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The Beginners Guide to Having a Puppy

Caitlyn has both experience and formal education in many different areas.

the-beginners-guide-to-having-a-puppy

With the passing of major holidays—Christmas in particular—and the season of giving gifts, many families find themselves with a new addition: a brand-new puppy!

While this can be an exciting thing, puppies come with a whole load of responsibilities and expectations that people may not expect or think about. So, those who now find themselves with a new puppy in their care and who maybe aren’t sure what to expect, or just want a few tips and advice, here is a great place to start.

Puppies do make for adorable and exciting gifts for a loved one, friend, or co-worker. However, not everyone is willing or able to take on the responsibility of caring for a pet; especially with as much effort, time, and money that will go into looking after, training, and keeping healthy any pets.

The decision to adopt a new furry or feathered friend should be weighed carefully against the current lifestyle as well as the health and wellbeing of the potential pet caretaker.

Starting Out: Check-Ups, Feedings, and Other Basics

Just like whenever a new baby is brought into the world, puppies need to have regular checkups with veterinarians to ensure they are healthy and developing correctly. Most puppies can be separated from their mothers after six weeks of age and go to their new homes.

Since their care up to that point was more than likely done by the mom, it is now the responsibility of the human caretakers to continue that role. Feeding the pups a diet rich in proper nutrients, making sure there is plenty of clean water, ensuring they are defecating and urinating properly and regularly, and keeping them out of the many ways they can get into trouble are just a few of the responsibilities now left up to the caretaker!

The vet may check the weight, gums, teeth, eyes, ears, skin, nails, and pads to ensure everything is in good shape and give any necessary instructions or advice. Dogs are required to be vaccinated against rabies at a certain age, which the vet will give, and these need to be readministered every couple of years to keep them safe. The vet may also recommend any other injections or treatments depending on the health of the puppy at the checkups.

They more than likely will also recommend getting a puppy neutered/spayed when they are old enough and such procedures should be scheduled as soon as possible- even if the puppy is intended to be an indoor dog. It is always better safe than sorry!

Worried about what to feed a growing puppy? The vet can help with that as well. Depending on the age and size of the puppy, they generally eat dry puppy kibble. Younger pups who may be struggling to eat these dry bits may need to eat either wet dog food or have the kibble softened in broth or milk until their teeth and jaws are strong enough to break the kibble.

Be aware that the more liquid there is in their diet, the less solid their stool will become. It is normal for younger puppies to have softer stools, but if it’s runny for more than a few days or they can’t seem to stop going, consult a veterinarian. The absence of any stool at all can be a cause for concern as well- though it is normal for a puppy getting used to their new environment to have no bowel movements the first day or two.

Just be sure to keep a close eye on them and make sure the puppy is at least urinating and drinking plenty of water.

Radically changing their diets—wet food to dry kibble, for example—can alter their stool as well, so be sure to exercise caution when switching their meals around. Younger puppies need to be eased into more solid foods and changing brands can upset sensitive bellies.

Some dogs may be allergic to certain ingredients in the food and require specialized diets. Some may need less or more protein in the food they eat. Others will outright refuse to eat certain brands. Every dog is different and will have different needs and preferences. Some experimenting may need to be done to find the perfect fit.

Feedings should be done multiple times a day at an amount recommended by the vet or the weight guidelines on most food packaging. Treats and snacks should be kept at a minimum, and refrain from giving puppies too much table food. It’s always better to not share food with them at all, but some things are allowed in moderation.

Always check that the food being shared is safe for dogs to consume as well!

Homemade Dog Food

Some dog owners prefer to make “homemade dog food” by cooking chicken breasts, rice, peas, and carrots (or any other “dog-safe” vegetables and proteins) and feeding that to their dogs. When considering any diet, consulting a vet is always a good idea.

the-beginners-guide-to-having-a-puppy

Puppies Need a Lot of Attention!

