Pup Shower: What to Get New Dog Parents, From Training Essentials to Gift Boxes
Here are the top items experienced dog parents swear by, from tried-and-true training tools to the best money-saving subscription boxes.
No hate on baby showers, but I fully believe new dog parents should be showered with gifts, too. They need so much stuff. Full stop: Dogs are expensive. Doesn’t matter if it’s a puppy or a senior — there’s always something with a dog, and it’s always $150 at the vet. And no matter what essentials you think you have, there’s a lot to learn as every pup is different. If you’re welcoming a new dog into your pack or want to treat a friend who just got a new dog, here are the pro tips and the why-didn’t-I-think-of-that items seasoned dog parents swear by — from tried-and-true toys to money-saving bundles.
Sure, Zuke's are great for teaching puppies party tricks, but if you're working with a dog that has any anxiety or fear-based aggression, you need to up the ante with high-value treats. Not every dog can have these, and you should definitely check with your vet before using them. If you're working with an older dog already struggling with weight gain, you can cut up carrots into bites and call them "cookies," but for younger, more active dogs, peanut butter and spray cheese work wonders at the vet — especially when it's time for that temperature check. This squeeze pack of Jif is clutch for me and my mini schnauzer while administering pills. It's easy to spread and so much cleaner than a jar. (WARNING: I know most pup parents know the dangers of xylitol, but I just have to say it: Always, always check the ingredients list on any container of peanut butter to make sure it doesn't have xylitol.) For bath time, aka torture time with my mini schnauzer, we use spray cheese to associate this activity with a positive reward. For seniors who have had teeth removed or struggle with PB, you can also use baby food meat. Just check the ingredients list first. Obviously, you cannot give dogs too much human food — especially in small breeds where peritonitis is always a danger. If you're training for something daily such as leash reactivity, dehydrated lamb lung is a great way to treat without giving your pup too many carbs. The pieces break up easily for smaller portions. Plus, they're lightweight and easy to carry in bulk in a treat pouch.
Did you know that mental activity wears out a dog just as much as physical activity? Sometimes even more! Enrichment is crucial for a healthy dog. Because bored dogs will wander, and when they wander, they find things they shouldn't like toilet paper rolls. One of the best ways to provide daily enrichment is with smart toys, toys that play to your dog's natural prey drive. If you have any kind of terrier breed, a flirt pole will be your best friend for life. Sometimes called a dog wand or play pole, these sticks have a little critter tied on the end so you can mimic a small rodent scurrying around. If you have a puppy that gets zoomies, this is a godsend for releasing energy. For retrievers that are obsessed with balls, I love this tennis tumble from Wild One. You can also stuff other toys and treats inside the log. And let's talk about plushies. Your dog doesn't like them because they're stuffed animals. They like them because they mimic chewing a dead animal. I know. It's kind of horrifying, but if you can invest in plushies that have internal sounds, it's more rewarding for your dog. I love, love, love this duck sleeve. You insert a plastic bottle and it mimics the crunching of bones. Pretty gross, but it's highly satisfying for dogs and saves a water bottle from the landfill! Squeakers are popular for a reason, but if the sound drives you nuts, look for plushies with "deep squeakers" like this BARK plush camper from REI. My dog loves it, and I love that the sound isn't as high-pitched and annoying.
Smart + Slow Feeders
I’m not a fan of food bowls. Unless you're working with a dog that has food aggression, direct hand feeding is a great way to bond — especially with rescue pups. And for puppies, the exercise of hand feeding helps teach little ones not to nip at fingers because good things come from human hands. Basic food bowls also encourage fast feeding, and that can lead to excessive gas or upset tummies. Slow feeders and food puzzles are a great way to slow down mealtimes while also providing enrichment and mental stimulation. The Game from Fable is a game-changer at my house, and it features several levels of difficulty so it ages with your pup. I also really love these sniffer puzzles from Outward Hound. They focus on "nose work," which, again, plays to your dog's prey drive. Speaking of prey drive, I can't talk about slow feeders without mentioning the snuffle mat. This thing is amazing for dogs who love to root and dig because it's a mini scavenger hunt that mimics grass with fabric.
