When you bring a puppy into your home for the first time, expect you'll be making a big lifestyle change.

Puppies need more than just a bed and a food bowl to thrive. They also need constant care and attention. While it may require a lot of work initially, it's well worth the effort down the road. Establishing good habits in those first weeks will lay the groundwork for a lifetime of happiness for you and your dog. Remember, you have a responsibility to help your puppy grow into a happy and healthy dog. Here are some tips for puppy care to help first-time dog owners get started:

Puppy-Proof Your Home

Before you bring your new pet into your home, make sure that your house is safe. Puppies love to explore and chew everything in their path. Keep your puppy confined to a safe area in your house, and don't leave him unsupervised. Provide plenty of chew toys for your new friend, and reward him when he chews the toys instead of your favorite pair of shoes.

Keep him off balconies, elevated porches, and decks. Keep all cleaning supplies, detergents, bleach, and other chemicals and medicines out of the puppy's reach, preferably on high shelves. Remove poisonous houseplants, such as amaryllis, mistletoe, holly, or poinsettia, or keep them in hanging baskets up high, where your puppy cannot reach them.

Just as important: Keep toilet lids closed, unplug electrical cords and remove them from the floor, and keep plastic bags and ribbons out of your puppy's reach.

Bring Your Puppy to the Veterinarian for Regular Checkups

One of the most important parts of owning a puppy is ensuring he receives proper care.

Take him to a qualified veterinarian as soon as you bring him home. He needs several rounds of vaccines between the ages of 6 and 16 weeks to keep him from getting sick. You will also need to bring your puppy back to the veterinarian for a yearly checkup. Remember to discuss with your veterinarian the best age to neuter or spay your puppy, as well.

Finally, talk to your veterinarian about any signs of illness that you should watch out for during your puppy's first few months.

Ensure Your Puppy Receives Proper Nutrition

Your puppy also needs complete and balanced nutrition to help him grow properly. In fact, the first year of his life is critical in ensuring proper growth of his bones, teeth, muscles, and fur. As a growing animal, he'll require more calories than an adult dog. Read the labels, and find a food that has been specifically created to ensure the proper balance of protein and fat for a puppy.

Check the food package for the recommended feeding schedule and serving size. Never feed your puppy bones, table scraps, or big snacks in between meals.

Teach Your Puppy Obedience

You should also establish clear rules and expectations from the get-go.

Be firm and gentle with your training — never punitive. Be consistent with your rules. Give commands in a matter-of-fact tone. Always reward your puppy for obeying you with plenty of praise, as well as an occasional treat.

When it's time to move on to house-training, the key is to be consistent. Your puppy will typically need to eliminate 20 to 30 minutes after eating. Take him outside, and use a command such as "go potty." Then be sure to praise him when he does.

Don't get discouraged if your puppy doesn't learn the rules right away. Some pets catch onto housebreaking quickly, while others can take up to six months.

Remember that with proper puppy care, your new pet will grow into a happy, healthy dog — and provide you with love and companionship for years to come.