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Puppies are beyond adorable, but let's face it — raising a puppy is fraught with challenges. If you've never had a puppy before, the task before you can seem quite daunting, and once those big puppy eyes capture your heart, there's no turning back. Here are some helpful tips to get through the puppy development stage and ensure your new four-legged baby grows up into a happy, healthy, well-adjusted dog.
Raising a Puppy: Things to Consider
Puppies are little bundles of energy who are often intensely curious about their surroundings. Life with a puppy is not that different from life with a human toddler — you'll need a lot of patience as you watch over your pup to keep them out of trouble, instruct them in appropriate behavior and safely teach them about the world.
The good news is that puppies sleep a lot, although they don't always sleep through the night, and your pup may wake the household whining and barking to express their displeasure at being left alone. Puppies are also driven to chew a lot as their adult teeth come in, and may see the doggie version of a teething ring in the living room rug, the couch, your favorite pair of shoes and even your hand. If you become frustrated with your new pet, it's important to remember that the task of raising a puppy is temporary. They'll be all grown up by their first birthday, and they'll leave most of their puppy tendencies behind as they settle into adulthood.
If you just got a puppy or are getting ready to go pick up your little bundle of joy, you need to be prepared for the new responsibility that is another life. This means taking time out of your busy schedule to tend to their needs. So, if you are planning on getting a puppy, it is a good idea to do so when you can take time off work, or work from home, to spend with them. This will allow you to let them out to do their business frequently, as well as monitor behaviors that they might try to engage in when you're away from the home.
Puppy-proofing Your Home
While you do your best, it's practically impossible to provide constant supervision for your energetic, curious pup, so it's important to puppy-proof your home before their homecoming. Secure electrical cords and move potentially toxic plants or substances, such as cleaning supplies and insecticides, out of reach. It's a good idea to crawl through your home to get a puppy's-eye view of their surroundings. Remove anything they might be tempted to chew or swallow, and close off vents, pet doors or any other openings that might allow them to become lost or stuck. Not only will this help keep them safe, it will also ease your anxiety that your new pup is lost.
You'll need to be ready to start house training your pup as soon as you bring them home. If you plan to crate train them, have the crate ready. Make it comfortable by lining it with blankets or a dog bed, but make sure it's large enough that they'll have plenty of room to stand up, turn around and lie down. Slowly introduce them to the crate by leaving the door open and letting them explore it on their own. You can help tempt them to go in by throwing in a toy or a couple of pieces of food. The more comfortable they are with going into the crate, the easier it will be on both of you during training.
If you're forgoing a crate, prepare a small area, such as a powder room or a corner of a kitchen or laundry room, where they can be confined and kept away from other pets and small children. Be sure to provide some puppy training pads to catch any accidents, and include a dog bed, their food and water dishes and a toy or two. This area will serve as home base, a safe space from which they can slowly be introduced to the other members of your household and that provides a retreat when they become overwhelmed or need a time-out.
Supplies You'll Need
You'll need to stock up on a number of supplies to keep your puppy happy and healthy.
- Food and water dishes; typical kitchen bowls are not safe for rambunctious puppies
- High quality puppy food and healthy dog treats
- Fresh, clean water
- A collar with ID
- A leash and possibly a dog harness for walking him (this comes in handy when leash training your pup)
- A crate or dog carrier
- A dog bed
- A dog brush or comb
- Puppy-safe shampoo
- Nail trimmers
- Dog toothbrush and dog-safe toothpaste
- Puppy-safe toys
- Poop bags (you can also recycle used grocery bags or sandwich bags)
- Travel bag to keep his necessities when you travel
- Pet-safe home cleaner (unless you're the very first puppy parent to never experience an accident in the home; congrats if that is true!)
Puppies have different nutrient and energy requirements than adult dogs. Look for a high quality puppy food that is specially formulated to support puppy development and growth. The proper quantity of food depends on factors like age, size and breed. It's a good idea to consult your veterinarian about how much and how often to feed your pup.
For some small breeds, it can be best to free feed young pups to ensure they receive adequate nutrition. Toy and small breed dogs reach physical maturity faster than larger breeds, and can be switched over to adult dog food and adult-sized portions between 9 and 12 months of age.
