Essential Guide To Owning Your First Puppy

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Bringing a new puppy into the family is an incredibly exciting time but without proper preparation and planning, it can also be very stressful. This essential guide includes everything you need to know before you welcome your new best friend home. From puppy proofing to toilet training and nutritional tips to keep them healthy, any questions you might have will be covered here.

Puppy Proofing Your Home

Puppies are inquisitive creatures and you’ll be surprised at how quickly they’ll find items that could potentially be dangerous if you don’t plan ahead. Before you bring them home, do a thorough check of every room in your home for anything harmful they could come into contact with.

Indoor Hazards

  • Hide all chemicals, cleaning products and decorating materials
  • Keep low level items like ornaments or photos out of reach
  • Research if you have any toxic plants and move them out of range
  • Cover electrical cords, cables and plug sockets
  • Pick up any children’s toys from the floor
  • Store clothing away, particularly smaller items like socks and tights
  • Screen off wood stoves and fireplaces
  • Make sure your dog can’t access rubbish or recycling bins
  • Keep medications securely locked away

Top Tip: Keep a quiet space set aside in the corner of the room with your dog’s bed, water bowl and toys, so they can retreat somewhere comfortable if they want to.

Outdoor Hazards

  • Put all sharp gardening equipment away
  • Secure your garden so there are no areas where your pup can escape
  • Cover any pools, ponds or water features
  • Check the area for broken glass, exposed nails or harmful sharp objects
  • Make sure there are no pesticides or weed killers left lying around
  • Keep sheds or garages locked securely

Top Tip: Set up a dedicated area in the back garden that your puppy can use as a bathroom.

5 Essential Items for your Pup

Your puppy will need a number of products to ensure they stay active, healthy and safe. The list of items on the market is practically endless, but these are a few of the essentials you’ll need:

  • Bedding – It needs to be an appropriate size and comfortable. A cardboard box with comfortable blankets works just fine initially for a puppy, as long as they’re comfy.
  • Collar and Lead – Check the size is a good fit and observe it regularly as they get older to make sure your dog isn’t outgrowing their collar.
  • Toys – Toys provide your puppy with something to chew on toys, keep their teeth clean and provide mental stimulation, so ensure they have a decent selection to play with.
  • ID Tag – An ID tag with your details inscribed on it is required by law, even if your dog is microchipped, so you can be contacted if your dog gets away from you.
  • Food and Water Bowls – You’ll need separate food bowls for your new arrival. Anti-tip bowls are a good investment as puppies can be clumsy in their early stages.

Other worthwhile essentials:

  • Crates and cagesHigh quality crates can be helpful for your puppy as their safe place and to keep them safe when you go out while they’re being trained.
  • Baby Gate – Baby and dog gates are a great way to keep puppies in their own area if you don’t have room for a crate.
  • Grooming Equipment – Depending on the breed, dogs require different levels of grooming. Whichever breed you have, brush their coat regularly and keep nails clipped.

Things to avoid:

  • Bones – Despite the stereotype, bones can actually splinter and cause harm to your dog’s digestive system.
  • Small Toys – Toys which are too small, like golf or squash balls, can become choking hazards for your dog.
  • Sticks Playing fetch with a stick may seem harmless, but they can also splinter and seriously harm your pup

The Big Day

Before you leave the breeder, there are a few things you’ll need to make sure you come away with.

  • Piece of Bedding – Bring home a piece of bedding from their litter that smells like their mother, so your puppy can settle into their new home more easily.
  • Paperwork – You’ll need the contact details of the breeder, as well as their vaccination card and any information regarding your puppy before you return home.
  • Answered Questions – Don’t get caught up in the excitement of meeting your new family member – be sure to write down any questions beforehand so you don’t forget.

Both you and your pup are likely to be a little nervous on the first day. The following steps are important for helping you both to get accustomed to each other and for your dog to settle in as quickly as possible.

  • Go to the garden – The first thing you need to do is to let your puppy go to the toilet in the garden, as this will kick off their toilet training process.
  • Reduce visitors – It’s tempting to invite everyone you know round to see your new addition but limit the number of visitors until your puppy has settled in.
  • Monitor an upset stomach – When puppies get stressed, it can lead to an upset stomach, so this is to be expected on their first day. However, if it doesn’t settle within 48 hours, consult your vet.
  • Introduce them slowly – It’s a good idea to introduce your puppy to the different areas of the house over time, as a large space can be overwhelming and can lead to anxiety and confusion.

First impressions count for everything, so when you introduce your dog to the other members of the family, here are a few ways to make the meeting smoother.

Kids

Make sure your children are calm and controlled when they first meet the pup, as some puppies can get overwhelmed. Show your children how to correctly hold the puppy and get younger children to sit down when handling them to avoid accidentally hurting them.

