If you’re already a dog owner, you have by now not only found a good vet, but established a solid relationship with a veterinary professional who understands you and your dogs as well as the nature of the relationship you have with your canine companions. If you don’t have a vet, or don’t have one you’re entirely comfortable with, what to do? Your puppy should be making his or her first vet visit within a few days of coming to your home, so having veterinary care lined up from the start is crucial.

Don’t just settle for the most convenient vet, however; do some research so you can feel confident you’ve made the best choice for yourself and your dog. If your breeder is local, ask him or her for recommendations. Talk to neighbors or co-workers, particularly if they own or have owned giant breeds and whom you know to be conscientious about their pets’ health, and ask for their impressions and suggestions. You may also want to check out the website (part of the American Animal Hospital Association, a professional organization for veterinarians) and search for an accredited animal hospital in your area.

Once you’ve narrowed your choices, visit them (without your dog, as odd as that may feel) to talk to the vet and to get a feel for the staff and the facilities. Ask questions about their procedures for evaluating pets, recommending specialists, monitoring pets left overnight, and about any specialized training any of their employees might have. Keep in mind that animal hospitals with multiple vets offer the advantage of being able to provide care even when your preferred vet is unavailable.

Of course, only experience with a particular vet or animal hospital will tell you if you’re truly comfortable with all they have to offer, and if not, don’t be afraid to make a switch. Just be sure to ask for your dog’s medical records before moving on; that way your new vet will have a documented history of your pet’s health.

And don’t forget to keep your vet’s phone number handy, preferably on speed dial. And while you’re at it, locate the nearest 24/7 veterinary emergency facility and keep their phone number and address handy as well. Another number you may wish to have readily available is that for the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center: (888) 426-4435 (a fee will apply).