Dog Care Sheet
Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.
Canis lupus familiaris
Dogs are as much a part of the American landscape as baseball and apple pie. But any decision to add a canine companion to the family must be carefully researched before a successful adoption can occur.
Before deciding to purchase a dog, consider adoption. Millions of dogs of all ages and breeds are in need of forever homes. Your local Petco Pet Care Center associates can provide you with additional information about how to find a new canine family member.
Typical appearance and behavior
- Dogs, by nature, are very social animals. When you adopt a dog, you become part of that dog’s family. Proper and safe socialization at critical developmental stages are very important. Dogs should be kept mentally stimulated and maintain breed-appropriate levels of physical activity. Supervised games help keep dogs busy and satisfy their instinctual need to chew, retrieve, dig, chase and herd. The level of activity a dog needs depends on their age, overall health and breed. Different breeds require different levels of activity; always consult your vet on the individual health and wellness needs of your particular dog
- Just like people, dogs are individuals and have different traits. For example, some dogs do well within family units that include multiple pets, while others thrive in a single-pet household. All dogs have specific breed characteristics, so it is important to research each breed you’re considering before bringing them into your home so that you can choose a good match for your lifestyle and prepare accordingly
- Another variable among dog breeds is their need for grooming. Some breeds need an occasional bath and brush to look their best, while others require regular bathing, clipping and grooming to maintain a healthy skin and coat, which supports their overall health. Before you bring a dog into your home, consider how much time, resources and finances you have available to groom a new pet
|Care Difficulty||Intermediate to Advanced|
|Average Life Span||Up to 6-16 years with proper care, depending on breed|
|Average Adult Size||Depends on breed|
Housing for dogs
- All dogs, regardless of size or breed, need a safe environment where they are comfortable
- Crate training can be a great management tool to help keep your dog safe while teaching them how to behave appropriately inside the home. You’ll want your dog to feel comfortable and safe in their crate so that they can remain comfortably in it when you are unable to supervise them. The crate should be introduced slowly and paired with positive associations and experiences. Puppies should not be left in the crate for long periods of time as they will need frequent attention, mental and physical stimulation, and bathroom breaks. As dogs get older and start adjusting to crate training, they can spend longer periods of time in the crate, but, depending on the dog’s comfort level, this should be limited to a few hours at a time. Once they are acclimated to and enjoy time in their crate, be sure to provide them with things to keep them occupied (e.g., toys or long-lasting chews), as well as a crate mat
- If your dog is not fully housebroken, you’ll need to make sure that their environment is safe and doggie-proofed, for example, free of dangers such as exposed electric cords, open windows and doors, toxic chemicals/foods and nonconsumable objects that, if swallowed, could cause choking or a gastrointestinal blockage. With proper training, most dogs can learn to safely roam freely around a pet-proofed home without needing the use of a crate for supervision
- Since dogs are social animals, they tend to enjoy the company of their human family members. Establish a regular routine that includes training, play and exercise.
- Choose a dog who matches your lifestyle and living arrangements
- If dogs are going to spend time outside, they should always have access to shade, food, water and an area sheltered from the elements
- Leaving dogs outdoors unsupervised is not recommended. Dogs should never be left outside unsupervised for long periods or during extreme weather
General breed information
These are generalized descriptions only; please research your chosen breed carefully before you bring any new dog home.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) divides all recognized breeds into groups according to the job for which they were originally bred.