Other Dogs

Never leave your new puppy unsupervised with other dogs. If need be, separate them into different rooms until they’ve settled down. Older dogs can be very tolerant but set boundaries early, so as your puppy grows up they don’t get confused when ‘puppy rights’ are no longer considered by the elder dog.

Cats

It is very normal for cats to become scarce for the first few days. They will observe and come around to meeting the new intruder in their own time. Do not force the situation and allow them to meet on their own terms. Cat scratches can be very harmful to puppies, so be cautious.

For a new pup, the first night away from their usual surroundings can be extremely daunting and scary. Try to ease them into their new home by making sure they’ve been out to the toilet and putting them in their bed, before following these steps to make the transition easier on them.

  • Ignore your puppy if it cries and they will eventually settle down. If you tend to them each time they cry, they’ll continue to do so.
  • Often the easiest way to settle a puppy is to sleep next to them for the first couple of nights to reassure them that they’re safe.
  • Your puppy may need to go to the toilet in the middle of the night, so be prepared to take them out in the early hours when you first start training them.

Settling In

After the first few days of settling your puppy in, there are a few things you need to sort out to make sure they stay safe and healthy throughout the rest of their life.

  • Register your dog with a local vet as soon as possible and book them a check-up to set them up with worming, flea treatments and check their weight.
  • Begin their vaccination programme. The four main vaccinations puppies should have are:
    • Canine distemper – a highly infectious disease that is often fatal
    • Hepatitis – a liver disease that can lead to sudden death in puppies
    • Parvovirus – a viral disease which causes vomiting and bloody diarrhoea
    • Eptospirosis – the two strains of this both cause acute illness and attack the liver
  • The Control of Dogs Order 1992 states that every dog in public must wear a collar with a name and address on it, and that they need to be microchipped. If your information changes, remember to update your details in the database as well.
  • Set up pet insurance for your puppy to cover them against any unforeseen medical bills or surgeries they may need in the future.

Training

10 Fundamental Puppy Training Tips

  1. Establish a routine – Routine is important for your puppy to help them quickly learn right from wrong and to avoid them getting confused.
  2. Supervise at all times – Puppies will only learn while their trainer is with them so make sure you provide constant supervision while they’re learning.
  3. Pick keywords and names wisely – Cute names are fun but names with strong endings that your puppy will hear clearly make training and calling them easier.
  4. Reward good behaviour – A crucial aspect of training is giving your dog a treat when they do something right, so they associate rewards with good behaviour.
  5. Discourage biting – Don’t let your puppy get into the habit of nipping and biting, as when they grow older it can be dangerous, so curb the behaviour early.
  6. Monitor jumping up – Dogs jumping up at you or your guests is an annoying habit, so stop it at an early age by telling them ‘no’ and walking away until they learn.
  7. Use eye contactMaintaining eye contact with your dog is important for building trust, so ensure you demand and gain eye contact before you give them a treat.
  8. Stay consistent – In addition to routine, consistency helps a lot with training as dogs learn through repetition, so don’t abandon the training and keep it consistent.
  9. Be patient – Patience is a virtue when it comes to dog training, so take your time and remember to have fun!
  10. Maintain realistic expectations – Your puppy is learning everything from scratch so don’t expect too much from them immediately and remember it takes time.

Basic training commands for your puppy:

Sit:
  • Hold a delicious treat at the level of your puppy’s nose.
  • Move your hand towards you and up slightly, so your puppy has to reach up to get the reward. This encourages them to put their back end down to reach.
  • Once their rear touches the floor and they sit, give them praise and the treat.
  • Keep repeating this and introduce the word ‘sit’ as you do it, so they associate the movement with the word and the reward.

Down:

  • Kneel next to your puppy while they’re in the sit position and hold a treat at the level of their nose.
  • Move the reward down towards the floor in between their front legs and make sure their back end doesn’t come off the floor.
  • Once they lay down, give them the reward. If the keep standing up, repeat the process from the beginning.
  • As before, start to introduce the word ‘down’ when you do this, so the dog makes the connection.

Leave:

  • Hold a reward in a clenched fist at your puppy’s nose level and have a reward ready in your other hand as well.
  • Once your puppy has stopped pawing and nibbling at your hand, pull away before you reward and give them praise. Give the reward from your other hand.
  • Repeat this process and introduce the word leave so your dog begins to make the association between leaving and being rewarded.

