Pet Pediatrics - Caring for your Puppy

Categories: Dogs, Pet Health

A dog chewing on a shoe.

Love at First Sight

Let's be honest, everyone loves puppies. They're cute, cuddly, and bursting with energy and playfulness. But before you give in to those chubby cheeks and puppy dog eyes, it's important to think about whether you are prepared to give a puppy a lifelong home, and what you'll need to take care of him.

Before Adoption

If you are planning on bringing a puppy into your family, it is important to prepared before it arrives. This reduces stress on both you and your new pet, so be sure to have the following items ready:

  • food and water dishes
  • chew toys
  • grooming supplies
  • bedding
  • collar and leash
  • crate
  • odor neutralizer

You will also need to puppy-proof your home to ensure your puppy's safety. As we discussed in our Busting Bad Dog Behavior: Destructive Chewing pet fact, puppies go through a teething stage, so it's important to keep items that could be dangerous out of puppy-reach. Start by taping loose electrical wires to baseboards, moving household chemicals to out-of-reach storage places, and removing plants, rugs, and breakable or fragile items. After you've done your first round of puppy-proofing, lay down on the floor to get a "puppy-eye-view" of the area, and look around for things you wouldn't want your puppy to get a hold of or bump into.

Finally, be sure to hold a family meeting to make sure everyone knows what their responsibilities will be when the puppy arrives, and that everyone is on the same page. Some important topics to think about during this meeting include:

  • Who will take the puppy outside and when?
  • What will the feeding schedule be and who is responsible for meals?
  • Who will be responsible for vet appointments?
  • What commands will be used for training?

Is everyone ready for the mess of raising a puppy? This includes potty training, chewing, and any other accidents that can happen along the way.

Adoption and Signs of a Healthy Puppy

Your house is ready, the family is on the same page, and everyone knows what their new responsibilities will be when you bring your pup home. Now it's time to find your new family member! Before selecting a dog, think about the kind of traits that would fit your family best. If you are thinking about going to a breeder, you probably already have a breed in mind. Just remember to do your research and make sure the breed you select will work well with your family. No matter what adoption method you use, make sure you spend some time with the puppy you want to bring home before signing any papers. If you are at a shelter, you should be allowed to spend as much time with the pup as you need. Just ask them to hold their papers for you while you get to know the perspective puppy.

While you're hanging out with your puppy, look for any signs of bad health such as coughing, sneezing, runny nose and/or eyes, and lethargic behavior. If you are adopting from a shelter or breeder, be sure to ask about the medical history of your potential pet.

Diet and Nutrition

The dietary needs of puppies can vary from breed to breed and will rapidly change as they develop. Ask your veterinarian what he recommends for your dog to best meet it's dietary needs. Be sure to ask what food your puppy was being fed before adoption, so he can continue eating it until a new diet is established by your vet.

Visiting the Vet - Spaying, Neutering, and Vaccinations

Your puppy will need to start vaccinations and other regular check-ups with the vet at 6 to 8 weeks old. The core vaccinations for your puppy will include protection against canine parvovirus, distemper, canine hepatitis and rabies. Talk to your veterinarian about other vaccinations he recommends and review your puppy's vaccination schedule with him.
You should also schedule an appointment to spay or neuter your puppy. We recommend getting your puppy “fixed” after 6 months of age. This important procedure not only helps reduce the rapidly climbing population of stray dogs, but can also provide many health benefits for your pet by reducing risk of cancers in the reproductive organs.

Training and Socialization

The number one thing you will need to teach your puppy is where they can "go" and where they can't. Housebreaking a puppy usually takes four to six months and will require consistency, patience, and positive reinforcement. Start this training at about 12 to 16 weeks old, to ensure your pup has the muscle control to be able to "hold it". Be sure to reward good behavior by giving treats when your puppy goes where he is supposed to.

It's important to start socialization as early as possible. After 18 weeks, it can be extremely difficult to teach your pup to like something new, so it's a good idea to start young and introduce him to everything you want him to be comfortable with. If you want a dog that's well behaved on long car rides, take your puppy out on drives. If you want a dog that is good with other animals, introduce them at a young age. Enforce good behavior with lots of treats and play time!

For other tips on training your new family member, check out these Pet Facts on dog behavior and training:

Busting Bad Dog Behavior: Begging »

Busting Bad Dog Behavior: Dealing with Separation Anxiety »

Busting Bad Dog Behavior: Destructive Chewing »