CONGRATULATIONS! You’re acquiring a new puppy, and you want to be the best owner you can be. If you’re 100% confident this is the right size, breed, energy level, and temperament for yourself and your family for the next 15+ years, read on! If you’re not sure whether this puppy will be the right fit, please email me for a free assessment.
If you rescued, thanks for adopting, not shopping in a pet store. If you purchased from a responsible breeder, thank you for supporting your breed’s healthy breeding practices. Here is a quick checklist to get you off on the right paw:
- Puppy proof your home.
- Get the measurements of the puppy’s neck and girth so you can purchase a tag collar, harness, and leash.
- Research your puppy’s breed and plan activities that cater to their natural instincts.
- Decide on and purchase a containment system.
- Purchase fairly inexpensive bedding to begin with.
- Agree upon a house-training schedule the entire family can accommodate.
- Decide on and purchase the trial size (4-6 pounds) of puppy food.
- Ensure you have toys to keep the puppy entertained.
- Purchase some calming music tracks to help with separation anxiety.
- Register for puppy socialization and training classes.
- Make play dates with well-socialized adult dogs and other puppies you know or will meet at puppy class.
- Choose a veterinarian with great reviews and fair prices.
Puppy Proofing the Home
You’ll want to make sure any potential hazards (electrical, food, height, rooms, etc.) are inaccessible to the puppy. Small, fragile breeds like chihuahuas and Italian greyhounds can break bones jumping off of couches. You’ll also want to ensure things that are of high value to you (shoes, furniture, breakable decor, etc.) are safe from a teething puppy’s shark mouth. This can be accomplished by temporarily storing items while the puppy is growing and learning the rules of the household, or making arrangements to rearrange things so the hazards are blocked in some way.
Tag Collar, Harness, and Leash
A dog’s neck is as sensitive as a human’s. To avoid tracheal damage or collapse, you’ll want to only use the pup’s neck to hold their collar with an ID tag. Walk the pup in a harness, preferably one that puts the weight across the shoulders and not the breastbone. Structurally, no-pull harnesses tend to be very inhibiting to a dog’s natural gait, and can be very unhealthy for growing puppies. Best to teach good leash manners from day 1, rather than problem-solve later with more punitive tools.
Breed & Activities
There are all sorts of breed groups, so you’ll want to see what your breed’s intended purpose is and cater to that. Some hunting dogs chase (sighthounds), some flush (spaniels), some bring back game without damaging it (retrievers), some sniff and track (scent-hounds). Some herding dogs have boundless energy (border collies and Australian shepherds), some are intended to trot all day (German shepherds), some have the force to deal with ornery bulls (Australian cattle dogs/red or blue heelers), and some are livestock guardians (great Pyrenees). Some protection dogs guard the home (great Dane), guard people (malinois), or guard against sounds and alert (chihuahuas). Most of the toy breeds are just meant to be cuddly companions, but some are wicked agile and smart (papillons), enjoy performing tricks (poodles), or have extremely satisfying hair to groom (maltese). This is by no-means an all-inclusive list, so please make sure you do your research and ensure you can provide these or similar activities for the pup you’ve chosen to add to your family. If you’re unsure how to meet your breed or mixed breed’s needs, please email me for a free consultation.
Containment System & House Training Plan
Dogs were bred to be companions, so 99% will want, no, need to live inside with their people. I highly recommend limiting the pup’s access to the house unless supervised. Tethering the puppy to an adult is a great way to make sure the puppy minds its manners and can quickly be rewarded for good behavior. Yes, you should pretty much live with a treat pouch on at home for the first week or so! While you’re gone, you can use an ex-pen, crate, or small room as a safe place of confinement to help minimize accidents. Puppies don’t want to eliminate where they sleep. It is definitely hard work house-training a puppy, so I’ve gathered up my recipe for success. Take the puppy out when:
- An 8 week old puppy can only realistically hold it overnight for about 6 hours, and during the day for about 2 hours (1 hour per month of age).
- They first wake up in the morning.
- They’ve had breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
- They’ve played or gotten excited about something.
- Every 30-60-minutes, depending on the age of the puppy. Set a timer so you don’t forget.
- They wake up from a nap.
Finally, always reward a puppy for going outside (or on a pad, if that’s going to be your pup’s lifestyle) with a tasty treat. That doesn’t mean a biscuit, that means hot dogs, string cheese, real chicken, etc. As long as you follow this strictly, your pup will likely have far fewer accidents, and be house-trained within a couple weeks on a fair schedule.
Many puppies chew, shred, or have accidents on their bedding. While it’s tempting to buy the best bed on the market for our new furry friend, it’s usually not a wise economical choice. A cheap bed at the pet store, or a simple duo of towels will suffice. Some dogs always destroy their bedding, and have to do without. Wait and see the personality of your pup before investing in a $200 dog mattress.
Puppies have different metabolic requirements than adult dogs, requiring higher calorie intakes and different nutrient proportions than their adult counterparts. I typically recommend a brand like Orijen or Acana — safely made in Canada, very high meat content, and grain free. If your pup is going to be 50 pounds or more, make sure you get the large breed formula to accommodate their growing joints properly.
Entertainment & Toys
Puppies are just like children, they get bored very easily and require constant stimulation. Food puzzle toys are a great way to keep the pup entertained on its own while owners are away. I usually recommend a Kong that has been stuffed and frozen. Ideally, owners should endeavor to interact with their pup as much as possible while they’re home to avoid destructive behaviors that result for lack of stimulation. Warning: do not feed rawhides or antlers! Rawhides sit in stomachs for a month, and antlers can break adult dogs’ teeth, let alone puppy teeth!
Puppies stay with their mother and siblings 100% of their upbringing, so it’s quite a shock to be completely alone for the first time. I recommend everyone in the family practice leaving through each door in and out of the house repeatedly until it’s a non-event for the puppy. The first time, the puppy may get up as you leave and be excited when you return a second later. Repeat until it’s no longer worth the pup’s energy to even get up, as they can now trust you’ve not disappeared from the face of the earth and will return! Then you can begin to add duration. After teaching the pup their name, this is the 2nd item on my to-do list. When the pup must be left alone, Native American flute music, the TV, or similar background noise can really help the pup not feel abandoned.
Exposure is not the same thing as socialization. I repeat: Exposure IS NOT the goal. Positive experiences (the pup is clearly enjoying itself) are much more important than just going everywhere, sensing everything, and meeting everyone. Puppy socialization classes at large chain pet stores, or private training companies are an excellent starting point. They can help you expose to items you may not have access to: strollers, walkers, canes, wheelchairs, shopping carts, etc. They can also facilitate off-leash puppy play time in a safe, sterile environment. Vets warn against exposure until after all the shots, but puppies are safe provided they aren’t anywhere near unvaccinated dogs and the environment has been sterilized. The class should also require a clear stool check from the veterinarian.
I found my vet through trial and error and Yelp reviews. I had to say goodbye to 2 vets that weren’t a good fit before finding luck #3 that has been wonderful. Always be your pup’s advocate. A good vet won’t want to vaccinate more than every 3 years, will always do a thorough physical exam if it’s been a while, will comment on your pup’s condition and let you know of any red flags they observe with weight, teeth, eyes, ears, paws, nails, and coat condition. I’m willing to pay a little extra for high quality care; but if it’s out of your budget, price shop and compare. Perhaps a vet a few miles out of a ritzy neighborhood will be just as good, but won’t charge so much.