Bringing home a new puppy is about as exciting as it gets. But with all the fun, sometimes we forget that there’s work, too. Or, maybe you’ve never had a puppy before and don’t truly understand what’s involved. Here are a few tips for those new puppy owners.
Because puppies are naturally inquisitive, you may need to stop them from entering potentially unsafe rooms of your home, such as the kitchen. For this reason, consider a baby gate (or two or three) in your home until your dog understands boundaries. You could also use a baby gate to stop your puppy from climbing upstairs or excitably running outside and escaping when the door is open. You may also need a baby gate to keep your puppy away from the litter box. However, put a chair nearby to ensure that it’s easy for the cat to navigate over the gate. Some gates actually have a sensor that opens automatically (from the collar a cat wears), so when the cat is near, a small door cut into the gate opens for the cat to pass through.
Puppies have loads of energy, and you may soon find that you’re not always able to keep your new pet entertained. Toys can encourage chewing on those items instead of your pillows or shoes (just make sure the toys you choose are appropriate, because not all dog toys are). When teething becomes an issue, just like with human babies, cold helps to soothe the pain. Stuff a tasty treat inside a toy and freeze it. You don’t want your puppy to get into the habit of using your fingers as a default chew toy. It’s also important to enrich the pup’s environment.
Although tossing balls or plush toys is wonderful, and play is certainly a way to bond with any dog, puppies also need to learn to play independently. Some toys are interactive, and some safe toys can be left out for your puppy (individual puppies have their own toy preferences). You can also create your toys, such as an empty plastic milk jug or water bottle, but, remember, you must ensure your pup isn’t ingesting toys.
Numerous studies indicate the many benefits of positive reinforcement puppy classes. Pups should meet various kinds of people (tall people, short people, people with beards, people on roller blades, young people, old people….the more variety the better) at a young age. Their interactions with these people should be fun and free of stress. Dogs can learn at any age but are most impressionable as puppies. Also, puppies need to meet other puppies and learn to play appropriately with dogs of all kinds.
Following John Paul Scott and John Fuller’s pioneering studies on dog behavior, puppy development has been traditionally divided into five fairly distinct stages:
- Neonatal (birth – 2 weeks)
- Transitional (2-3 weeks)
- Socialization 3-13 weeks)
- Adolescence (13 weeks – 6 months)
Understand that the exact ages when the above stages occur may vary from dog to dog and from breed to breed. The above chart is only a general guideline.
Similarly, pups must become accustomed early to the sights, sounds, and smells of the outdoors. Certainly, puppies should be outside on a harness and leash from the time they are very young. Most veterinarians now agree that the benefits of early socialization outweigh any minimal risk of disease transmission if the dogs they are exposed to are friendly and appropriately vaccinated. That early exposure should occur on your own property, where other potentially disease-carrying dogs have not been. As for when your puppy can meet unknown dogs in novel places: the sooner the better, but seek your veterinarian’s advice.
In the U.K., it’s a legal requirement for all dogs to be microchipped. A microchip helps to reunite you with your new puppy if he accidentally escapes. In the U.S., microchipping is not required, but I have yet to meet a veterinarian who doesn’t think that it’s a good idea. When you have your pet microchipped, it’s important to register with the microchip provider. Without a current registration (and up-to-date info on how to reach you), having an unregistered or out-of-date registration is like having a cell phone without a number.
Most puppies should be crate trained for three reasons:
- Crate training keeps your puppy and your possessions safe. A puppy in a crate won’t chew on wires or get into other potential hazards. Ingesting inedible items can cause an upset stomach or worse. Crates also keep your possessions safe. No one wants to come home to their favorite pair of shoes chewed into a million pieces.
- Crate training assists with house training. It’s a fact: dogs are hardwired to avoid soiling where they sleep.
- Crate training teaches puppies to relax when no one is home. A puppy in a crate never gets into the habit of destroying household items while home alone. In the crate, the pup will learn to relax—most likely sleep—while you’re away.
There are many other advantages to crate training. When traveling, a crate becomes a home away from home. Also, if a dog is anxious about too much noise or commotion in the house, perhaps due to construction or a child’s birthday party, a crate can become a safe haven.
Although crates have many benefits, it’s important to remember that a crate is not a babysitter (or a puppysitter), especially when it comes to house training.
As your puppy grows, the hours he can spend in a crate without needing to eliminate can be extended to match his age. The general rule for this is one hour per month of the pup’s age, plus one hour. So, at 2-months old, the puppy could reasonably be expected to stay in the crate for three hours. An important note: For small dogs, you should match the age. For example, a 2-month-old small dog could stay in the crate for two hours.
This rule only applies if the pup being crated went to the bathroom before going into the crate, so he’s starting on empty.
To be useful for house training, the crate needs to be just big enough for the puppy to lie down and turn around comfortably, but not too big—this isn’t a luxury condo. Crate dividers enable you to shrink a large crate and then adjust the size as your puppy grows.
Of course, any puppy requires food. Talk with your veterinarian about choosing the right diet. Increasingly, behavior consultants and other experts are encouraging feeding from toys and puzzles rather than a bowl. But it’s exceedingly important to ensure your puppy can’t or won’t eat the device or toy being used to feed.
Vaccinations and veterinary visits
It’s best to visit the veterinarian first, as many times as you are able, for “happy puppy visits.” The puppy visits the veterinarian, and is told “you are so cute,” loved by the office staff, and given treats. The veterinary clinic is instantly perceived as a happy place, and the right tone is set for future visits. In fact, it’s a good idea to seek out a Fear Free certified veterinary practice dedicated to the idea of minimizing the potential fear, stress, and anxiety of veterinary visits.
All puppies require a fecal antigen test (worms can be a problem, but are easily treated if a veterinarian realizes they are there), heartworm prevention, flea/tick prevention, and appropriate vaccines. The definition of appropriate depends on the geography of where you are and your dog’s lifestyle, and, increasingly, the canine influenza virus may be a part of the mix. However, there are vaccines that are recommended for all puppies. Remember: The cost of vaccinating your new puppy is often covered under a puppy insurance policy. And, overall, pet insurance is a wonderful safety net for pet owners. Now is the best time to get that insurance.