Toilet Training 101

Puppies will need to go to the toilet several times throughout the day, so it’s important that they learn where to do this at an early age, so they don’t get into the habit of doing it in the house. Dogs should be let out at the following times:

  • First thing in the morning
  • After eating
  • After playing
  • As soon as they wake up
  • Last thing before they go to bed

These five steps will help you develop an effective toilet training routine with your dog:

  1. Follow a schedule – Schedules will help your puppy know when they can go to the toilet, so feed them at the same time and take them out at the same time each day and night.
  2. Note the signs – Watch for the typical signs your puppy needs to go to the toilet, such as sniffing the floor or circling. Immediately take them to the garden and reward them once they’ve done their business.
  3. Use a crate – Crate training works well providing your puppy doesn’t eliminate when they’re in the crate. Leaving them will teach them to wait until they’re outside to go to the toilet but avoid leaving them for too long.
  4. Don’t punish accidents – Shouting at your dog if they have an accident indoors will confuse and scare them. If you catch them eliminating inside, say ‘no’ firmly and take them outside, praising them when they do their business.
  5. Be consistent – It can take several months, or longer, to fully toilet train your dog but stay patient and keep up with the routine, praising them when they go in the right place.

Puppy Nutrition

Whichever breed of dog you have, it’s no secret that puppies grow quickly and have a greater need for protein, energy and calcium than an adult. In fact, from birth until they reach 50% of their adult weight, your puppy will have double the daily energy requirements of an adult.

For this reason, diet is crucial for puppies and it’s important that they’re fed food that has been specially formulated for their needs. When choosing the right food for your puppy, it’s a good idea to speak to your vet for their recommendations.

Dog food comes in a variety of forms, from canned and semi-moist to dry kibble. Dry food is often the most economical and well formulated for your puppy’s needs and helps to keep their teeth strong and clean.

Look for high quality formulas which contain plenty of easily digestible protein to support tissue and organ development, as well as essential minerals like calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc and iron. Vitamin D is also beneficial in helping them build strong bones and teeth.

Additional supplements aren’t necessary for your puppy unless their vet has specified otherwise. Adding extra vitamins and minerals can upset the dog’s nutritional balance and can even cause serious health problems if certain nutrients are overdosed.

Feeding Times and Portion Sizes

By six weeks of age, your puppy should be fully weaned from milk and eating solid food.

Feed your dog small but frequent meals while they’re young, starting at around four smaller meals a day and reduce this as they get older to two meals from age six months and up.

Check the label of your puppy food for guidelines on the amount of food to give your puppy – this total amount should be split between the number of servings each day and adjusted as necessary.

Always pick a spot for your puppy to be fed at each day and remove the bowl after it’s been made available for 30 minutes to prevent overfeeding and weight gain.

Top Tip - Dogs have colon contractions about 20-30 minutes after they eat, so it’s a perfect opportunity to make sure they are put outside to go to the toilet.

Transitioning to Adult Food

Once your puppy has reached 90% of their expected adult weight, it’s time to move on from the growth diet and on to one that’s suitable for maintaining their weight.

Smaller breeds have typically finished growing by nine to 12 months, while larger breeds may take up to 18 months to be considered at their full weight.

When making the switch to adult food, ensure you transition the food gradually over a few days to avoid causing stomach upset to your dog. If you’re not sure what type of food is best for your dog, you can discuss the options with your vet.

If you decide to switch from wet food to dry, or vice versa, give your puppy time to adjust as the texture may seem odd to them. You could try mixing in some kibble to their meat to get them used to it or add a little water to their kibble if they usually eat canned food.

Remember that a portion of dry food will look like less than wet food, as dry foods are typically more energy-dense than wet foods. Don’t be tempted to fill up their bowl as this can lead to unnecessary weight gain.

Feeding Treats to Puppies

While it’s nice to be able to reward and treat your dog, snacks should be given sparingly and should be seen as a substitute for a proper meal. Your dog should get 90% of its daily calories from their actual food, leaving 10% or less for any additional snacks and treats.

As with their main food, make sure to pick high quality brands and opt for treats which are low in sugar, salt and chemicals which can cause weight gain or health problems.

Foods to Avoid

Certain foods can be incredibly toxic to dogs and can lead to stomach upset. Human food of any kind should be avoided, but the following foods are particularly dangerous for your four-legged friend:

  • Chocolate
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Milk and dairy
  • Nuts
  • Onions, garlic and chives
  • Raw or undercooked meat, eggs and bones
  • Xylitol
  • Yeast dough

10 Helpful Puppy Feeding Tips

  1. Pick a feeding spot where your dog won’t be disturbed by activity and with a floor that’s easy to clean.
  2. If your puppy is overfed, they’ll grow too quickly which can lead to skeletal problems later in life, as well as excess fat cells and health issues.
  3. Serve meals at room temperature and resist the urge to add in human foods as this can interfere with nutrient absorption.
  4. Keep fresh water down at all times and make sure its replaced regularly.
  5. Make sure their diet is easily digestible to help them absorb the nutrients and adapt more easily to adult foods.
  6. For the first few days of bringing them home, feed your puppy the same foods their breeder fed them to avoid stomach upset and unnecessary stress.
  7. If you decide to switch the brand of food, do so gradually over a several-day period.
  8. Don’t’ add any supplements to your dog’s diet and choose high quality food.
  9. Look for a diet that contains beetroot pulp to assist with your puppy’s digestion.
  10. If your pup experiences severe vomiting or diarrhoea, consult your vet straight away.

