9 Items Every New Doggy Parent Should Own

Photo: Mike Baird

Adopting your first dog (and you should be adopting!) is sort of like having a baby: You think you know what you’re doing, but you don’t.

There’s a lot of trial and error in raising a canine (and a baby too, I’m sure), and some lessons are learned the hard way.

After taking in two furbabies that my husband and I love endlessly — and buying things that we definitely needed and things that we only thought we needed — I’ve compiled this list of can’t-live-withouts that have made all of our lives better. (See also: 5 iPhone Apps Your Dog Wants You to Download)

1. Crate

Buying a crate is sort of a science. You don’t want to get one that’s too big (because your puppy will relieve itself on one end and scream bloody murder to get away from it at the other end), and you don’t want to get one that’s too small, which will prevent the little thing from making itself comfortable. We didn't do right by our first dog, Jaxon. We had our eye on a small crate when he was a puppy, but decided on the medium-sized model because we felt bad about stuffing him in such a small space. Big mistake; cue the spine-curdling yelping after a potty accident. We returned it immediately (after sanitizing it, of course) and bought the smaller model. Problem solved.

While a crate teaches your pet bladder control, it also keeps it from destroying your house before it’s old enough to know better. Jaxon is almost three years old now, so he doesn’t go in the crate anymore, but our nine-month-old, Luxe, still goes there when we leave the house; eventually we’ll start testing her behavior when we leave during short intervals, but we’re not quite there yet.

I understand that the crate might seem cruel to some, but it’s absolutely necessary as a training tool. In fact, if you tell the shelter that you don’t plan to crate-train your dog, they probably won’t let you adopt it. If the experts stand by it, who are we to disagree? To make the crate more comfortable, place a blanket, towel, or doggy bed on the bottom.

2. Collapsible Water Bowl

We take our dogs to off-leash parks, and there are usually bowls of water available, but I don’t like my dogs to drink from those. Call me a snob, but who knows what kind of germs are floating around in that cesspool? The last thing we want is to have to take our dogs to the vet to treat Giardia — which, by the way, can affect humans, too.

As a preventative measure, I bought a collapsible dish. I purchased it at The Container Store and I love it. It doesn’t show this in the product photo, but mine came with a carabineer attached. Yours might, too; if not, you probably have one lying around. I clipped the bowl to the inside of my bag when I bought it, and it’s been there ever since. I always have it on hand when we’re out to play. A healthy, hydrated dog is a happy dog.

3. Harness

If you live in the suburbs with a yard, you may not be familiar with harnesses. We urbanites know, though, that a harness is far superior than a standard collar if you’re doing anything besides opening the back door to let your dog do its business.

For starters, it gives you more control over your dog when walking it. The leash is clipped to its back instead of around its neck — which leads me to the second reason I prefer a harness: I don’t want my dogs to choke to death when I’m walking them. I’m always passing panting dogs whose owners can’t keep up with them (or haven’t trained the dogs to stay beside them), resulting in constriction for the animal. The last reason I’m a harness advocate is purely superficial, however — they’re a great way to give your dogs a dose of style. I'm a big fan of Puppia harnesses because of their bright colors and high-quality manufacturing. They’re a tad costlier than those from other brands, but they’ll last a lot longer (especially if you wait until your dog is full grown), which will save you money in the end. Better deals can be found on Amazon.

4. Automatic Waterer

Before we bought the Petmate Le Bistro Automatic Waterer, we were using a small dish to satisfy two dogs — and I filled it up more times a day than I care to recall. That changed when we switched to this one-gallon system, which only needs to be refilled every other day. I found mine at Target.

5. Food Storage Container

The benefit of having a food storage container is three-fold: There’s no unsightly dog-food bag in a corner or the pantry, the dogs can’t get to it when you’re not around, and mice can't get in either. There was a mouse in my house that loved my dogs’ food, but unfortunately for the mouse I can’t afford to feed it too. I fell in love with this storage unit from Curver when I bought the collapsible water bowl at The Container Store. I’ve also seen it at Marshall’s for far less than retail.

6. Bitter Orange

If you don’t want your dogs to chew your belongings, rub bitter orange on those areas to deter them from ruining the things you’ve worked hard to buy. We lost a couch before we wised up.

7. Non-Shredding Toys

We have lots of friends who think of our dogs at Christmas — and we appreciate the sentiment. But the gifts we don't like getting are soft stuffed toys that our dogs eat instead of play with. Do you know what happens to a dog that eats strings and stuffing? It comes out the other end — and sometimes it gets stuck. Guess who has to pull it out. Gross, isn’t it? Stick with rawhide bones or Kongs.

8. Non-Toxic Cleaning Supplies

Accidents will happen, even when your dog is no longer a puppy. Our dogs were sick recently and out of the 850 square feet of hardwood floor they could’ve relieved themselves on, they chose the 50 square feet of very expensive area rug. Yours will too. That’s why we always have a supply of non-toxic cleaners on hand (because we don’t want to make sick dogs even sicker) to clean up the accidents. These products not only clean and disinfect the area, but they do a great job of removing the scent so the dog isn’t making the same mistake twice — or at least not in the same spot.

