a new dog to be part of your family can be daunting, especially if it is your first time. While there is a ton of research that you can do beforehand to prepare—such as looking into where to adopt from, or how to sign up to be a foster pawrent—the real endeavour starts when you bring a dog home. So, whether you are bringing home an energetic eight-week old pup or an adorable adult dog, we have gathered the top tips for new dog owners from the leading experts in Hong Kong to help you through your first month and beyond!
Top tips for new dog owners
Sheila McClelland, founder of LAP
New dog owners should expect the unexpected—especially if they are adopting a pet from a shelter—for about the first month or so. Over the last 18 years we have seen that every home is different and every dog is unique, so each adoption is a one of a kind experience. It’s important to keep things low-key for the first few days. Allow your dog to assess their new surroundings before introducing them to new experiences or situations. This means no inviting all your friends over to play, or taking your new dog out to the latest coffee shop!
For both puppies as well as older dogs, moving to a new home is a huge life change that can cause stress, anxiety, or fear. This may lead to reactive or abnormal behaviour—such as barking, hiding, peeing—which is all normal! What they need more than anything, is your love, support and PATIENCE. New dog owners often rush to ‘correct behaviour’ through the use of punishment or force, which leads to fear and distrust. If you want a loving relationship and a happy dog use kindness and compassion. If you are struggling, reach out to a trainer to get advice on how to help your dog feel more safe and secure. Dog training is unregulated so be sure to look for a certified positive-reinforcement trainer.
Another first month struggle we commonly see is people viewing the dog from a human perspective. Despite what you may see, it has been proven that your dog is not “guilty” for doing something you think is wrong; instead they are sensing your anger and portraying appeasement behaviours. Similarly, we have had people say their dog was not “grateful” enough, or was peeing because of malice or other emotions and intentions projected by the owner onto the dog. While you are learning to understand your dog’s behaviour, keep in mind that it is a different species, and try to understand them for who they are!
Learn more about LAP.
Deb Debes, trainer at DogManGoWoof
Over 13 years of dog training experience, I have worked extensively with newly adopted dogs, both puppies and adults. While there are certain differences, some things remain the same. First things first, consistency is key! Dogs love routine as it helps them feel more relaxed to know when they will go for walks, play, eat, and sleep. Moving to a new home can be stressful for humans and fur babies alike, so letting the dog get used to a routine greatly reduces their stress levels.
It’s also important to start working with your new dog from day one! When new dog owners think of training, they tend to think about obedience training—such as learning the basic commands like ‘sit’ and ‘come’. Whilst obedience training is important, behaviour training involves much more than commands. You are training your dog to respond to your cues and so it is important to reinforce desired behaviour by acting in a way that makes your dog feel secure and engaged in following your lead. This means, for example, training the dog not to be anxious around comings and goings through the door and not reacting negatively to outside noises. Early training is as much about preventing potential undesirable behaviours as it is about learning commands.
Also, when bringing home a new dog, new owners need to prepare the household members on what to expect and how to behave. Children should be taught to allow the dog to sniff and pet them gently if comfortable. With puppies, it is normal for them to nip and jump when they are young, and children should know not to scream and run away as it will be viewed as excitement and an invitation to play. An older rescue may need time to get used to being petted and handled, so it is best to take time to build up trust. A dog is not a toy but rather a living, breathing being. Young children should be supervised in the early days of their interaction with the new addition to the family.
The most common concern for puppies is about potty training and setting up their pen. Some new puppy pawrents need help setting up a schedule for potty training and teaching their new furbaby to use a pee pad. Many worry they are doing it wrong but, just like with toddlers, potty training doesn’t happen overnight. Supervision, positive affirmation, and consistency are the key tools new pawrents need. On the other hand, for older adopted dogs, most new owners are concerned about specific behavioural issues that the dog might have, such as separation anxiety. Older dogs make wonderful pets but, just like puppies, they need training to help them live their best lives anxiety-free. Ultimately, you just have to be consistent and patient. Give them and yourselves time to adjust. In general, it takes about three months for an adopted dog to feel that they are really in their permanent home and a member of the family for good.
Learn more about DogManGoWoof.
Dr Tiffany Harries and Dr Maiyanne Ben-David, founders and vets from Pets on tapp
With over 20 years of combined experience, we have seen it all when it comes to new dog owners. And while the first month can be a lot, there are a couple of things that can make it easier. In terms of routine healthcare, be sure to check things such as heartworm prevention, deworming, tick and flea control, vaccinations, de-sexing, etc. Making sure a dog has their routine healthcare managed properly can be overwhelming, especially for first time pawrents but, don’t worry, your vet will assess your pet’s lifestyle needs and recommend which parasite prevention to use and guide you on how often the treatment should be applied. They will also be able to let you know which vaccinations are needed and when.