Much like babies who learn to crawl and walk, puppies will be gone in a blink and getting into everything they can possibly wiggle into. Before bringing a puppy into the home, it is always a good idea to “puppy proof” the home as much as possible. Blocking small spaces they can crawl into, picking up anything they can chew – puppies love rubber items and small plastic things – or break by knocking over, and removing any rugs that can be ruined by puppy paw prints or accidents. Cover any wires that are laying where a puppy can get to them and give them plenty of things to keep them occupied. Toys of their own and a place they can sleep.

Puppy gates (same as baby gates) are a great tool to keep puppies contained in one room or area- as well as keeping them out of others. Be sure to find a good quality gate that is sturdy enough the puppy can’t knock over and won’t get stuck in when leaning their paws on it. Puppies are endlessly curious and will want to look over it to see what’s going on!

Crates are good as well for those who want to keep their puppy contained at night or for short trips out of the house where the puppy will be left alone. Crate training can be tedious, but if the puppy can see the crate as a bed or a safe place they can relax, it will make the whole process a lot easier. The crate should be made of a sturdy material that won’t break easily or pinch the puppy. It should also allow them room to move around freely to get comfortable. If they can barely turn around inside the crate and look uncomfortable, a bigger size will be needed.

Be sure to place any blankets or beds, toys, food, and water in the crate when planning to be away from the house for an extensive amount of time; otherwise, just the bed and blankets will suffice. Don’t be too surprised to come home and find things chewed up inside the crate, things pulled in through the holes, or a mess made with their food and water; and don’t forget to take them for a long walk whenever they come out of the crate!

They Are Messy!

They get into everything, they love to chew up and drag out anything they can get their teeth on, spill their food or water (or run around with the bowl in their teeth, flinging food everywhere), and of course have accidents on the floors or in their crates. Puppies cannot be expected to be perfect houseguests any more than babies can. Potential caretakers should be prepared for the messes that will need to be cleaned, any misplaced belongings that will need to be thrown away or repaired, and the constant supervision a puppy needs to keep them out of trouble. Puppies can even rip up the flooring, damage walls or doors, and break in or out of crates/rooms.

They do typically outgrow these behaviors but remember that insufficient exercise and attention, or boredom can cause these behaviors to persist. Dogs need attention and stimulation their whole lives. Diet can also contribute to misbehavior, so be sure what they are eating is balanced and for their age.

Puppies will have to go to the bathroom far more frequently than the adult dogs, and the smaller the dog the smaller the bladder space. It is always a good idea to take a puppy out (or place them in a designated bathroom space in an apartment if going outside isn’t possible) shortly after eating, drinking, or napping.

They should be taken out first thing in the morning, last thing before going to sleep, and every couple of hours throughout the day. It’s also a good idea to walk them for as long as possible and if it is available in the area to let them outside to run around and burn off excess energy this should be done often. This will prevent accidents from happening in the house and help train them that outside is where they are supposed to go and limit destructive behaviors.

Letting them play outside should not substitute taking them for walks. Be sure to do both when possible!

In the Trenches: Training, Discipline, and Being Consistent

One of the more difficult and time-consuming tasks of having a puppy around the house is training them. Not just housetraining them to use the bathroom outside, but also keeping them from acting out or doing things they shouldn’t be. Jumping on visiting guests, nipping or biting when overexcited, chasing other household pets, running out the door when it opens, sitting on the couch when they aren’t allowed…there are many things a puppy needs to learn that the caretakers are responsible for teaching them. Rules that they must be taught and that should be enforced consistently by every member of the house.

If a puppy won’t be allowed on the couch or in the kitchen during mealtimes, they should not be allowed to ever do these things- even on special occasions. That keeps them from becoming confused and keeps you as the definitive authority they need to listen to, which makes training and creating a well-behaved dog all the easier to achieve.

Many people will enroll themselves and their puppies into Obedience Training schools in order to learn how to talk to the dog in a commanding way that they will listen to, teach them manners, and develop a strong bond between master and dog. Some dogs will be perfectly suited to this type of training, while others may have a difficult time following the commands at first. Be patient and follow the advice of the instructor if this route is taken.

