Puppies are beyond adorable, but let's face it — raising a puppy is full of challenges. If you've never had a puppy before, the task before you can seem quite daunting, but once those big puppy eyes capture your heart, there's no turning back. Here are some useful tips to get through the puppy development stage and ensure your new four-legged baby grows up into a happy, healthy, well-adjusted dog.
Raising a Puppy: Things to Consider
Puppies are little bundles of energy who are often intensely curious about their surroundings. Life with a puppy is not that different from life with a human toddler — you'll need a lot of patience as you watch over your pup to keep them out of trouble, help them learn appropriate behaviour and safely teach them about the world.
The good news is that puppies sleep a lot, although they don't always sleep through the night. Your puppy may wake the household whining or barking because they need the toilet or because they have woken up alone and scared. Puppies are also driven to chew a lot as their adult teeth come in, and may see your living room rug, couch, favourite pair of shoes, or even your hand as the perfect puppy teething ring! If you become frustrated with these behaviours, it's important to remember that the task of raising a puppy is temporary. They will leave most of their puppy tendencies behind as they settle into adulthood.
If you just got a puppy or are getting ready to go pick up your little bundle of joy, you need to be prepared for the new responsibility that is another life. This means taking time out of your busy schedule to tend to their needs. So, if you are planning on getting a puppy, it is a good idea to do so when you can take time off work, or work from home, to spend time with them. This will allow you to let them out to do their business frequently, as well as monitor their behaviour while they learn about living with a new family.
Puppy-Proofing Your Home
While you do your best, it's practically impossible to provide constant supervision for your energetic, curious pup, so it's important to puppy-proof your home before they arrive. Secure electrical cords and move potentially toxic plants or substances, such as cleaning supplies and insecticides, out of reach. It's a good idea to crawl through your home to get a puppy's-eye view of their surroundings. Remove anything they might be tempted to chew or swallow, and close off pet doors or any other openings that might allow them to become lost or stuck. Not only will this help keep them safe, it will also prevent the anxiety that comes with realising your puppy is missing.
You'll need to be ready to start house-training your puppy as soon as you bring them home. If you plan to crate-train them, have the crate ready. Make it comfortable by lining it with blankets or a dog bed, but make sure it's large enough that they'll have plenty of room to stand up, turn around and lie down. Slowly introduce them to the crate by leaving the door open and letting them explore it on their own. You can tempt them to go in by throwing in a toy or a couple of pieces of food. The more comfortable they are with going into the crate, the easier it will be on both of you during training.
If you're forgoing a crate, cordone off a small area, such as a corner of a kitchen or sitting room , where they can be confined and kept away from other pets and small children while still being a part of household happenings. Be sure to provide some puppy training pads to catch any accidents, and include a dog bed, water dish, and some puppy appropriate toys. This area will serve as a home base, a safe space from which they can slowly be introduced to the other members of your household, and a retreat when they become overwhelmed or need some down time..
Supplies You'll Need
You'll need to stock up on a number of supplies to keep your puppy happy and healthy.
- Water dishes; typical kitchen bowls are not safe for rambunctious puppies.
- A few food dispensing toys or puzzles
- High quality puppy food and healthy dog treats.
- Fresh, clean water.
- A collar with ID.
- A lead and possibly a dog harness for walking (this comes in handy when lead-training your pup).
- A crate or dog carrier.
- A dog bed.
- A dog brush or comb.
- Puppy-safe shampoo.
- Nail trimmers designed for dogs.
- A dog toothbrush and dog-safe toothpaste.
- Puppy-safe toys.
- Biodegradable poo bags
- A travel bag to keep puppy necessities when you travel.
- Pet-safe home cleaner (unless you're the very first puppy parent to never experience an accident in the home – congrats if so!).
Puppies have different nutrient and energy requirements than adult dogs. Look for a high quality puppy food that is specially formulated to support puppy development and growth. The proper quantity of food depends on factors like age, size and breed. It's a good idea to consult your veterinarian about how much and how often to feed your pup.
For some small breeds, it can be best to free-feed young pups to ensure they receive adequate nutrition. Toy and small-breed dogs reach physical maturity faster than larger breeds, and can be switched over to adult dog food and adult-sized portions between 9 and 12 months of age.
Larger breeds can take a full two years to reach physical maturity, and have different nutritional needs than small breeds. They should be fed puppy food specifically formulated for large breeds. Talk to your vet about the best time to switch your growing large-breed dog to adult food. They should also be fed multiple meals each day with controlled portions to prevent complications, such as stomach bloat. A structured feeding schedule for your larger-breed puppy could look something like this:
- Six to twelve weeks old – four meals per day.
