It’s gifting season and many people opt to add a four-legged friend to the family. If you’re getting a new puppy, however, there are several things to consider; just as there would be when bringing home a baby. Get off on the right foot—and paw—with these six tips for a healthy and rewarding first year.
Puppy-Proof the Home
Puppies are naturally mischievous creatures. It’s how they learn, discover, and entertain themselves. But, to keep them—and your most prized possessions—safe, you’ll likely need to take some precautions. Start by addressing each area of the home while putting yourself in your young dog’s perspective. Look for potential dangers such as electrical cords and power strips, candles, space heaters, fans, and plants, placing them on higher shelves, or removing them altogether. You may consider raising or tying drapes to make them inaccessible. Window and door screens could be a hazard if your puppy scratches or bites through the barrier, so ensure your pup cannot access these areas. Some pets are even clever enough to nuzzle their way through closet or bedroom doors, so be sure to pet-proof closet interiors, too. If you’re decking the halls for the holidays, consider placing a barrier around decorative items or stowing them out of reach.
Get the Right Supplies
Gathering goodies for your pet isn’t only enjoyable—it’s necessary. While there are plenty of products on the market that you can go without, some—even toys—are essential. First, make a stop at the collar and leash aisle and choose a cloth or nylon neck collar and clip-on leash that will fit your puppy right now. You’ll likely have to upgrade to a larger size or two in the near future, depending on your pet’s expected size.
Refrain from choosing prong collars, chain leashes, and retractable leashes, which can be cumbersome and uncomfortable for both you and your puppy. Slip leads are an excellent tool for training, so add this to your list as well. If your puppy is a brachycephalic or flat-nosed breed (i.e. bulldog, boxer, or Shih Tzu), you’ll need a harness, which should be used in place of a traditional neck collar for leash use.
Don’t forget a personalized identification tag to complete your pet’s ensemble. Next, pick up a variety of toys that address different senses and urges. For instance, toys that make noise and that have different shapes and textures. Puppies love to chew, so a strong rubber chew toy is ideal to satisfy this urge, but stay away from hard toys and treats. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t bend or compress it, skip it.
Next, choose a few essential grooming tools such as nail clippers, styptic powder, a brush, and gentle puppy shampoo. If your puppy will have long or thick hair, you may need a few different brushes and combs. Lastly, add a couple of stainless steel or ceramic food and water bowls to your cart before choosing a puppy food.
Choose Quality Puppy Food
Puppy food is quite simply the most important item you’ll buy for your new friend, so invest wisely. Opt for a well-researched food that utilizes high-quality ingredients and that meets the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards. Many brands even offer specialized puppy foods based on size or breed. Ask your breeder or shelter staff what kind of food your pup’s been eating and decide whether you want to switch to a new food. Your veterinarian can help you with this decision. If you choose a new food, you’ll need to gradually transition your pup over several days to avoid digestive upset. For instance, on day 1 feed ¾ portion of the older food along with ¼ portion of the new food, the next day ½ and ½, and so on. You’ll do this again at around one year of age when you transition your puppy to adult food. Be sure to grab a couple bags of bite-sized treats for puppy classes and at-home behavior training.
Visit Your Veterinarian
One of the most important steps in owning a new puppy is obtaining adequate veterinary care. Young pets require frequent health checks to ensure they are growing properly and that they are free from congenital problems. Preventive care, including immunizations and parasite prevention, are crucial components of these early vet visits—and timeliness is everything. For juvenile dogs to mount an appropriate immune response to dangerous infectious diseases like parvovirus and distemper virus, they must receive their vaccinations at particular intervals—typically beginning at 8-weeks-old and then every three to four weeks until they reach 16 weeks of age. After that, you can expect to return for the spay or neuter surgery at your veterinarian’s recommendation, but this is typically done during the first year.
Other discussion topics that may come up at your veterinary visits include microchipping, dental care, and wellness and/or insurance plans. Do yourself a favor and come prepared with questions and concerns for these important appointments—this is your chance to pick the expert’s brain. In the meantime, if your puppy comes down with an ear infection or an episode of vomiting, you may find yourself at the clinic more often. This is all to be expected during the first year of your dog’s life, but developing good, healthy habits with your pup early may help you avoid unexpected vet visits later on.
Desensitize and Socialize
Your puppy’s formative weeks are the ideal time to acclimate her to other pets, people, and routines. From about three weeks to three months of age, puppies experience their most sensitive period for socialization—one of the most important times in her life. Without adequate opportunities to meet new animals and people, she may become fearful of unfamiliar faces as she grows older. Unfortunately, this time period coincides with their most physically vulnerable period as most puppies this age are not fully vaccinated. Therefore, while you’ll want to avoid dog parks and situations where it is difficult to monitor who your pet is coming into contact with, controlled group settings such as puppy classes and planned meet-ups are great ways to provide social opportunities while staying safe.
This life stage is also the best time to desensitize your puppy to new sights, sounds, and sensations. Many common canine aversions, such as a distaste for nail trims, ear cleanings, and tooth brushing can be avoided with timely conditioning. Accustom your pup to these procedures by touching her feet, toes, mouth, teeth, ears, and other potentially sensitive areas often, rewarding her along the way.
Puppies are a lot of work. It’s not uncommon for new puppy owners to experience bouts of frustration and anger. From housetraining to behavior training to ‘round-the-clock bathroom and play breaks, caring for a puppy isn’t far off from raising a baby, so allow yourself some grace during this temporary period. That being said, consistency in feeding, training, and all other aspects of your puppy’s life will help her feel safe, secure, and confident, leading to a well-mannered adult dog.
Begin training early, especially if you’ve taken on a large or giant breed puppy who may quickly grow to become a safety hazard without proper discipline. Remain steadfast in your behavior and house-training methods and ensure all family members are on the same page regarding commands, which behaviors are tolerated, and which are not. Of course, while diligence is essential, providing unconditional love is equally important for growing puppies. Simultaneously practicing patience, affection, and discipline is no easy task, but the end result will leave you with a well-behaved lifelong companion by your side.