A Veterinarian’s Advice for New Puppy Parents

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A puppy is a commitment that lasts for years, and what you do as you form this relationship can alter the health, wellness, happiness, and behavior of your dog. Pet owners with new puppies have tons of questions as they navigate this new relationship.

Below is some important advice to consider as you bring a new puppy into your life.

  1. Research. If you don’t already have your puppy, the first thing you should do is to consider what you want in your new dog. What kind of personality do you want? What things do you want to do with them? How will the puppy integrate into your home and family? Some key questions you should consider are discussed in our article 10 Things to Decide BEFORE You Get a Dog.
  1. Get a Check-up ASAP. Once you have your puppy, one of the first things you should do is to get them a check-up with your veterinarian. Bring all records and any information you have including purchase records, any vaccines given, deworming, health problems, and medications to your appointment. This check-up allows a veterinarian to do a physical examination and fecal check to determine if your puppy has worms and get an idea of your puppy’s general health.
  1. Vaccinate Your Puppy. Most puppies need to be vaccinated every 3 to 4 weeks until they are about 20 weeks of age. See your vet for their specific vaccine recommendations based on your dog’s risk of exposure and area of the country. Make sure to get your puppy vaccinated for diseases such as parvovirus, which can be deadly.
  1. Start Crate Training. This is a MUST when you get a new puppy. When done properly, crate training will allow your dog to have a refuge when he or she feels scared or just wants a break. An important part of crate training is to make it a positive experience for your puppy. If your puppy whines or cries while in the crate, ignore them until they stop. It sounds mean at first, but think of it this way: if you give your puppy attention during this time by trying to soothe them, it is considered positive (any attention is good attention to many dogs). You will need to train your puppy to learn that a crate is a good place for him. There are some great tips on how to crate train your puppy in Crate Training Your Puppy.
  1. Don’t Give Up On Crate Training. There can be a few difficult days and nights when you start crate training but don’t give up. We have some solutions to common issues in Dealing with Create Training Problems. Another good way to help your dog to love the crate is detailed in our article on Crate Games.
  1. Understand Urine Control. It is important to know how long your puppy can hold his urine; anything else is setting both of you up for failure. A puppy can hold his urine for about one hour for every month of age he or she is, plus one. For example, an 8-week-old puppy (2 months) can hold his urine for about 3 hours (2 + 1). A 12-week-old puppy (4 months) can hold his urine for about 5 hours (4 + 1). If you are leaving your puppy for 9 hours and he or she has an accident, that is natural and expected; it’s not their fault and they shouldn’t be punished.
  1. Consider a Schedule. A schedule can really help a puppy learn and understand what is expected of them. We have a great article called Home Schedules to help you understand when to feed your puppy when to take your puppy out, and more.
  1. Keep Their Food Consistent. If you get your puppy from a shelter, breeder, or anywhere that they have been on an established diet, keep feeding them the same food for a few days even if you don’t want this particular food to be their long-term diet. Keep as much of the diet the same if possible. Your puppy is going to be in a new home with new people, and everything is different; this is one small way that you can maintain some consistency for them. Remember, you can always change the diet later. Sudden diet changes often cause diarrhea and vomiting—a problem you don’t need.
  1. Pay Attention at Home. When you get a new puppy, make sure you keep your other pets’ routines as normal as possible and spend extra time with them. This is a big change for them too.
  1. Learn the Best Method for Introductions. It’s just not as simple as putting two animals in the same room when you want them to be best friends. Learn how to introduce your puppy to your cat, dog, and other pets in the right way with the tips in How to Introduce Your New Puppy into Your Home.
  1. Consider Training. Basic obedience training can really help create a well-behaved and happy dog that will fit well into your life. Basic commands such as “come” and “stay” can also save a dog’s life by training them not to run into traffic. You can train your dog at group training sessions at local vet clinics and pet stores or one-on-one with certified trainers.
  1. Train with the Positive. Use positive reinforcement to train your puppy, NOT punishment. Give treats or affection for positive behavior and ignore negative behavior when possible. Reward-based training also builds a positive long-term bond and shows your puppy what is expected.
  2. Protect Your Puppy. Understand that puppies can get into anything and everything. They frequently ingest spilled pills and chemicals, eat rat poison, chew on dangerous things such as electrical cords, and eat things such as socks as they chew. All of these things can be life-threatening, so make sure you puppy-proof your home.
  3. Use Caution When Meeting Others. Puppies are vulnerable to various viruses and diseases until they are fully vaccinated. Most vets recommend that you use caution when allowing your puppy to interact with other dogs before the age of about 16 to 18 weeks.
  1. Socialize Your Puppy. Puppies can benefit from exposure to many types of people and pets when they are young to ensure they are comfortable and well-adapted as they age. The ideal method is to expose your puppy to men and women of different sizes and shapes (including some with hats and no hats), kittens, and other dogs. Supervise these introductions and reward good behavior.
  1. Provide Safe Chew Toys. Puppies naturally want to chew, so ensure you choose safe toys that can’t be torn apart and digested. Toys such as Kong®, in which you can hide treats, can be great for keeping dogs occupied and fulfill their chewing needs.
  1. Give the Recommended Heartworm and Parasite Control. On the basis of where you live in the country and other risks, your vet will provide a recommendation for heartworm prevention and parasite control. Fleas and ticks are also dangerous. Please follow this to the letter when at all possible. Effective and safe medications can help prevent potentially life-threatening diseases.
  1. Spay and Neuter. Thousands of pets are euthanized every year due to pet overpopulation. Please don’t let your pet contribute to this awful number. In addition, there are also health benefits to spaying and neutering, including a reduction in marking the behavior and territorial aggression.
  1. Teach Grooming Patience. All dogs periodically need a bath. Even if you aren’t planning routine grooming, having a dog that doesn’t mind being bathed and having its nails trimmed will make a big difference. When your puppy is young, start playing with your puppy’s feet. Trim one nail and praise your dog for being a good dog. Work up to two nails the next day. Praise your dog each time they behave calmly and quietly. You would not believe how many dogs come into veterinary clinics that resent having their nails done, requiring multiple staff members to restrain even small dogs. Being able to trim your dog’s nails and bathe your dog can also save you big vet bills.
  1. Brush Your Dog’s Teeth. Dental disease is a very common problem in adult dogs. Brushing your dog’s teeth can not only save you tons of money at the vet’s office (routine cleanings can run upwards of $500) but also prevent painful dental diseases. When your puppy is young, get him used to you massaging the gums and eventually brushing the teeth, praising your puppy when he doesn’t make a fuss.
  1. Teach Your Pup to Ride in the Car. Having a dog that is scared and anxious can change your ability to travel with your dog and increase the difficulty of things like vet visits. Reinforce good behavior during short rides and work your way up to longer ones.
  1. Plan Some Happy Vet Visits. Plan to stop by your vet’s office just to have a happy visit. Maybe the staff can weigh your dog and give a few treats. This allows your puppy to associate coming to the vet with something good and minimize fears during appointments.
  1. Consider Pet Insurance. Every puppy owner should consider whether pet insurance is right for him or her. It can really help a dog owner do the best for their pet in the case of a big expensive vet bill. Policies are affordable. The best time to get insurance is before your dog has a problem. No pet insurance companies will cover problems AFTER they happen.

I hope these tips help you get off to a great start with your puppy!

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