Taking on a puppy is so exciting, but it’s also a huge responsibility – for both you and your family. After all, the puppy will quickly grow into an adult dog and may be with you for 15 years or more. Before taking on a puppy, its sensible to think about the long-term commitment you are making.
Is there time for a puppy in your home and your life?
A puppy will become a new family member, and they will be completely dependent on you to meet all of their essential needs in order for them to be happy, fit and healthy. This will include good nutrition, veterinary care, socialisation, training and regular exercise. If raised in the right way, a new puppy will make a wonderful companion, but you have to put the time and effort in.
Before getting a puppy, have a really good think about the type of dog that will best suit your lifestyle. Some breeds of dog will look beautiful but they may have been bred for something which might not be compatible with your circumstances, so make sure you research thoroughly. If you are considering a pedigree, then remember that there are some hereditary diseases which can be passed from parents to pups. Ask the Kennel Club or your vet which health tests the breed should have.
It’s well worth considering getting a puppy (or adult dog) from a rehoming charity, even if you are looking for a pedigree. Pets available from reputable rehoming charities, including Blue Cross, will have been examined by a vet, undergone behavioural assessment, been vaccinated, neutered, treated for parasites and microchipped before they are even made available for rehoming. Profiles are drawn up to match potential new owners and dogs, and support is available if problems occur after they come home with you. Many dogs from other sources don’t have the benefit of this extensive care and support.
If you do get a dog from a breeder, meeting the mother is vital, as the mother’s temperament contributes to that of the puppies. A fearful or aggressive mother may pass on these traits to a puppy. Puppies reared in a home environment make the most suitable pets; those kept away from human contact may be nervous around people.
If you decide a puppy isn’t for you, you may want to consider rehoming an adult dog (see Choosing the right dog).
A healthy puppy should not be thin and should have a shiny coat. There should not be any discharges from the eyes or nose, the ears should be free from black wax and the puppy should not have a cough. The area under the tail should be clean. If the puppy is a pedigree, research potential health problems and ask to see proof that the parents have been screened.
When you have your puppy, make an appointment for a check-up with the vet as soon as possible. If there are health problems, immediately get in touch with the breeder or charity you got the puppy from.
It’s a good idea to consider pet insurance, but pay careful attention to the small print. It’s essential to get insurance whilst your pet is healthy, as pre-existing conditions won’t be covered. Lifetime insurance may be worthwhile, as some 12-month policies will exclude conditions for which a claim has been made when the policy comes up for renewal. Don’t forget to look at the ’excess’ (the amount of each claim which you have to pay), and do shop around before buying. Many puppies come with insurance – check terms and conditions and find out who will cover costs for any health problems within the next day or two.
Feeding your puppy
Puppies should leave their mothers when around eight weeks old. Feed the diet they are used to at first, and introduce any new food gradually, but always use a food suitable for the puppy’s breed and size. Several small meals are better than fewer large ones. Always make sure fresh water is available. Never give milk. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when feeding, and do not allow your puppy to become fat – obesity is a problem for dogs just as much as for humans.
Puppy vaccinations and worming
If any vaccinations have been done, ask for the vaccination record or certificate, which should also show brand and batch numbers. You will need this to continue vaccinations and it is likely to be required if the pup has to go into kennels later on in life. Regular vaccination boosters will be needed throughout life, as will regular worming and flea treatments. Consult your vet for advice (see Basic healthcare).
Taking your puppy home
A day or two before you bring your puppy home, take a blanket to place in the puppy’s bed, then, when you take the pup home, transfer the blanket to the puppy’s new bed so that your puppy will feel more at home.
Also, make sure you have food and water bowls, grooming equipment and plenty of toys – play is an essential part of growing up. For further information, see How to play with your dog.
The best place for your puppy’s bed is a draught-free corner of the kitchen. Kitchens tend to be warm and to have washable floors. Remember the bed is your puppy’s safe place, so teach young children to respectful of this, and never allow a tired puppy to be dragged out of bed to play – remember, puppies aren’t toys!
On the first few nights in your home, expect your puppy to whimper, but after the first few nights, the pup should soon start to settle quite happily. Also take your puppy out to the garden to go to the toilet and gently praise when it happens.
If you do have problems settling your puppy during the night, there is an alternative approach. For the first few nights, keep your puppy in your bedroom in an indoor kennel. Indoor kennels are extremely useful, as if introduced properly, they can be used as a safe den area in which your puppy can sleep and rest. Once you have established a good sleeping routine, you can gradually move the position of the indoor kennel away from your bed to a place that you want your puppy to sleep.
Toilet training your puppy
In the morning take your puppy straight out to go to the toilet and praise when the pup performs. Do not be angry, upset or frustrated if your pup has toileted overnight. House training is a delicate process and puppies are more likely to learn what is required of them if they are not frightened or confused. This is all about getting to know your puppy’s body clock, so that you can take them to where you want them to go well before they become desperate, which can result in them going wherever they might be. Pop them into the garden when they wake from sleep, after they have eaten, after play or any moments of high excitement. Also, sniffing the floor and circling are clues that they may need to go, so when you see this, stop what you’re doing and take them to the garden. If you see your puppy about to go to the loo inside, distract them from continuing by making a noise and then take them to the garden, and praise them when they go. Do this in a calm and positive way. Remember, distracting your puppy is very different to punishing. Young puppies are just like human babies than need potty training, we have to help, guide and encourage them to learn a lifelong habit, so be consistent and calm at all times, and accept some setbacks and accidents along the way. For further information see House training an adult dog.
Puppies and chewing
Chewing is a very natural pastime for puppies, so do not discourage your them, just ensure you let the puppy chew things you have chosen, rather than your shoes! Rawhide chews, nylon bones and large hard biscuits are ideal. If the puppy does chew something inappropriate, distract him by arranging for something interesting to happen elsewhere during which time you should swap the object for something appropriate. Your puppy might need to be taught to chew so, to do this, play with the chew in an enticing way until the puppy begins to chew. For further information, see Chewing and how to control it.
Socialisation – learning to live our world!
Puppies need to learn how to live among people, other dogs and any other animals they are likely to meet, such as cats and livestock. Although breed type and genetics play their part in influencing a dog’s general temperament, how sociable and well-adjusted they will be is also determined by their experiences, especially before the age of 12 weeks. This is the most important period in which to expose them to all the things that we will expect them to consider normal and safe when they become adults. Things that they don't encounter during this time may be treated with fear and caution in later life, so it is extremely important to use this time as effectively as possible. Different breeds have different ‘fear periods’, but all puppies need consistent, positive socialisation. This time is absolutely crucial to help the puppies learn about new positive experiences.
A collar and tag and microchip are essential. Microchipping is now a legal requirement for dog and puppies over eight weeks – and it is still a legal requirement for your dog to have a collar and tag as well. Remember to check the fit of the collar regularly – puppies grow quickly and the collar can become too tight!
Regular grooming is essential to keep your dog in good condition. Teeth brushing is also important, as dental disease is common in dogs. Do not use toothpaste for humans on your dog – vets have canine products available. Grooming and teeth brushing, if started young enough, will be fun for both you and your puppy, see Basic healthcare.