The important thing with training, whether at home or at Obedience Training, is to know the rules the dog needs to learn and have everyone follow them as well. If there are no scraps at the dinner table, then make sure no one is giving the dog any food from their plates. If there are no dogs in the beds, then make sure no one is sneaking the dog into their beds!

Remember that, in any case, it takes time for results to happen, and the best way to see any results is to remain consistent throughout training. No giving in or wavering. This will cause confusion or the dog may no longer view you as an authority they should obey. Keep trying and remember that sometimes you may have to hurt their feelings a little to keep them safe and happy. Dogs easily forgive and forget!

Also, when training at home, be firm and assertive. A puppy needs to know who the boss is and that the boss means what they are saying. “No” will very possibly become the most heard phrase in the house when there is a puppy involved. “No” must mean no, and any other commands or reprimands have to be stated firmly as well.

There must also be consistency and follow-through. Mean what is being said every time it is said, and if needed, stop them physically. Reward good behavior. Punish the bad.

Actions always need consequences, whether that be good or bad. If the puppy is outside in the yard and goes to the bathroom where he should, he should be rewarded with praise every time. This will encourage him to want to go out in the yard and he’ll learn that’s where he’s supposed to go. If a puppy is out in the yard and starts to chase a neighbor’s cat or a squirrel or get into the garden beds, he needs to be scolded and discouraged from doing it. Puppies want to make their person happy and will eventually learn to stop doing whatever it is that makes that person upset with them.

Occasionally, verbal scolding isn’t enough, so they may need to be physically removed from the situation or given a timeout in a crate. Their own mom will bowl them over and snap at them to teach them lessons, so giving them the occasional nudge won’t hurt them.

Most puppies are able to learn just fine from verbal cues, finger snaps, signaling with hands and body language, and rewards. If they have a special toy, for example, or a favorite activity, giving it to them or taking it away can be used to help show them what they are and aren’t allowed to do.

If a dog becomes too difficult to handle or won’t listen to commands, it may be a good idea to seek help from professionals.

Difficult Times Ahead: Whining, Barking, and How to Stop It

If babies are known for crying, puppies are known for whining or yelping. As stated previously, puppies need a lot of attention and will ask for it through whatever means works for them. Mostly in the form of whining, barking, yelping, and howling- though some may even become destructive and messy!

Puppies will also whine and bark if they want something. Maybe they’re hungry, need fresh water, or need to go to the bathroom. Maybe they soiled their crates and need it to be cleaned out. They shouldn’t be completely discouraged from barking as it is their means of communicating with humans, but it can be something that aggravates members of the household rather quickly; especially if a puppy cries all night long during crate training.

Sometimes playing television shows or the radio will help them stop whining or crying as much if they feel lonely when no one is in the room with them. Other times it may be best to let them cry themselves out, especially when trying to teach them that they have to be okay on their own sometimes. Rushing to comfort them can reinforce bad behaviors and is discouraged when trying to show them independence isn’t scary. Always keep calm and use a measured tone when talking to keep them from getting too worked up and soon enough they will be perfectly calm again.

As long as they see that their human won’t be gone forever, and that it doesn’t have to be scary being alone, they will soon relax and snooze while on their own.

Using a favorite toy or treats can be a great way to keep them busy while they are alone as well.

There are plenty of books and resources out there about training dogs out of bad or disliked behaviors—from excessive barking to aggression.

the-beginners-guide-to-having-a-puppy

In Sickness and in Health: When to Worry and When to Get Help

Like anyone else, puppies and dogs get sick. Sometimes it’s just a cold that will pass on its own, sometimes they can have allergies or carsickness, and then there are times when it can be serious and will need a vet to treat. A puppy who is a little extra sleepy or who has running eyes doesn’t necessarily need to be rushed to the vet right away, but like anyone else, their symptoms should be observed closely and any changes or persisting symptoms brought up with a vet at the next appointment.