Dog body language is different than human body language, and it's important to know the signs of an anxious dog. Excessive shaking and chewing are natural ways that dogs self soothe and calm down their little nervous systems. In addition to active play toys, it's important to have chew toys and chew treats for your dog to gnaw their heart out, but remember size matters. When shopping for dog chews and bones, it must be longer than their snout is wide. Otherwise, it's a choking hazard. And some bones such as rawhide must be supervised as your dog can't ingest rawhide, just chew it. That's why I'm a big fan of no-hide bones. These chews mimic the taste, but they're entirely OK to ingest, so it takes a lot of worry out of chew time. Himalayan bones or Yak cheese chews are also great. My dog loves the Falcon from Fable. It's a silicon chew that has different compartments for treats or spreads, but often he'll pick it out of the toy bin and just chew it on its own. For unsupervised chew time, dog parents around the world know the word: KONG. The classic red kong is indestructible and one of those chews you can feel OK about leaving with your dog in a crate for training or separation anxiety training. There's just so much you can do with a KONG, from stuffing it with peanut butter to freezing it with water in the summer for an easy cooldown.
Potty Pro Tips
When you welcome a fur baby into your home, it's all about setting them up for success — especially with potty training. If you're working with a rescue pup, remember that they'll need a refresher on training because your home and routine are totally different than their previous environment. The key is consistency. Make a schedule of break times and stick to it. Outfit yourself with training aids like a treat pouch to reward potties outside. A short lead is also important when working with a new dog outside. You want to normalize the dog staying close to you on a leash. Krebs uses recycled climbing rope for super sturdy leashes, and having easy-to-reach poop bags is a must. I like the scented bags from Frisco, a Chewy brand, because I have a very sensitive nose, and it's no fun to carry a smelly waste bag for blocks until you find a waste container. With frequent trips outside, your dog will track in dirt. That's a given, but you can give dogs baths too often. Technically, they don't need it at all. For most humans, we also can't go weeks on end with a smelly dog. A compromise in-between bath times is grooming wipes to hit paws and snouts. (And sometimes this is needed to wipe older, female dogs that sit low to the ground as they're more susceptible to UTIs.) I buy organic, unscented baby wipes from Costco in bulk to save money, but Wild One has a line of grooming wipes that smell amazing.
Before bringing a dog home, it's important to do a walkthrough of your space on their level. It sounds funny, but crawling around your home makes it easier to recognize anything that could be in reach or dangerous to your dog. Safety aside, it's also important to outfit your space with dog-friendly items ahead of time like washable rugs. I'm obsessed with this washable mat from Fab Habitat. It's our new front door station for putting on a leash and wiping paws. The dove grey weaving looks super expensive and sophisticated but the price isn't. Another switch you need to make is pet-friendly plants. The Sill has bundles and even a subscription plan for new dog-safe plants that would make a great gift for new pup parents. Another investment that is crucial is air-tight containers. Rodents and pests love dog food and dog treats. I use OXO Pop containers for kibble, treats and bones to make sure the scent doesn't attract mice or bugs. For hardwood flooring, a dog placemat is a must for water bowls. Dogs aren't exactly neat when they drink, and if you have a dog with long hair, they tend to drip outside the bowl. A mat protects your flooring underneath the bowl from warping over time.
Money-Saving Bundles + Boxes
If you’re starting from scratch, the cost of a dog can be really overwhelming. Just like when considering homeownership, it's important to create a budget for yourself and understand the hidden costs of owning a dog. It's so much more than a bed and a collar. There's routine grooming, random vet visits, emergency after-hours vet visits, training sessions, boarding, daycare, etc. Truly, the best present you can give a new pup parent is $10 on Venmo for their next unexpected vet visit. Because even calling the dog poison control hotline (1-800-213-6680) is a flat $75. I told you! Dogs are expensive. But a great way to save money is with subscription boxes and starter bundles. Whether you’re treating a friend or buying for yourself (rather, your dog), here are our favorites. It’s a great way to save on high-value treats and toys and supplies. The best dog box hands (and paws) down is Chewy's Goody Box collab with KONG. This is the best starter bundle I've seen. It's got a classic kong, training treats that are easy to break up, a quality plush toy with a squeaker and more treats. And it's under $30! That is a STEAL. For toys, Fable has a build-your-own bundle model where you can order multiple items and save more as you add on. Wild One has tons of customizable bundles. I like this walk and treat kit for all your outdoor essentials. BARK Box is synonymous in the subscription box world and for good reason: Their plushies are top-quality and built to last. They even have a new spin-off box series for constant chewers with super-tough toys.