Larger breeds can take a full two years to reach physical maturity, and have different nutritional needs than small breeds. They should be fed puppy food specifically formulated for large breeds. Talk to your vet about the best time to switch your growing large breed dog to adult food. They should also be fed multiple meals each day with controlled portions to prevent complications, such as stomach bloat. A structured feeding schedule for your larger breed pup could look something like this:
- Six to twelve weeks old: Four meals per day
- Three to six months old: Three meals per day
- Six months and up: Two meals per day
Training and Socialization
You'll want to begin house training right away. Dogs instinctively try to avoid soiling their bed and the area around it, so keeping them confined to a small area or crate as they get used to going outside will be key, says Dog Star Daily. Establish a potty routine, keeping in mind that young puppies will typically need to go out once every couple of hours. When they successfully relieve themself outdoors, be sure to lavish them with praise and reward them with a treat.
When it comes to both house training and establishing the rules of appropriate conduct, it's important to be patient with your pup and use positive reinforcement to build happy associations with correct behavior. It's generally best to ignore unwanted behavior, or correct your pup with a simple but firm "no." Never hit or yell at your pup — this will only confuse them and cause them to feel anxious and fearful. When they engage in negative behavior try and direct them back to something positive. For instance, if they are chewing on something they shouldn't be, direct them back to one of their toys. As soon as they're old enough, consider enrolling them in an obedience class. This will not only teach them how to behave, but will also help promote socialization and provide you with the skills to properly train them.
Proper socialization is a key element of successfully raising a puppy. In order for them to grow up into a well-adjusted dog, they need to be exposed to as many new people, places, experiences and situations as possible. While you should wait until they've had all their vaccinations before taking them out in public or letting them get close to other animals, you can start socializing your pup right away by simply playing with them and introducing them to new people, sights, sounds, smells and textures.
Your Puppy's Health
One of the first steps to take after getting your new puppy is to schedule a wellness visit with a vet. If you don't already have an established vet, ask around. Your family, friends and coworkers will likely be able to provide you with plenty of recommendations.
At their first appointment, your vet will check your puppy for any health problems or parasites, and will likely recommend a program for controlling parasites, such as fleas, ticks and heartworms. Your vet will also establish a vaccination schedule and advise you on when you should bring them in to be neutered or spayed, which can help reduce the risk of health and behavioral problems as they get older.
Until they have received all their puppy boosters, avoid dogs whose vaccination history you don't know and places that are frequented by lots of dogs, such as dog parks or the communal elimination area at your housing complex.
Your vet can also answer any questions or concerns you have about caring for your pup, such as what type of food to feed them and how much they should be given. Either your vet or the veterinary assistant can also advise you on aspects of puppy care such as tooth brushing and nail trimming, and can even show you how it's properly done.
While you're at the vet you can try and schedule their 6-month vet visit. The vet will use this visit to check on the growth and progress of your pup to make sure everything looks good from a health perspective. They can even start to give you tips on preparing you as you go through the adolescent period, which can be a challenging time for pet parents as pups grow into sexual maturity. This also is a good chance to talk about what to expect as your pup grows into adulthood.
Outside of training and general health, puppies need attention and exercise. The good news is that this doesn't always mean walks around the block, jogging throughout the neighborhood or trips to the dog park. Playing with your puppy is often enough exercise to keep them healthy while building a bond between the both of you. Games like fetch, tug-of-war and hide-and-seek are all games that can be played within the home to help release pent-up energy they might have gotten from being home alone all day. Make sure to take 30-60 minutes every day to play with them in addition to walking them or letting them in your backyard to run around.
Even dogs that don't require a trim every few weeks need some sort of grooming. Starting the grooming process while your pup is still young will make it much easier on you. Grooming includes trimmings, brushing their coat, their teeth, trimming their nails and bathing them. You can absolutely hire a professional groomer for haircuts or the vet for nail trimming, but you'll want to get your dog used to having to sit still while you primp and preen them. Get them used to the feeling of a brush in their fur — this is especially true of dogs that shed a lot or are prone to matting. Bathing your puppy can be a chore in itself, so come in prepared with plenty of towels (and clothes you're not afraid to get wet in) and slowly introduce them to the shampoo and water. As they start to get more comfortable, this process will become easier. Finally, brushing their teeth may seem strange to a lot of pet owners, but it can go a long way to protecting your dog's mouth. Here are some tips to getting your puppy used to you brushing their teeth.
Raising a puppy is not an easy task, but it's an adventure that's full of rewards as you develop a deep bond with your pup that will last throughout their life. A lot of patience and a little extra effort will turn your rambunctious pupper into a fun-loving friend who will make all the effort that goes into their development worthwhile.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is fiction author and freelance writer and editor living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She writes frequently about pets and pet health in her home office, where she is assisted by a lapful of furbabies.