9. Spiral Stake and Tie Out

A friend of ours in Hawaii brought this neat contraption outside while we were visiting, and I had to have it. It’s a spiral stake with a cable tie out that you screw into the ground. You hook one end of the cable to the stake and the other to your dog’s collar or harness. The brand I bought was Titan, but I’m sure there are other makers out there. The reason I thought this particular item was so ingenious and necessary was because with it, we can take our dogs more places. In the city, dogs have to be on leashes outside of designated off-leash runs, which limits the places we can take our dogs. But with this, we just screw it into the ground and hook our babies up so we can all enjoy a picnic in the park as a family. Even those with yard space can use this item. Our friend in Hawaii had a fenced-in backyard for the dog, but we were hanging out in the front yard, which had no fence. With this, he could bring the dog out to spend time with us at the barbecue instead of leaving him in the house or the yard by himself.

Are you a dog owner? What are some of the must-have items that make life better for you and your best friend? Leave a comment, and let me know.

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Guest's picture

I walk my dog with a collar, but my dog knows not to pull on the leash. Then again she walks behind or beside me. If the dog is choking on the leash, they may not be trained very well to walk on one. In my experience, a harness just makes them pull more.

Guest's picture

A puppy obedience certificate!

We have an adorable Newfoundland but had we not trained her properly from the get go she may have ended up with bad habits that as a 105 lb adult would be impossible to contain.

A note about crates. We used one that had a movable inner wall so as our Newf grew we could expand how much of the crate she used.

Mikey Rox's picture

A friend of mine had one of those crates and I have to say, it was definitely a good idea. It eliminates the need for buying multiple crates as the puppy grows. Thanks for the tip!

Guest's picture

1. Dogs are den animals. A cozy crate is reassuring to them. Well after we quit requiring the crate when we left the house, the dog would sleep in it every night and spend the day there, voluntarily, with the door off.

Andrea Karim's picture

One of my dogs is always looking for a den. Sometimes, he sleeps in the closet (especially during thunder storms).

Guest's picture

I have to disagree with the harness. One of the first things puppies should learn is how to walk properly on a leash. If they are pulling and choking themselves, they have not been trained. A harness just makes it easier and more comfortable for them to pull.

Mikey Rox's picture

I agree that a collar is good when teaching a puppy. As I mentioned, a harness is not a smart purchase for a dog that's still growing. I stick by the use of the harness, though. My dogs walk instead of pull, but that has a lot to do with how much one is willing to train the dog. If the dog is a puller, I definitely think the harness is the way to go. If the parent is not willing to teach the dog not to pull, it might as well be comfortable. Thanks for chiming in!

Guest's picture

I couldn't agree more about the advantages of crate training. They are invaluable in house breaking as well as keeping your house from becoming broken! It makes for a much saner household and a calmer puppy (except for our crazy, giant Aussie-mix who was never calm unless he was sleeping).

Also, bitter orange was a real furniture saver, due to above mentioned pup.

And by all means go to puppy kindergarten, etc. Our big, noisy puppy and I were finishing up puppy kindergarten when a family emergency called me out of town for several months. The pup never made it back to class and my family didn't work with him so by the time I got back home he was back to his old tricks. Now he's 105 lbs. and more than a handful. I've worked with him so he's better, but even small dogs need to learn you are the leader of the pack.

Guest's picture

Zoi and Brutus JUST LOVE the taste of bitter orange (apple), so we tried Tabasco sauce which was recommended by our vet. Um, Brutus just LOVES the taste of Tabasco sauce! Sigh. We're luckier than most, though. They're pretty well-trained, but every puppy dog likes the taste of forbidden fruit (a.k.a. Mommy's new strappy sandals...thanks a LOT, Zoi--well, it was my fault).

I HIGHLY recommend Everlasting Treat balls for a dog who is tired of a Kong and who likes to play fetch. I also recommend the Target brand of tie out (cheaper, stronger, and stands up to crazy weather better than other brands in our experience) and to always supervise puppies on tie outs in the yard.

Guest's picture

Oh wow. As the manager of a Pet Supply store, long time dog owner, and part-time obedience trainer, I am going to have to provide some caveats to the above list.

1. Harnesses actually make it easier for your dog to pull. They distribute the weight over more surface area across their chest, making the pulling more comfortable and effective. What do sled dogs wear? It is also much harder to attach ID tags (which your dog should always be wearing) to a harness. Get a secure collar, and teach your dog to walk politely on a leash.

2. Dog food should be kept in the bag for many reasons. If there is ever a problem with the food (dog forbid) you need the original packaging for lot numbers and date codes. All food manufacturers of any salt guarantee their food as long as it is in the original bag. Also, pet food contains essential fatty acid's that are sprayed on the outside. These are good for your dogs skin and coat. By placing the food directly in a porous container, those oils leach out of the food. At a minimum food bags should be clipped shut. Ideally the whole bag should be placed in a bin made for such things. I like the Iris brand.

3. Tie-Outs. These are a big pet peeve of mine. Great if used properly. Potentially damaging if not. A dog should never ever be left unattended on a tie out. Tangled limbs can have their circulation cut off. Your pet is vulnerable to attach it cant escape from, and talk about frustrating! In big dogs particularly, tie outs seem to inspire territory guarding, meaning barking and circling at the end of their tether.

Overall, there are a lot of other essentials I would worry about as a new pet owner; ID tags, microchips, obedience class, pet insurance, constructive chew toys.