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Everything You Need to Adopt a Dog, According to Animal-Care Experts

Photo: ABC Photo Archives/Getty/Walt Disney Television via Getty

With most of this socially distanced stint likely spent at home, you might be tempted to adopt a dog — especially since you’ll be able to train, supervise, and bond with your new pet without having to take time off from work. It’s important to know that the process may take a little longer than usual during the pandemic, since most dogs have been sent to socially distanced foster homes — meaning you won’t be able to meet the dogs at the shelter like you normally would. “What would normally take three to four days might take maybe two weeks,” says Mika Ito, the director of animal care at New York–based shelter Animal Haven. Pet services, such as groomers, trainers, and dog-walkers, may be temporarily closed as well, so you’ll need to be prepared to handle all pet care at home.

Dog adopters should also keep in mind that if you’re working from home, you’ll be spending a lot of time with your new pet, which can create separation-anxiety issues once your normal work schedule resumes. “Even under these circumstances, you have to leave your apartment a few times a day so that your dog gets used to you leaving,” Ito advises.

To streamline the rest of your at-home pet prep, Ito helped us put together a shopping list of essentials for dogs, where you’ll find recommendations from Ito, as well as some other pet-approved, expert-recommended favorites that we’ve written about, including the travel carriers dogfluencers use and the shampoo Westminster Dog Show handlers can’t groom without.

Collapsible wire crate

If you plan on crate-training your dog, Ito recommends a sturdy, collapsible crate with dividers so that you can adjust the size as your puppy grows. Training aside, “you don’t want a newly adopted dog to have free rein around your house right away,” so creating a safe, enclosed space can help accustom the pup to the new environment. Writer Ariel Kanter bought this crate for her “Houdini” dog, who managed to escape from two other crates, and found this one to be durable and secure enough to keep her 13-pound Chihuahua mix, Pippin, safely inside. “There are two doors, both with double-locking mechanisms, so his attempts to escape are all futile,” she assures.

Wee-wee pads

For puppies that aren’t yet potty-trained (or vaccinated enough to go outside), Animal Haven uses superabsorbent Wee-Wee Pads by Four Paws. And, if you plan on traveling, adoption manager at Best Friends Animal Society Kristi Littrell advises to “put a pee pad at the bottom of the carrier and have an extra just in case.”

Food and water bowls

“It’s better to go metal or ceramic for bowls because plastic is porous,” advises Ito. “We don’t want to transfer any cooties.” Since ceramic bowls can chip and shatter, she personally opts for metal, such as these raised stainless-steel ones with a stabilizing geometric base. Strategist writer Karen Iorio Adelson says that she has similar ones for her cats, and finds that it “makes [her] cat’s feeding area look that much more put-together,” and she doesn’t have to deal with her pets “pushing around or knocking over their bowls.”

For dogs who tend to gulp down their food, Animal Haven uses slow feeders with lots of “nooks and crannies and angles” from Outward Hound, so that they can pace themselves while eating. Nikki Naser, resident pet expert at Chewy, also told us that dogs will “eat up to ten times slower with these.” They’re good for teething puppies, and keeping your dog entertained while stuck indoors, too.

Food

According to Dr. Jamie Richardson, chief of staff at Small Door Veterinary in NYC, “Puppies have different dietary requirements compared to adult dogs,” meaning they’ll need higher levels of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Richard advises to feed them puppy-formulated dog food until they’re “skeletally mature,” which is around one year for small- and medium-breed dogs, or between 14 and 18 months in large- and giant-breed dogs. Purina Pro Plan for puppies made our list of best puppy food, and comes recommended by four different veterinarians for its highly researched, veterinary nutritionist–formulated ingredients. Most puppies seem to like Purina Pro Plan Focus, one veterinarian told us — even those with the most sophisticated of puppy palates.

For adult dogs, Animal Haven uses Purina Pro Plan, who has “really upped their game,” says Ito. Purina Pro Plan — which also made our list of best dog foods — meets the Association of American Feed Control Officials standards, is formulated by veterinary nutritionists, and is made without legumes, which can be difficult to digest for larger dogs. Nicole Goudey-Rigger, the owner and CEO of Pets a Go Go, also told us that she likes the Pro Plan line because of its wide variety of proteins, which include chicken, beef, salmon, duck, lamb, and pork, since “not all proteins agree with all dogs.”

For particularly picky dogs, Animal Haven also likes Ollie, which is a direct-to-consumer dog-food brand that makes personalized, human-grade dog food. “We really highly recommend Ollie,” says Ito. “They donate to us, but their food is really great. It’s human-grade, and it comes in packs that you can freeze. They have beef, chicken, turkey, lamb. Dogs really enjoy it.” Ollie customizes its box depending on your dog’s size, age, weight, and activity level, but the price typically starts around $40 for two weeks’ worth of food for small dogs, or $80 per month.

