Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How to Care for a Dog

Dog Supplies

You've spent months thinking about getting a dog. You've done the research and found the dog who's just right for you. Now the day has finally come for you to take home the pooch of your dreams, but you may still not be quite ready yet. Before you bring your dog or puppy home, be sure you have the following supplies on hand:

Collar and tag. Order a tag engraved with your name and phone number several weeks before you bring your puppy home. Attach it to an adjustable buckle dog collar, and place the collar and tag on your puppy before you leave the breeder or shelter. As a puppy grows, check the collar frequently to make sure it isn't too tight. You should be able to slip two fingers between the collar and the puppy's neck. Collars can be made of leather or nylon, both of which are durable. However, puppies love to chew, and leather has an attractive scent and texture. If leather is your choice, wait until your puppy is past the teething stage.

If you have a puppy or are training your dog, you will need a training collar (also known as a choke collar). These collars are training devices to teach your dog not to pull as you walk him. These types of collars should only be used for training your dog; they are not substitutes for a regular collar. Also, never leave any kind of collar on a dog who's in his crate, unless you're there to supervise -- it can snag and cause fatal choking. For the same reason, never leave a choke collar -- whether nylon or metal -- on an unsupervised dog.

Carrier. We're all familiar with the classic image of a dog riding with his head stuck out the car window, ears flapping in the breeze, and tongue hanging out; but a car in motion is not the place for a dog of any age to be roaming free. You'll need a crate (portable kennel) to safely contain your pooch during the ride to his new home as well as for future visits to the veterinarian and groomer.

Choose a sturdy carrier to hold your dog comfortably and keep it safe in case of an accident. Plastic airline carriers are lightweight, long lasting, and easy to clean. They are suitable for air travel if your dog will be living a globe-trotting lifestyle, and they can be secured in a car by running the seat belt through the handle. Wire crates are well ventilated and fold up flat when not in use. They can be covered to offer privacy or protection from the elements. Soft-sided carriers are comfortable and easy to transport. The zippered top and end closures make it easy to place the dog in and remove him from the carrier, and it's durable and easy to clean. On most airlines, soft-sided models are acceptable carriers for dogs traveling in the cabin, but they can't be used in the cargo area. Whichever style you choose, make sure latches are sturdy and edges are smooth, and be sure all screws, nuts, and latches are securely and properly fastened. Don't scrimp on quality to save a few bucks -- it isn't worth risking your dog's life and safety.

Leash. Learning to walk on a dog leash is one of the first lessons of canine etiquette. Buy a lightweight, well-constructed leash. Leather leashes are handsome and durable, but skin oils can stain them and puppies delight in chewing on them. Nylon leashes are lightweight, colorful, and strong. Leashes made of chain are practically indestructible, but they are heavier than nylon or leather and can be noisy. A retractable leash gives your puppy the illusion of freedom but allows you to reel him in when necessary.

Food. A healthy dog needs the proper fuel. A dog's nutritional needs change over his lifetime -- a puppy needs a different balance of nutrients than an adult or elderly dog -- so talk to your veterinarian, breeder, or shelter for recommendations of the right food for your dog or puppy. Be sure you choose a food labeled as complete and balanced. Ideally, the label will state that the manufacturer has used feeding trials to substantiate the food's nutritional value.

Before you leave for home with your dog, find out the last time he ate, how frequently he's been fed, and what he's used to eating. If you plan to use a different food, introduce it gradually, over a two- to three-week period, by mixing the new food with the old food. An abrupt change in diet can cause diarrhea or vomiting.

Dishes. Food and water dishes come in a variety of materials. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Metal bowls are practical, last for years, and are easy to clean; but if you use canned food that has to be refrigerated, they can't be used to reheat a meal for your pup in the microwave. They're also fairly lightweight, making spills more likely. Ceramic dishes are decorative, can be personalized, and are generally both dishwasher and microwave safe. They're heavy, cutting down on spills and tipping, but they're also breakable. Some ceramic dishes made outside the United States contain high amounts of lead and shouldn't be used by people or animals. Plastic dishes are lightweight, colorful, inexpensive, and easy to clean and are also dishwasher and microwave safe. However, food odors can cling to plastic, and some dogs love to chew on them.

Grooming items. The basic items you need are a flea comb, a wire slicker brush, pin brush or rubber grooming mitt (depending on your dog's coat type), and a nail trimmer. A dog toothbrush and "doggie" toothpaste or cleaning solution are wise additions, too.

First-aid kit. You can buy a ready-made kit or put one together yourself. A complete first-aid kit should include a rectal thermometer, gauze bandages, scissors, bandaging tape, tweezers, antibiotic ointment, a needleless syringe for liquid medication, cotton swabs and cotton balls, hydrogen peroxide or syrup of ipecac to induce vomiting, and activated charcoal tablets to absorb poisons. Other useful items include a blanket and towel, a cold pack or a plastic bag to use as an ice pack, and rubber gloves. It's also a good idea to include your veterinarian's phone number, the phone number of the animal emergency hospital, and a first-aid handbook in the kit.

Toys. If you don't provide dog toys to help your canine burn his boundless energy, he'll find some of his own -- like your shoes, your tennis racquet, or even your portable radio. To channel his energy in the right direction, provide toys to exercise not only your pup's body but also his brain. A sturdy chew toy made of hard rubber will satisfy the urge to chew and soothe a puppy's aching mouth when new teeth are coming in. The noise from a squeaky toy is a surefire canine attention grabber -- just be sure the noisemaker inside can't be detached and swallowed. A soft stuffed animal is the toy of choice for many dogs. Some curl up with it; others shake it and toss it in the air. Always choose a well-made stuffed toy, with no button eyes, bells, ribbons, or other attachments that could be easily chewed and swallowed. Finally, never give your dog anything as a toy resembling something you want him to leave alone -- an old shoe, for instance. It's almost impossible for him to make the distinction between the shoe you want him to chew and the closet full of shoes you don't.

Bed. Your puppy will enjoy having a soft place to curl up and nap after playtime. From cushions to custom couches, paisley to plaid, there is an infinite variety of beds to suit not only each dog but also each decor. Choose a well-constructed, machine-washable bed. A wicker bed is classic, but remember, a puppy is a chewer and can easily destroy this kind of bed.

Now let's consider the most important element of dog care: feeding. It's covered extensively in the next section.