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Find a Vet You Trust

Your veterinarian is just as important to your dog's health as your pediatrician is to your kids' health. Find one you trust. Ask friends for recommendations, and then interview the vet to be sure.

"You don't just want to meet the veterinarian. You want to meet the office staff, the technicians. You want to feel welcome," McConnell says.

Ask your vet for tips on what type of food to buy and how often you should bring your dog in for checkups. Also ask about spaying or neutering your pet if that hasn't already been done. And find out about microchipping, which can help return your dog to you if he ever runs away.

Set Limits

When you first bring your dog home, close doors and set up baby gates to keep him in a confined area. This is good advice for both a new puppy and an older dog.

"You want your dog to have as little time as possible out of your eyesight," McConnell says. "Even if they're 8 years old and house-trained, they're not house-trained to your house."

Close off your pet's outside space, too. Build a fence around your yard if you plan to let your dog go off-leash.

To make sure your dog behaves, sign him up for training classes ahead of time. "You want to look for positive reinforcement-based training," Herron says. She recommends hiring a trainer with the certification "CPDT" (Certified Professional Dog Trainer).

Make a Plan

Adopting a pet involves more than household preparation. "It's lifestyle preparation," Herron says. Decide who'll be in charge of house-training, feeding, and exercising your pet, and when during the day these activities will be done.

Come up with some rules as a family. Which rooms or pieces of furniture are off-limits? Where do you want the dog to sleep? Whatever you decide, everyone needs to be consistent and stick to the plan.

"It's not fair to a dog to have confused expectations that vary from person to person. It's like having a language in which you're changing the word for 'chair' every day," McConnell says. "Dogs need consistency."

Stick to your plan, but don't expect your dog to do the same. Just like children, dogs don't always behave and follow the rules.

"It takes dogs about a year to settle in," McConnell says. "It's very easy to feel either worried or frustrated if, after a month or two, things aren't perfect. The fact of the matter is, it just takes time."