Here is a brief overview of each group:
Sporting dogs—Includes Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Pointers and Springer or Cocker Spaniels—bred to help hunters find, flush and retrieve birds. Tendency toward independent thought, high energy
Hounds—Includes Bloodhounds, Coonhounds, Bassets, Afghans, Beagles, Dachshunds and Greyhounds—also bred for hunting. Use scent or sight to track and chase prey. Independent, very focused when tracking
Working dogs—Includes Boxers, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Anatolian Shepherds and Great Pyrenees—bred to work, many excel at police and protection work; others originally used to hunt large prey such as wolves and lions. A well-socialized working dog can make a wonderful, loving companion
Terriers—Includes Scottish, West Highland White and Bull Terriers—bred to chase animals into the burrow and flush them out. Work independently and can be quite stubborn for training
Toys—Includes Toy Poodles, Chihuahuas and Pekingese—bred primarily to be wonderful companions and watchdogs. Can be rather vocal
Non-sporting—Includes Boston Terriers, Bulldogs, Dalmatians and Poodles—a miscellaneous group with a large variety of personalities
Herding dogs—Includes Collies, German Shepherds, Border Collies, Australian Shepherds and Shetland Sheepdogs—bred for working closely with humans to move/herd and protect livestock. Very trainable. Need lots of exercise and a clearly defined job and structure to keep their minds stimulated
Keeping your dog’s home clean
- Clean/disinfect your dog’s crate and its contents as needed but at least weekly or whenever it gets soiled with urine, feces or food
- Be sure to remove all objects ( bedding, toys, etc.) from the crate before cleaning it; clean these items separately
- Wash bedding in hot, soapy water as needed to disinfect and remove odors
- Clean the crate with commercially available, ammonia-free, pet-friendly disinfectant
- Dry the inside of the crate thoroughly before replacing bedding, toys or chews, or allowing your dog to go inside
What to feed your dog
- A well-balanced dog diet consists of:
- Dogs should be fed a nutritionally balanced and complete commercially available dog food appropriate to their life stage, breed/size and any underlying health issues
- In general, “homemade” diets containing a variety of people food are not recommended, as they cannot provide the complete balance of nutrition found in commercial diets that are approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), as indicated on the food label
- Treats, including people food, should make up no more than 10% of a dog’s total diet
- Your veterinarian can advise you on the best choice for your new pet
- While dogs can be offered an occasional healthy treat such as a small amount of vegetables, fruit, cooked egg or cottage cheese, in general, table scraps are not recommended, as they can throw off nutrient balance in your dog’s overall diet and contribute to obesity
- Clean, fresh water should always be available
Things to remember when feeding
- Feed puppies three to four times daily and adult dogs one to two times daily
- In general, the younger the puppy, the more frequent the feeding (e.g., puppies 8 to 12 weeks old generally need to be fed four meals per day, puppies 3 to 6 months old need three meals per day, and puppies 6 to 12 months old need two meals per day; large or high-energy breeds may require three meals a day for longer than other breeds)
- Use recommendations on manufacturer's label as a guideline for how much and how often to feed, and discuss your pet's individual needs with your veterinarian
- Feed large, deep-chested dogs two to three smaller meals a day to help avoid gastric dilitation and volvulus syndrome, commonly known as bloat, a life-threatening condition that causes a dog’s stomach to twist upon itself, often after a big meal has been consumed quickly, and prevent food from exiting the stomach
- Raised food dishes can help prevent bloat and ease strain on neck and back muscles and joints while eating
Grooming and hygiene
For information about bathing, brushing, nail clipping and teeth-brushing, reference the Grooming Your Dog Care Sheet.
Many Petco locations offer grooming services. Grooming needs vary by breed; ask your Petco stylist about recommended services for your pet.
Licensing and identification
Different locales have different requirements regarding dog licensing and identification. Know your community’s laws before adopting your new pup. Typically, proof of licensing and an ID tag must be attached to your dog’s collar. Talk to your veterinarian about microchipping your dog to help ensure their safe return if they get lost.
All dogs should have an initial checkup by a veterinarian soon after adoption and annual physical examinations after that. Talk to your vet about preventive medical care, including flea and tick prevention, heartworm protection, vaccinations and spaying/neutering.
Where to adopt
Talk to a Petco associate about recommendations for local rescues with dogs available to adopt.
- nutritionally complete and balanced, age- and breed-appropriate dog food
- kennel, crate and/or doghouse
- food and water bowls
- training treats
- grooming supplies
- dental hygiene supplies
- collar and leash
- flea & tick preventive
- Bed or kennel mat
- ID tag
- Crate cleaner
Some dogs do well in homes with other dogs, while others may not. When adding a new dog or pet to the family, remember that some dogs may have an easy transition while others may take additional time and training to adjust. It is important to give dogs the choice and control within their environment while rewarding behaviors that we want to see continue. Some dogs may not accept a new dog or pet at all. Always research and prepare for bringing in a new family member regardless of species. Work with a certified dog trainer, certified behaviorist, veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist to help you introduce a new dog into your home if you already have one. Never leave two unfamiliar dogs together without supervision. Dogs should be separated during mealtimes, or an adequate number of resources (food and water bowls, crates, dog beds, toys, etc.) must be provided for each dog to have their own in addition to ample personal space to decrease the chances of resource guarding.
Signs of a healthy dog
- Is active, alert and responsive
- Eats and drinks regularly
- Has smooth skin without scabs or itchiness
- Has clean, unmatted fur without signs of fur loss
- Walks normally, without obvious lameness or discomfort
- Has clear eyes and nose free of discharge or inflammation
- Teeth and gums free of plaque and tartar
- Routinely urinates and defecates; solid, well-formed stool
- Free of fleas, ticks, worms and other parasites
Vaccination and preventive care
- Puppies require a number of vaccinations including:
- 6-8 weeks First series (distemper, adenovirus/hepatitis, parvovirus, parainfluenza)
- 10-12 weeks Second series (distemper, adenovirus/hepatitis, parvovirus, parainfluenza)
- 12-16 weeks Third series (distemper, adenovirus/hepatitis, parvovirus, parainfluenza), rabies
- Annual vaccinations to include DAPPV, rabies and others as advised by your veterinarian; may include leptosporosis, bordetella, Lyme disease, etc.