Treats

“Treats are your best friend when training,” advises Ito. At Animal Haven, “we do positive reinforcement. Ignore the bad, reward the good. We always recommend having an average treat, and then a really high-quality treat when you’re trying to train them out of a certain behavior. They often reward with cheese, hot dogs, and soft treats from Natural Balance. Animal Haven uses the not too yummy, crunchy ones for day-to-day, and save the “really yummy” Jumpin’ Stix for big milestones like potty training.

Preventatives

You’ll need a veterinarian’s prescription to pick up any parasite preventatives, but Ito strongly recommends treating your dog with parasite-preventing orals and topicals, along with an anti-flea and tick. It’s important to keep in mind that the most effective preventatives for your dog will be dependent upon several factors, such as its size, weight, and environment, so working with your veterinarian is a must. Once you have your prescription in hand, tried-and-true, vet-recommended favorites are Frontline Plus for fleas and ticks and Iverhart for heartworm.

Pet insurance

“In an emergency, a good pet insurance will cover medical costs, so you don’t have to choose between going into debt and saving your pet’s life,” writes Strategist writer Liza Corsillo, adding that some pet-insurance plans cost less than $10 a month — and could save you up to $10,000. Both Sarah Reidenbach, a California veterinarian, and Stephanie Seger, whose blog bigdogmom.com is a resource for large-dog owners, recommend Trupanion. Its comprehensive coverage includes most illnesses and injuries unrelated to a preexisting condition. (For pups with preexisting conditions, “per condition” deductibles are fixed, meaning they won’t increase over your pet’s lifetime.) Plus, Trupanion will pay claims directly to your vet, so you don’t have to fill out forms or pay expensive bills up front.

Grooming supplies

If you don’t have a bathtub in your apartment (or if your usual groomer is closed for the foreseeable future), this pup-size tub, recommended by Strategist contributor and owner of three Chihuahuas Alison Freer, makes “the backbreaking job of dog-washing a breeze.” It has a nonslip, foam rubber mat in the bottom, a pair of collar restraints for safety, and built-in shelves for shampoo and conditioner. It also fits atop a standard double kitchen sink for easy filling.

Another professional-groomer alternative are these hypoallergenic grooming wipes, which resident pet expert at Chewy, Samantha Schwab, recommends for wiping down paws after walks and hikes. They “allow you to get into the nooks and crannies,” she says, and they’re allergen free and 100 percent biodegradable.

[Editor’s note: You can order these wipes now, but they’re not expected to ship until May 29.]

Different types of fur can require different types of shampoo, but Christian Manelopoulos, a Westminster Dog Show handler, told us that he’s had a lot of success with #1 All Systems Super Cleaning and Conditioning Pet Shampoo. “It’s a colorless, odorless shampoo, and it gets the dog’s coat nice and clean, and removes all the oil without stripping the coat,” he says. The product doesn’t build up, he assures, and he should know — he’s been using it for “20 to 25” years.

Since older dogs can be squeamish about their paws being touched, Ito advises buying small clippers and practicing on your puppy from a young age to get them acclimated, so that you won’t ultimately have to go to a groomer. But the most important part of nail care, Ito emphasizes, is to make sure you frequently check the easy-to-miss dewclaw (the little toe slightly up your dog’s leg): “When dogs get regularly walked, the concrete acts as a nail file. But that dewclaw does not touch the ground, and if it curls over and goes into the paw pad, that can be very, very painful.” For medium to large dogs, this pair with a nonslip grip and safety guard “allows you to cut the nail with just one clip, making the process quick and easy,” Schwab told us.

The brush you buy should depend on the kind of dog you have, says Ito. While she emphasizes that finding the right brush can take a lot of trial and error, she has had success with the FURminator for Dogs, which is designed to comb through the hard-to-reach undercoat. Writer and dog owner Ariel Kanter told us that it’ll “brush through knots” and “wisp away shedding fuzzies,” while Brett Podolsky, a co-founder of dog-food brand Farmer’s Dog, says he takes his two Rottweilers outside every day and brushes them with the FURminator.

Ito and Animal Haven make sure to clean their animals’ ears regularly, since ears with a lot of debris can lead to infections. Both use Virbac Epi-Otic ear cleaner for cats and dogs, which is nonirritating and quick-drying. The quick-drying formula is key, says Ito, since “you don’t want a solution just sitting in your animal’s ear.” Grooming experts and veterinarians use it, too, she adds.

Oral care

Keeping up with your dog’s oral health is essential, so if you’re comfortable enough (or rather, if your dog is comfortable enough) to brush your pup’s teeth, aim to brush them “daily or at least a few times a week,” veterinarian Rachel Barrack advises. Ito recommends a dog toothpaste and a rubber finger brush — as well as yearly oral exams with your veterinarian.

Dog bed

From $125

While dog beds are a must, Ito doesn’t have any specific recommendations — just something comfy that’s big enough for your dog to lounge on. We think the “durable and easy-to-clean” Casper Memory Foam Dog Bed, which was ranked the best overall dog bed by vets and dog owners, ticks all the boxes.