Some symptoms to watch out for, in general, are lethargy (particularly if it is abnormal or extreme), significant mood/behavior changes, significant changes in stool that persists for days, dark or bloody stool, pale gums, lack of interest in food or water, vomiting, weeping/discharge from eyes and/or nostrils, constant thirst and urination, and/or constant gnawing at or licking one specific area of their body. If a puppy has any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to head to the vet and see what’s going on.

Pale gums, for example, can be indicative of dehydration or malnutrition. Constant scratching, washing, or chewing can mean fleas or a skin condition that will need treatment. Lethargy and disinterest in doing any activities—such as refusing or being reluctant to go outside or on walks, especially if the puppy (or dog) has never shown any signs of that before—is something to keep note of.

If lethargy lasts for days, is accompanied by any other abnormal behaviors or symptoms, take them to the vet.

Though most of the time puppies may catch a little bug or two, puppy caretakers should know that there are illnesses out there especially dangerous to puppies- particularly those of smaller breeds or of very young ages. One such illness is called Parvovirus.

Canine Parvovirus

Canine Parvovirus (“Parvo” or CPV for short) is contracted through contact with a dog carrying the virus. It can even be picked up indirectly through interacting with contaminated feces. In particular, it will affect dogs between the ages of 12 weeks to 3 years. Adult dogs who catch this illness can be perfectly fine with treatment, but the illness is highly contagious and can be passed onto much more vulnerable puppies.

Parvo, in most cases, is fatal to puppies that catch it. It causes the puppy to stop eating or drinking, they will become extremely lethargic, and it may even temporarily affect the eyes. Smaller breeds and younger puppies cannot usually survive any treatment long enough because of the severe drop in weight and dehydration that they endure. A vet can administer antibiotics and other medications, as well as intravenous fluids, but in many cases, it’s up to the dog to get through it.

Vaccinations can help prevent the spread of Canine Parvovirus, so be sure to get dogs vaccinated against it.

Other Illnesses

  • Canine Distemper (can be vaccinated against)
  • Kennel Cough (airborne illnesses such as bacterial infection or canine parainfluenza cause this)
  • Ear infections

Parasites

Illnesses aren't the only afflictions pet caretakers should look out for. There are plenty of external and intestinal parasites to be on the lookout for: particularly worms, fleas, and ticks.

Many times, puppies will have intestinal worms (passed to them from their mother) and need to be treated for this. The worms will take the nutrients the puppy would otherwise be absorbing into their growing body.

There is medication for many different kinds of worms, many recommended by a vet, but there is a home remedy for intestinal roundworms. Food grade diatomaceous earth is a great treatment for many kinds of parasites- even internal ones. It is safe to eat, though take care not to breathe it in when using it.

Simply mix the appropriate dosing amount (anywhere between 1 tsp - 4 tbsp depending on weight) into any wet food every day for a month. It can also be added daily as a preventative as they grow and age. It is completely safe!

Fleas and ticks make for itchy unhappy pets (and humans), though they can also bring with them diseases that can be difficult to treat. Checking over puppies and dogs after they've been outside and plucking ticks is advised to keep from being infected with tick-borne illnesses.

Fleas can be treated with medication provided by the vet or the store. It can be dangerous, even life-threatening, to use these products on puppies of small breeds and younger ages, so it is better to use them on older, larger pets if possible.

Always do proper research and ask a professional about treating smaller or younger dogs for fleas or ticks.

the-beginners-guide-to-having-a-puppy

Final Thoughts

Having a new pet in the home is always an exciting experience. Dogs and cats are adorable, can be extremely affectionate, and make for great companions throughout life. They can also be a lot of work and a great responsibility, so it is always a good idea to go over all the things it will require to take care of a new puppy, dog, kitten, cat, rabbit, or any other pet being brought into the home. Everyone should join in on taking care of the new pet, and care should be taken in making sure they are fed, watered, cleaned, walked, and taken care of properly.

After all, this is something like a new member of the family!

Sources

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Caitlyn Booth