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My first dog was a pit bull named Lulu. As a first-time dog owner, I had no clue what to do. We relied on the kindness of friendly faces at our local pet store and throughout this dog-loving city. Over time, I got the right gear and figured out a few things along the way. Of course, I also got a few things wrong.  
Lulu didn’t judge.  
She greeted each day with love and enthusiasm. Some of my best lessons came from the other end of the leash. Lulu taught me to recognize each day as a new opportunity.  In honor of Lulu, I want to share a few tips that will beneficial for dog owners, particularly if it’s your first time with a dog.

1. Embrace those daily walks. Daily dog walks increase bonding time, provide mental stimulation and improve your dog’s socialization skills. Another benefit: Nothing melts the stress of an Atlanta commute like a leisurely walk around the block. Try it! If you’re like me, you’ll wind up learning more about your neighbors’ pets than your actual neighbors.

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2. Schedule flea and heartworm preventatives.  Fleas don’t take vacation days. Protect your pet and your household. There’s no shortage of options that include shampoos, powders, topical applications and monthly pills. Invest in an option that works best for you. When in doubt, ask your veterinarian for advice. Also, don’t forget the heartworm preventatives! Heartworm is a potentially deadly disease transmitted by mosquitos. Even during cooler winter months, it’s essential to keep dogs protected. I schedule reminders on my phone to avoid missing an application.
3. Invest in training. Obedience training can be a great opportunity to bond with your dog – and learn a few cool new tricks. Dogs can learn at any age, and there are several options for classes around the city. Look for trainers who use positive reinforcement and observe a class before enrolling. As the temperatures finally begin to warm up, consider trying out agility, disc dog courses or even canine nose work.

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4. Create a dog emergency fund – or consider pet insurance.  Accidents happen, dogs get sick and bills can pile up. It helps to have an emergency savings fund set aside. Pet insurance also provides relief if there’s a costly health issue. Rates vary based on the dog’s age and the level of services you want. Ask your veterinarian for their preferred insurance plans. Dr. Annie Price of Ormewood Animal Hospital offers recommendations on shopping for pet insurance during a podcast interview.
5. Get good gear. Give dogs their own safe place to relax by purchasing a sturdy crate. (Add a comfy bed for those who’ve graduated beyond the chewing phase.) Interactive toys that you can fill with treats, like a Kong or a Mazee ball, will keep dogs happy, healthy and occupied by activities other than eating your shoes. (Of course, I learned this lesson after Lulu ate the most expensive pair of shoes I ever owned.)

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A good friend once told me that everyone is a great dog owner the second time around. Hopefully, these tips will help you avoid some of the mistakes I made with Lulu.

She crossed the Rainbow Bridge a few years ago. After a while, my family opened our home -- and our hearts -- to a furry new addition we’ve named Louie B. He, too, brightens each new day. In honor of Lulu, I’m using these tips to extend our years with Louie B. 
All the best!
Morieka Johnson is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and host of the “SoulPup: Tips & Tricks for Dog Lovers” podcast on


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