How to Take Care of a New Puppy
Whether it's your first pup or you're a seasoned dog owner, bringing a new puppy home has a way of knocking you off your feet. Sometimes literally (those first few walks on leash are tricky!). The unbearable cuteness, the late-night cries for attention, the puppy breath, the never-ending curiosity – puppyhood has a magical way of turning your life upside down.
Adding a puppy to your family is a big commitment with wonderful payoff, but it's incredibly important to be prepared. As much as we all want to take home every puppy that prances our way, owning a dog is a big responsibility. Responsible pet owners, new and old, know that a dog's unconditional love comes with a commitment to care for all of its tennis ball-filled days.
If you're ready to become a puppy parent, here's what you need to know to survive the first 30 days.
Before You Bring a Puppy Home
Pick the Right Breed
Every puppy is cute. It's true. Determining the breed that is right for you and your family, though, is more than skin deep. How big or small of a dog do you want? What kind of temperament and activity level fits best with your lifestyle? Shedding or non-shedding? Be sure to do some research.
Buy the Right Supplies
Even if you have another dog, make sure your new puppy is prepared with a few items of its own, like food and water dishes, bed, and toys. Stock up on puppy training treats and pick an Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) approved puppy food. Make sure you have a leash, collar, and ID tag for your pup as well as a brush that's appropriate for your breed's fur type.
Purchase a crate with a divider to create a safe, den-like space that's also a helpful training tool. This will allow you adjust the size of your crate as your puppy grows. The crate should be just big enough for a puppy to turn around in, stretch out while laying down, and stand up without bumping its head.
Prepare Your Home
Set up your new supplies before your puppy arrives. This will help your existing pets (and people!) adjust.
Puppy proof as much as possible. That means tucking in electrical cords, keeping shoes and other items off the floor, and ensuring items small enough to swallow are out of reach. Consider setting up puppy gates to keep your curious pup away from off-limits or dangerous spaces in your home and store breakable items completely out of reach. While we can train puppies not to chew inappropriate items, owners have to take some responsibility in keeping these things out of doggy range as well.
The First Week:
Prep for the Trip Home
Whether it's a short trip or long ride, your first day of puppy parenthood will likely involve some kind of travel with your dog. Be sure to bring something to chew and something soft, like a blanket or towel, and beware that an accident may be unavoidable. Young puppies aren't known for their bladder control, so the excitement of a first car ride may result in an accidental potty. Also, a towel with the scent of the mother or littermates may go a long way in making your new little one feel at home.
Visit the Vet
Establish healthy pet habits from the get-go. Take your new pup to the veterinarian within the first 48 hours getting home. A first examination will help determine any immediate heath concerns, start a vaccination schedule, and introduce your dog to new sweet people and yummy treats. It's also a time to discuss your dog's diet, including food type, amount, and frequency.
While you're there, the vet will provide information on what kind of activity you and your puppy should engage in or avoid based on your dog's age and stage in vaccinations. You may need to avoid public places with lots of dogs and people for a few weeks based on your puppy's vaccination schedule, and the vet can provide great insight on how to do this without avoiding healthy socialization completely. This is also a chance to ask any questions you've run into since bringing your furball home.
Explore the House
It's a whole new world, and that comes with bold curiosity with a side of skepticism. Your puppy doesn't know that falling down the stairs hurts and that the puppy staring back at them in the mirror isn't actually another dog here to play. Oh, and what's that terrifying new box on the floor the mailman brought? That wasn't there earlier!
Let your pup explore and sniff out new territory under your supervision, one space at a time. You may even want to keep your pup on a leash inside of the house for the first little bit, since free reign can be overwhelming and potty prone. When an object that isn't dangerous something seems scary, be sure to speak in a sweet, encouraging tone and let your puppy sniff it until he or she realizes there isn't anything terrifying about a box, for example.
If you already have another dog, it may be helpful to introduce the two on neutral ground, like a neighbor's yard. Be patient and give plenty of treats. It can take a few weeks for your dog to warm up to your new friend.
Establish a Routine
Play, eat, sleep, potty, cuddle, repeat. Your puppy is growing, so expect busts of energy and long periods of sleep. While it may feel like your puppy's energy level rules the show, establishing a schedule is the best way to start the potty-training process and teach your new puppy what life is like in its new home.
A routine helps give your puppy context. Sticking to a feeding schedule allows a bit more predictability in bathroom breaks and making a bedtime will help set expectations for sleeping. Be consistent anytime you can. If you always go out the same door to use the bathroom outside, your puppy may start to associate that door with alerting you to the need to use the restroom. If you always put your pup down in the same spot of grass, he or she may start to associate that grass and the surrounding smells with using the bathroom.
Start potty training the moment you bring your dog home. Be patient and consistent. Take your puppy outside after waking up, eating, and playing, and be sure a bathroom break is the last thing that happens before bed. As a loose guideline, be sure to take your puppy out every 2-3 hours until your furball proves he or she can hold it longer. Create a short routine command, like "go potty" to associate with the bathroom. When you're not actively watching your puppy, make use of the crate for short increments of time to keep your dog safe and avoid accidents inside the house.
Stay strong. There will be accidents, but that doesn't mean your pup isn't trying.
The First Month:
While it's important to follow any guidelines your veterinarian provided on visiting public places based on your dog's vaccination schedule, seeing the world and meeting new people is also important to your puppy's development. The critical socialization stage for a puppy is usually between 10 and 16 weeks of age. During this time, positively introduce your puppy to all types of people, animals, and situations that you'd like him or her to accept as an adult dog. Everything and everyone at this stage of the game is brand new, and the more he or she sees as a young puppy the less chances there are for unfamiliar situations to provoke bad behavior in adulthood. You can make everything your dog comes across either a neutral or positive stimulus instead of scary by bringing treats along as rewards.
You can do this while also adhering to health concerns by avoiding high traffic areas where disease is more likely to be present, like doggy daycare, dog parks, and pet stores. Carry your pup instead of placing him or her on the grown as you go about your day and make playdates with dogs you know are fully vaccinated.
At this stage of the game, everything within reach is prone to chewing. If your pup can put it in its mouth, assume it will happen. That includes your fingers, feet, clothing, you name it. Teething is a natural part of puppyhood, so although annoying, it's completely normal for puppies to nibble and bite.
Teach your puppy that biting you too hard hurts by making a high-pitched "ouch" sound, similar to a yelp one of his or her littermates might have made if they nipped at each other while playing. Now that your pup knows that biting you is painful, introduce toys that are okay to chew. Each time he or she goes after your fingers or the furniture, replace the inappropriate object with an acceptable toy instead.
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Puppy School and Training
As a responsible puppy owner, it's up to you to set your dog up for success whenever possible. Training your puppy from a young age sets a solid foundation for structure and makes you and your puppy happier and more confident. Start by teaching basic commands like sit, come, and stay, and work your way up from there.
Keep in mind that training your puppy also involves a bit of self-discipline as well. Learning to keep things out of reach and keeping a regular routine requires some human training, too. When you and your puppy are ready, take things to the next level by working with a professional at puppy school. Here, you can learn how to best interact with your puppy, including interpreting his or her body language and behaviors correctly, and pick up a few tricks for daily commands.