Toys

KONG Puppy Kong Toy
$7
$7

Like humans, dogs can get bored, so they should have a good variety of toys. Ito advises. For teething puppies specifically, they’ll need “something to chew that won’t break off,” such as a heavy-duty rubber KONG, which also comes recommended by veterinary dentist M.J. Redman. “You can stuff treats inside it, smear on a little bit of peanut butter and freeze it,” says Ito. “We also do that when a dog has never experienced a crate before — you don’t want to force the dog into the crate, you should entice them with a treat.”

$5 for 4

For dogs who like to play fetch, any old tennis ball will do — but no dog will be able to resist a squeaky tennis ball, like these from Outward Hound.

$9 for 4

Or a silent, extra-bouncy option, for the squeak averse.

From $9

Ito recommends plush toys as well, to “encourage them to not tear something else apart,” such as a beloved shoe or pillow. Strategist contributor Alice Gregory bought this KONG Wubba Friend dog toy for her toy poodle, Mickey, who hasn’t been able to put it down since. “Everything a dog might do with a toy, Mickey wants to do with the bear octopus: cuddle it, gum it, guard it territorially as though anyone but him would possibly want it,” she attests. “The combination of plush animal head, ball-shaped body (with wake-the-dead squeaker inside) and dangly, flappy limbs is dog magic,” says Strategist staffer Mia Leimkuhler, who bought it for her dog. “When [my dog’s] not flinging his foxtopus (and buntopus) about, he’s using it as a pillow.”

Poop bags

Since you’ll likely be going through a lot of poop bags, Ito recommends using something ecofriendly. These ones are biodegradable, extra thick, and come with a refillable dispenser that fastens to your leash or key chain for easy access.

Portable water bowl

For warm-weather dog walks, you’ll want to have a portable water bowl on hand, says Ito, to make sure that your pup doesn’t overheat. This one is collapsible, dishwasher safe, and made from nonporous food-grade silicone.

Collar and leash

For collars, she recommends a martingale collar, or safety collar, which has two loops that tighten slightly when the leash is tensed. “With regular snap-on collars, 95 percent of dogs that get loose, it’s because something spooked them; they pulled the breaks, and the collar went right off their heads,” she says. Since the martingale collar tightens, “if they get all herky-jerky, the collar will stop behind their ears and prevent it from going over their heads.” Westminster Dog Show handlers use martingale collars for their dogs, too.

A hand-stamped, customizable ID tag to go with it.

In New York, especially in Manhattan, Ito recommends a leash length around four feet for keeping your dog close. This adjustable, top-rated one offers two length options; is water-, dirt-, and odor-resistant; and is available in a variety of colors.

Harness

“We use harnesses for pullers,” says Ito, who opts for E-Z Walker harnesses that clip onto the chest. This one features a martingale loop, a quick-snap shoulder, and belly straps for a secure fit, and ensures no choking or coughing.

Jacket

For the winter, Ito recommends a warm jacket, especially for short-haired dogs of all sizes. According to Nicole Ellis, dog-training and product expert at Rover, “You often get what you pay for, so look for a company that sells outdoor wear for dogs, such as Ruffwear, to get long-lasting gear.” Melissa Pezzuto, a behavior consultant team lead at Best Friends Animal Society, likes the Quinzee jacket, which has a recycled-polyester lining and a durable outer shell.

Paw booties

“Here in the city, they spray salt on the sidewalk in the winter, which is really irritating to paws,” Ito says. She recommends Pawz Boots plastic “balloon” booties to wear during the cooler months, which dogs tend to tolerate better than full-on boots. They’re “disposable, but reusable,” come in a variety of sizes, and are “much easier” to put on than other paw protectors, she says. (If your dog is sensitive to sidewalk heat, they’re good for summers in the city, too.)

Commute carrier

MTA rules state that pets are not allowed on the subway “unless enclosed in a container.” If you’ll need to bring your dog on the train for vet and grooming trips, this canvas carrier, reminiscent of the beloved L.L. Bean Boat & Tote, made our list of trendiest dog bags. It comes in a variety of colors and sizes sizes, and is, according to Perry Betts (the owner of a miniature dachshund named Thor), “super-rugged and almost chewproof, and there’s a lanyard inside to attach a collar or harness. It looks exactly like a great casual tote, but has a cutout for your little friend to see the city.”

TSA-Approved carrier

If you plan on flying with your dog, Ito recommends Sherpa for its sturdy, airline-approved carriers. This wheeled model is the go-to for both Yena Kim, owner of Instagram-famous Bodhi (@mensweardog), and Ian Patterson, owner of dogfluencer Tuna (@tunameltsmyheart). Patterson told us that Tuna loves being wheeled around in his “little man cave,” and Kim assures us that it’s “a solid option for transporting dogs that are too heavy to comfortably carry around in a tote or a backpack.”

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Everything You Need to Adopt a Dog