Like so many others, I got a pandemic puppy during the COVID-19 lockdown. While it was undoubtedly the best decision of my life, there are a few things I wish I would have known before getting a dog:
- You should research breed requirements ahead of time
- Puppy-proofing your place is no joke
- It’s never too early to start socializing
- You have to be disciplined, too
- Pet parenting can get REALLY expensive
1. You Should Research Breed Requirements Ahead of Time
Researching dog breeds before choosing a puppy can be helpful. Different breeds have different temperaments, exercise requirements, size restrictions, etc. When caring for a puppy, it’s your job to ensure all those needs are satisfied, so learning about them ahead of time can ensure you’re matched with an excellent fit for you and your family.
Start by looking at your life and assessing how much time, energy, space, and money you can realistically commit to your pet. For example, if you’re not someone who enjoys exercising with your dog, you’ll probably want to steer away from highly active breeds that need to burn a lot of energy every day. If you have a limited dog budget, you should know that large breed puppy food usually costs a lot more than feeding a dog smaller in size.
I live in a small apartment, so when I decided to rescue a puppy, I knew I needed to choose one that would be content with living in a confined space without a yard. I was a little nervous when I heard they believed Zoey to be a Chihuahua-mix breed, as I knew these dogs are often prone to behavioral disorders. But after nursing her back to health, she quickly soared past the standard size of a Chihuahua.
Based on her appearance, I figured she must have some Labrador Retriever in her DNA — a breed with a high prevalence of hip dysplasia. The cost of treating hip dysplasia in dogs can be pretty expensive, so I decided to test her DNA to see if there were any markers for this hereditary condition and budget accordingly, if so.
I got lucky — her genetic makeup didn’t contain dog breeds with common health issues. Other pet parents, especially those with purebreds, aren’t as fortunate and wind up spending a lot more money on vet visit costs. My friend, for example, also got a pandemic puppy and had to spend over $6,000 at the vet during the first six months of owning her new French Bulldog.
2. Puppy-Proofing Your Place Is No Joke
Filled with curiosity but lacking body awareness, hand-eye coordination, and house-training etiquette, puppies are masters at finding things to chew up, knock down, pee on, or crawl under. This can be undeniably annoying — no matter how cute their “guilty face” is — but puppy-proofing your place can help you avoid those occasional headaches.
Learning how to puppy-proof the house not only spares you from the occasional frustration, but also helps protect the health and safety of your new pet. There are endless hazards for puppies around the house that you might not even consider dangerous, and many common accidents in puppies are entirely preventable with a little proactive planning.
Start by scanning each area of your home from a “puppy perspective.” Get on all fours to see your puppy’s point of view, what’s accessible, and what might be tempting just outside of their reach. Secure anything fragile, conceal all exposed cables, and remove everything unsafe to avoid taking your pet to the emergency room.
3. It's Never Too Early To Start Socializing
Many people, including myself, know that socializing a puppy — or introducing them to new experiences in a positive, constructivre way — is critical because a lack of socialization can increase the risk of behavioral problems, such as aggression, fear, and anxiety.
However, I had no idea how quickly the ideal window for puppy socialization closes. Though our four-legged friends continue to process and make meaning of the big, wide world throughout their entire life, they form key associations with specific places, people, and things most strongly between three- and 16-weeks old.
I was under the impression that I couldn’t help Zoey integrate and acclimate to her environment until she received all of her puppy vaccinations. Now I know that’s not necessarily the case; puppies can begin socializing after their first deworming and round of shots (though it’s best to avoid public places where you can’t confirm dogs’ vaccination status until your puppy is fully immunized).1
I could (and should) have enrolled her into puppy training classes at a much younger age where she could learn obedience and interact with other pups. I also could have tried to cross off more experiences on the puppy socialization checklist by taking precautions against communicable diseases like parvo in puppies. Some examples might include bringing her more places in a pet carrier from where she could safely watch and observe, or pushing her in a grocery cart lined with a blanket to expose her to more people, sounds, and objects with wheels.
There are a few things Zoey never encountered before her first birthday, so we’ll need to work a little harder to overcome her discomfort around those things so she can become a calm, confident dog. As it stands, people using walkers or wheelchairs, as well as men with very long beards trigger a fear response and make her uneasy.
4. You Have To Be Disciplined, Too
If you want a well-trained dog, it’ll require effort, patience, and discipline on your part, too — not just your puppy’s or their trainer’s. Zoey is a studio-trained dog who does occasional production work in Los Angeles, and though she may be the star of the show, I have to dedicate a ton of time to working with her everyday.
You can’t just send them to puppy school and expect them to retain everything unless you make them repeatedly model the desired behaviors. Once you establish rules and boundaries, do your best to stick to them, at least until your puppy is mature enough to understand appropriate etiquette.
If they’re not allowed to eat human food, don’t slide them an occasional scrap. Not allowed on the couch or bed? Then resist the occasional temptation to invite them up for a snuggle. Doing so might confuse your dog by telling them it’s okay sometimes, but not all the time. Make your commands clear and consistent, and if there are others in the house, ask that they also reinforce the rules.
Dedicate time to obedience training everyday to shape your puppy’s desired behaviors. Three five-minute sessions are most effective to prevent burnout while maximizing knowledge retention, but don’t forget to give them lots of love and playtime in between for all their hard work.
5. Puppy Parenting Can Get REALLY Expensive
Even though the cost of adopting a puppy is significantly cheaper than buying one from a breeder, I was still very underprepared for just how expensive becoming a pet parent would be.
Between the cost of vet visits to get Zoey back in good health, to the price of her professional dog training program, essential puppy supplies, plus all the toys and treats I spoil her with, I easily spent over $2,000 in the first year alone. For a dog about her size, cumulative care costs throughout her entire life are estimated to amount to approximately $15,782 or more.2
Fortunately, my pet insurance plan helped offset the appointments at her primary care vet by reimbursing me 80% of the bill after I paid my $200 deductible. I also got reimbursed $250 for the cost of spaying my puppy through the wellness plan I added onto my policy’s coverage. I’m lucky that I never had to take my pet to the emergency room, though, because unexpected vet visits are where the money can really add up fast, often costing more than $5,000 for a single hospitalization.
Like most other pet parents, I don’t happen to have that kind of money set aside in case anything were to happen to Zoey. I couldn’t fathom the possibility of not being able to provide her the critical, potentially life-saving care she might need one day simply because I couldn’t afford it.
That’s why I gladly pay a few bucks a month toward her pet insurance premium. It gives me peace of mind knowing that if my dog got hit by a car or had a bad injury, the most I would have to pay is $200 before my pet insurance coverage kicks in to help pay 80% vet bill. Depending on the plan you choose, your deductible could even be as low as $0, or your reimbursement rate could be as much as 100%.
My dog is my best friend and I would spare no expense to make sure she’s happy and healthy, but being financially protected relieves a great deal of stress. And since I used Pawlicy Advisor to buy pet insurance, I know that I’m enrolled in a great plan at the best guaranteed price.
See if pet insurance is worth it for your situation, then get a free quote and enroll online in a matter of minutes. You can also head over to the blog to read additional dog care tips or learn more about how pet insurance works.
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, “Puppy Socialization,” Accessed March 25, 2022.
American Kennel Club, “How Much Will You Spend on Your Dog in His Lifetime?” Accessed March 25, 2022.