We also recommend that a general health check is scheduled within a week or two of bringing home a new dog, assuming the adopted pet is outwardly healthy, and everything remains normal at home. That way, when asked questions about how their new pup is doing, the owners can answer confidently. An older adopted dog, or a dog that has experienced health issues, may benefit from a blood test during the health check to check for diseases such as heartworm and tick fever, which are common here in Hong Kong.
Another question we often receive is about insurance. There are not many pet insurance providers here in Hong Kong, so choices are limited. Choosing the correct provider will ultimately depend on your dog, their age, breed, lifestyle, healthcare issues, and the type of coverage you’re looking for. The best thing to do in this instance is to call the insurance company directly for them to propose a plan based on the needs of your pet.
Choosing a vet is an incredibly important aspect of your journey with your dog, and it is one that is based not only on competence but also on a strong feeling of rapport and trust. Word-of-mouth referrals can speak volumes about good vet-pet owner relationships. Likewise, finding a vet in a location that your pup is comfortable with, and is nearby, is also helpful.
It is also good practice to find out what services the vet clinic offers and that they meet your expectations, as not all clinics have the same equipment or ability to perform advanced diagnostics. We recommend asking a clinic that you are considering if they offer a 24-hour service, as you would want this information at hand—especially in the middle of the night during an emergency!
Finally, one of the best things you can do as a new dog owner is to get to know your pet as much as possible. Familiarising yourself with their mannerisms, recent health issues, previous vaccinations and so on will allow you to more easily decipher when your pet is not well, so you can take them to the vet earlier.
Learn more about Pets on tapp.
Chris Lee and Ryan Black, founders of Buddy Bites
Between the two of us, we are also the ‘dads’ of three adorable adopted dogs. Food is a key component when bringing a new dog home, whether they are pups or adults. It is essential for nutrition, well-being, training, and it can be fun!
But finding the brand that you trust can be overwhelming. We recommend that no matter the age of the dog, you want to be assured that the kibble contains quality proteins and a blend of nutritious ingredients. In addition, you should choose a brand that tests for potentially dangerous ingredients. FEDIAF is the primary regulator in Europe, and AAFCO is the equivalent in the US. Choosing a brand that adheres to either of these standards is a good place to start. You will also have to transition your dog to the food of your choice from what they were eating at the rescue. The most important thing is to transition gradually. If you mix the new food in with their old food over the course of a week, you should avoid any upsets.
It’s also important to know the difference between puppy and adult food. Puppies have a slightly higher protein requirement, as you would expect since they are growing. It’s often hard to guarantee how well the proteins will be digested. In the case of Buddy Bites’ puppy food, we use a mix of chicken, pork and fish proteins to ensure an ample amount of protein is digested well. In addition, it is generally advised that puppies eat three meals a day rather than two up until the age of six months or so. This is to ensure consistent digestion of nutrients, particularly the amino acids present in protein sources.
Also, it can be overwhelming for new dog owners to keep track of all the things that aren’t good for your pup. You have the obvious things such as chocolate, grapes, stone fruit pips, onions, garlic, and so on. Then there are other things like excessive sodium, which can lead to dehydration, digestion issues or tremors. One food that may surprise owners is cooked bones; raw bones are great for calcium as well as gum and dental health. However, cooked bones splinter easily and can cause digestion issues and even perforate your dog’s gut which can be fatal. We actually did a toxicity series of videos on our YouTube Channel with our vets. There is a lot of information out there that can make dog owners anxious, so it’s best to speak with your vet!
And finally, as pawrents ourselves, we have tons of tips for the first month. After tons of deliberation, Ryan just got Whiskey; Chris has joined the famed ‘Foster Fail Club’ not once but twice, with his two, Nacho and Nala. We have found great sources on the internet but it can sometimes be difficult to find accurate information. We always look for reputable academic and non-academic sources for health-related matters, and consult professionals and experts when necessary. If you’re looking for a lowdown on what we’ve gathered in our research, we’ve curated some tips and tricks on the Buddy Bites YouTube Channel. But our biggest tip is to just ask questions! Everyone loves chatting about their dogs, so if you are a new dog owner, no question is a stupid question. We are always just an Instagram message away. We love talking about all things dogs, so it really doesn’t bother us—drop us a message!
Learn more about Buddy Bites.