Exploring the Outside World

When the time comes to take your pup out for their first walk, you’ll need some essentials. Keep your dog focused and, of course, have fun! The following items should be taken on every walk:

Walking well on the lead is vital to your dog’s safety and ensuring that both you and your dog enjoy walks. Here are some tips for helping to train your puppy to perform well on a walk:

  1. Start your training as early as you can, even if it’s just around the garden, to get them used to the lead and commands.
  2. Walk them on your left-hand side with a loose lead and the moment they begin to pull, stand still and wait for them to return to your side.
  3. Repeat this process every time they pull until they learn to walk calmly.
  4. When you start walking again, use words such as ‘close’ or ‘heel’ so they associate them with walking by your side.
  5. Build this up to walking in large circles with your puppy and changing direction, using the same commands and stopping when they pull.

Calling your puppy back is arguably the most important command they need to know before going outside and going off the lead. It’s vital for their safety and, of course, ensuring that you don’t lose them.

  1. Recalling should begin at home in the first couple of weeks. Choose a moment when their attention is not on you and call their name.
  2. When they turn to look at you, drop down onto your knees and open your arms to encourage them towards you.
  3. If your puppy comes straight to you, praise them and give them a reward.
  4. If they don’t come straight away, lighten your voice and exaggerate your movements so they’re more inclined to come over, then provide praise and a treat when they do.
  5. Start adding the word ‘come’ or ‘here’ when you do this, so they can associate those words with being recalled.

Reading Body Language

Understanding your dog’s body language is crucial for when people visit or interact with your dog, so you can know how they’re feeling.

  • Relaxed – This dog is content, relaxed and approachable. They’re feeling unthreatened by what’s going on around them.
  • Alert – If a dog has detected something interesting or unknown, this indicates that they’re now alert and paying attention. They may be assessing the situation to see if a potential threat is nearby.
  • Dominant – This dog is displaying their dominance and also threatening that they will act aggressively if they feel they’re being challenged.
  • Fearful and Aggressive – Dogs in this position are frightened but not submissive, so they may attack. If a dog is being faced with an individual who’s threatening them, they will display these signals.
  • Stressed – This dog is under either social or environmental stress, but these signs are usually a general show of their state of mind, rather than being focused on any particular individual.
  • Playful – This is an invitation to play and is usually accompanied by barking or playful attacks and retreats. It’s often used to signify that any rough behaviour wasn’t meant as a threat or challenge.

Health and Safety

There are many aspects to everyday life, from housework to travelling in the car, that seem harmless but could pose a potential threat to your dog’s safety. Here are some of the most common culprits of injury or illness to puppies and how to avoid them.

  • Bleach ingestion in dogs often comes from them drinking from recently treated toilet bowls, so be sure to keep the toilet lid down and keep bathroom doors closed.
  • If a battery is chewed and punctured by your dog, it can lead to chemical burns and heavy metal poisoning in extreme cases so keep these out of reach.
  • Look out for signs of illness, such as vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation, lethargy and trouble breathing, all of which might be signs they’ve ingested something they shouldn’t.
  • Fit a travel seat belt for them in the car to keep them safe in the event of a crash, and to stop them roaming around the car and potentially causing an accident.

Grooming

  • Bath your dog around once every three months, unless they’ve got particularly muddy playing outside, and only use a shampoo suitable for dogs.
  • Short coats require a weekly brushing while longer coats may need daily attention – check for ticks or fleas when you brush too.
  • Nails should be trimmed when they’re just about to touch the ground when walking – if your dog’s nails are clicking when they walk on hard floors, it’s time to trim them.
  • Check your pup’s eyes and ears regularly and if need be, give them a quick clean with a pet-friendly wet wipe.
  • Check teeth and gums for abnormalities and get them used to teeth cleaning early so you can regularly brush their teeth without them getting stressed.

Holidays

Whether you’re taking your pet with you on holiday or leaving with them friends and family, there are a few things you can do to keep your dog content and relaxed.

  • Make sure your destination has pet-friendly facilities.
  • Book a check-up with your vet to make sure your puppy is fit for travel and that they have enough supplies of any medications they’re on.
  • Make sure they’re up to date with flea and worming treatments, and vaccines.
  • Remember to keep their collar and ID tag on at all times with your holiday contact details.