- Heartworm, as well as flea and tick prevention, is needed to support your dog’s overall health and wellness
- Consult your veterinarian for the vaccination schedule that is right for your dog and ways to stay proactive in regards to their health and wellness
Red flags (If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.)
- Missing fur
- Itchy or scabbed skin
- Diarrhea or dirty bottom
- Bloody stool
- Uneven gait/obvious lameness or discomfort walking
- Distressed breathing
- Eye or nasal discharge or inflammation
- Weight loss
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive urination
- Repeated coughing or sneezing
- Decreased appetite
- Presence of fleas, ticks, worms or other parasites
- Unexpected changes in behavior or normal routine
Common health issues
|Health Issue||Symptoms or Causes||Suggested Action|
|Health Issue Diarrhea||Symptoms or Causes Loose stools caused by inappropriate diet, infection with parasites/viruses/bacteria, stress, unclean housing, or other underlying illness.||Suggested Action Consult a veterinarian to determine cause and treatment.|
|Health IssueInflamed, scabbed or itchy skin; hair loss||Symptoms or Causes May be due to infection with parasites (mites, fleas, ticks), bacteria or viruses, or underlying allergies.||Suggested ActionUse skincare products specially designed for dogs. Consult a veterinarian.|
- Why is my dog shaking? Dogs shake for many reasons, including excitement, stress, pain, itchy skin, nausea and to shake things (insects or water, for example) off their fur. If your dog starts to shake in an unusual or excessive way, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.
- Why does my dog stare at me? Dogs generally give eye contact to communicate their comfort Sometimes staring, especially in conjunction with ‘‘freezing” or a stiff body, can be a sign of an uncomfortable dog asking for additional personal space.
- How often should I wash my dog? How often a dog needs to be bathed depends on their coat type (long vs. short), which can affect how dirty their coat becomes as well as on their activity level. Dogs who relax on the couch don’t typically get as dirty as those who roll around in the grass. Most dogs should have a bath every month, unless they smell or look dirty and require bathing more often. Too-frequent bathing can dry out their skin. Talk to a Petco stylist or veterinarian about your dog’s specific needs.
- How often should I take my dog to the vet? Healthy dogs should have an initial checkup at the veterinarian when they are first adopted and annually after that. Young puppies will require additional vet trips for their first rounds of shots. If dogs develop chronic illness or are geriatric, they should be examined more often. Your veterinarian can provide guidance for your dog’s specific health needs.
- Why is my dog eating grass? Dogs commonly eat grass, and while it shouldn’t be encouraged, it is not usually a problem as grass has dietary fiber. Dogs should not eat grass that has been treated with fertilizer or pesticides. Dogs who suddenly start eating a lot of grass may be nauseous and may eat the grass to induce vomiting.
- Why does my dog eat poop? Some dogs start eating their own poop because they are stressed and seeking attention. Some theorize that dogs eat poop when their diet is deficient in a specific nutrient.
- Why does my dog have diarrhea? Diarrhea can be a sign of an underlying medical problem such as infection with parasites, viruses or bacteria. It can also be due to a food allergy or to ingestion of toxic substances. If your dog has prolonged diarrhea or the diarrhea contains blood, consult your veterinarian immediately.
- Why is my dog throwing up? Vomiting can be a sign of an underlying medical problem such as infection with parasites, viruses or bacteria. It can also be due to a food allergy or to ingestion of foreign objects or toxic substances. If your dog is experiencing prolonged vomiting or the vomit contains blood, they should be checked by a veterinarian.
- Why does my dog lick his paws? While most dogs lick their paws for general self-grooming, excessive licking can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. Dogs commonly lick their paws, especially between their toes, when they have food or environmental allergies, skin infections or wounds or foot pain. Some dogs will lick their feet obsessively because they suffer from boredom or anxiety.
- Why is my dog panting? Panting is normal for many dogs. It helps them cool off. It also may be a sign of thirst and/or overheating. Reach out to your veterinarian if you feel your dog is panting heavily or excessively, especially if they are panting without an obvious cause such as play, spending time or running around outdoors, or they are indoors on a hot day without air conditioning.
- Why does my dog lick me so much? While a little bit of licking can be a sign of affection, excessive licking may indicate an underlying issue such as anxiety, fear or boredom. If your dog starts licking you obsessively, they should be checked by a veterinarian.
Additional care sheets
Notes and resources
Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.
Because all dogs are potential carriers of infectious diseases, always wash your hands before and after handling your dog or your dog's accessories to help prevent the potential spread of disease.
Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before purchasing or adopting a dog or caring for a dog and should consider if a dog is the right choice for their family.
Go to cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about dogs and disease.
This care sheet can cover the needs of other species.
The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.