- Three to six months old – three meals per day.
- Six months and up – two meals per day.
Training and Socialisation
You'll want to begin house training right away. The RSPCA explains that dogs are instinctively clean animals who will try to avoid soiling their bed and the area around it. It can be helpful then to keep them confined to a small area or crate during toilet training. Establish a routine, keeping in mind that young puppies will typically need to empty their bladders once every couple of hours. When your puppy successfully relieves themself in the correct place, be sure to lavish them with praise and reward them with a treat.
When it comes to both house training and establishing the rules of appropriate conduct, it's important to be patient with your puppy and use positive reinforcement to build happy associations with correct behaviour. It's generally best to avoid unwanted behaviour by preempting situations that may lead to them e.g. never give your puppy any shoes, socks, or other off limits objects to chew.Never hit or yell at your puppy — this will only scare them and cause them to feel anxious and confused. When they engage in negative behaviour try to direct them back to something positive. For instance, if they are chewing on something they shouldn't be, direct them back to one of their toys. You should sign up for puppy classes as soon as possible. Not only are puppy classes invaluable opportunities for socialisation and learning in a managed environment, they allow you to develop the skills to properly train your pup..
Proper socialisation is key for raising your puppy to be a well-adjusted dog. You can start to socialise them right away by exposing them to as many new people, places, sights, sounds, smells, and experiences as possible. You should also give them lots of opportunities to interact with other pets, but it’s important to make sure any puppy pals are also vaccinated and have gone through their vet checks first in order to keep your puppy safe.
Your Puppy's Health
One of the first steps to take after getting your new puppy is to schedule a wellness visit with a vet. If you don't already have an established vet, ask around. Your family, friends and coworkers will likely be able to provide you with plenty of recommendations.
At their first appointment, your vet will check your puppy for any health problems or parasites, and will likely recommend a program for controlling parasites, such as fleas, ticks and worms. Your vet will also establish a vaccination schedule and advise you on when you should bring them in to be neutered or spayed, which can help reduce the risk of health and behavioural problems as they get older.
Until they have received all their puppy boosters, avoid dogs whose vaccination history you don't know and places that are frequented by lots of dogs, such as dog parks or communal gardens.
Your vet can also answer any questions or concerns you have about caring for your pup, such as what type of food to feed them and how much they should be given. Either your vet or the veterinary assistant can also advise you on aspects of puppy care such as toothbrushing and nail trimming, and can even show you how it's properly done.
While you're at the vet you can try and schedule your puppy’s 6-month vet visit. The vet will use this visit to check on the growth and progress of your puppy to make sure everything looks good from a health perspective. They can even start to give you tips on preparing you as you go through the adolescent period, which can be a challenging time for pet parents as puppies grow into sexual maturity. This also is a good chance to talk about what to expect as your puppy grows into adulthood.
Outside of training and general health, puppies need attention and exercise. The good news is that this doesn't always mean walks around the block, jogging throughout the neighbourhood or trips to the dog park. Playing with your puppy is often enough exercise to keep them healthy while building a bond between the both of you. Games like fetch, tug-of-war and hide-and-seek are all games that can be played within the home to help release pent-up energy. Make sure to take 30-60 minutes every day to play with them in addition to walking them or letting them in your backyard to run around.
Even dogs that don't require a trim every few weeks need some sort of grooming. Starting the grooming process while your pup is still young will make it much easier for both of you. Grooming includes trimming and brushing their coat, brushing their teeth, trimming their nails and bathing them. You can absolutely hire a professional groomer for haircuts or go to the vet for nail trimming, but you'll want to get your dog used to having to sit still while you primp and preen them. Get them used to the feeling of a brush in their fur — this is especially true of dogs that shed a lot or are prone to matting. Bathing your puppy can be a chore in itself, so come prepared with plenty of towels (and clothes you're not afraid to get wet in) and slowly introduce them to the shampoo and water. As they start to get more comfortable, this process will become easier. Finally, brushing their teeth may seem strange to a lot of pet owners, but it can go a long way to protecting your dog's mouth. Here are some tips to getting your puppy used to you brushing their teeth.
Raising a puppy is not an easy task, but it's an adventure that's full of rewards as you develop a deep bond that will last throughout their life. A lot of patience and a little extra effort will turn your rambunctious puppy into a fun-loving friend who will make all the effort that goes into their development worthwhile.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is fiction author and freelance writer and editor living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She writes frequently about pets and pet health in her home office, where she is assisted by a lapful of furbabies.