By Lisa Tenzin-Dolma
Who can resist a puppy? Those wriggling bundles of innocence are just adorable. If you’re considering bringing a new pup into your life it’s an exciting time, filled with anticipation of all the fun you’ll have together. And if you choose carefully, enlisting the help of your head as well as your heart, and ensure you’ve done your research and are well prepared, you’ll be setting the stage for a loving, trusting relationship that will endure for the remainder of your dog’s life.
First you need to consider which breed, or mix of breeds, feels right for you. Every dog is different, but there are certain breed traits and it’s wise to do some research into these before making a decision. Bear in mind that it’s likely to be love at first sight with any puppy you meet, but you’re looking for a lifelong companion who will be the right match for you and your family. Think about the size your pup will grow up to be, what his exercise needs are likely to be as he matures, and whether you can be at home with him for most of the time during those crucial early weeks. Puppies need company, and you also need to be there to teach him toilet training, basic manners, and to work with any minor behaviour issues should they arise.
Rescue or breeder?
Rescues do have puppies surrendered to them. Often a pregnant bitch will be taken into rescue and the puppies will spend their first weeks in foster care with her. Sometimes, sadly, litters of puppies are abandoned and taken into rescue. It’s worth contacting local rescues, and also breed rescues, to ask whether they have any pups for rehoming. You can also ask to be put on a list for when puppies arrive in the future.
If you decide to buy your puppy from a breeder, please check that breeder is reputable. Ensure you can visit several times and that you see the puppy with his mother as well as littermates. The breeder should be able to give you information about the father, if he lives elsewhere, and the puppies should be well cared for, healthy looking, sociable, will have their first vaccinations and be micro-chipped while in the breeder’s care, and hopefully will be taught the basics of toilet training.
Puppy farms are rife, unfortunately, despite great efforts to eliminate these places of torment, so please avoid the temptation to buy a pup you see without the mother present. If someone offers to meet you somewhere to hand over the puppy, or offers to bring him to your home, steer well clear.
Are you prepared for the financial expense of raising a pup? You’ll need to bear in mind the cost of immunisations, worming, neutering later on if you decide to, and any healthcare that may be needed for a period of up to 17 years for a small dog. It’s wise to purchase pet insurance as soon as your puppy arrives so that if medical help is needed at some stage it won’t break the bank.
You’ll need to be well-prepared for your pup’s arrival. Here’s a list of some essentials.
A soft adjustable collar
A puppy harness
An ID tag with your name, postcode and phone number (not your pup’s name)
A long light lead or line
Food and water bowls
A comfortable bed
A crate if you decide to crate-train your pup, that can be left open and used as a quiet den space
Food: check what your pup has been fed on where he’s been living and start him off on that. If you plan to put him on a different diet you can change this gradually over a period of a week or two
Safe chews to give those sharp puppy teeth something to chomp on, and to offer as an alternative if he decides to nibble on the furniture (or you)
Enzymatic cleaner for cleaning up after accidents
Treats! Lots of treats, as you’ll be using these to reward him for everything he does that’s desirable
It’s much easier to puppy-proof your home before your pup arrives, and that saves the stress of racing across to remove something he’s found that could be dangerous to him. Puppy-proofing isn’t really any different to toddler-proofing your home – it’s a matter of keeping all no-go articles well out of the way.
Check there are no loose wires, and make sure that all wires are clipped to the skirting boards or walls.
Check your house and garden to ensure there are no plants that could be poisonous to dogs. This includes daffodils, cyclamen, delphiniums, hyacinth, wisteria and lilies – you’ll be able to find an extensive list of plants to avoid if you search online.
Remove or tidy away anything within reach that could be used as a chew toy – you won’t want your slippers or your children’s toys to become something for your pup to nibble on – and make sure your phones and TV remote control aren’t accessible to him. Bear in mind that whatever he can reach will be considered by him to be there for his entertainment, and if you leave a bar of chocolate within reach this could result in an unpleasant and expensive emergency trip to the vet!
Low tables need to be free of anything that you don’t want Pup to have (and keeping a yummy chew out of reach near a table will give you a quick alternative to offer if he tests his teeth out on the legs or sides). The ends of table cloths are irresistible to pups, so if you must have a table cloth, keep the surface clear.
Make sure there’s no access to chemicals, medications, paint pots or other substances. Shut these away in a cupboard and put child-proof locks on low level cupboards.
You’ve collected your puppy from the breeder or rescue and arrived home for your first day together. Make sure you have lots of small treats in your pocket or treat bag (treat bags that clip to a belt or clothing are excellent) and take Pup into the garden for a sniff around. It’s very likely he’ll eliminate there, so if you drop a treat right in front of him as soon as he’s ‘been’ you’ll be starting off toilet training immediately and easily.
Puppies naturally tend to follow whoever is close by, so call his name and invite him to follow you indoors. This is the first step to teaching recall.
Let him see where his bed and bowls are, make sure plenty of water is available, and give him space to explore his new surroundings.
Take him outside for a toilet break every hour or so, and immediately after food, a drink, a nap and a play session. If you see him sniffing or circling that means he most likely needs to ‘go’, so take him outside straight away.
Call him occasionally in a happy tone of voice, and reward him with praise, affection and a treat when he comes to you.
Pups have accidents. Their bladders are tiny and they’re unable to control any pressing need, so if they ‘go’ indoors it’s not their fault. They simply can’t help it. So, just patiently and quietly clear up using an enzymatic cleaning product that removes all trace of the scent of pee or poo. Bleach doesn’t remove the scent, so using that will leave traces that could signal to your pup that this is an okay toilet area, which won’t be helpful to the toilet training process.
The first night
Your puppy will have spent his first weeks sleeping with his mother and littermates, and it’s a huge shock for him to suddenly be left alone in an unfamiliar place, however comfortable his bed is. You could either have a dog bed in your room, or just outside your room with your door open, to reassure him that he’s not alone, or you could sleep in the room that you intend him to sleep in long-term for the first few days he’s with you.
If you’re going to be crate training him you could make a comfy bed inside the crate, put a well-covered warmed hot water bottle underneath the bed, and add a fluffy toy and an unwashed article of your clothing that holds your scent when you encourage him to go in there. Leave the door open so he won’t feel trapped and panic.
The old, outdated school of thought for both pups and babies used to be to let them cry it out if they cried for company. This only teaches them that no-one will be there to meet their needs when they’re distressed, and fortunately times have moved on from that now. If your pup cries during the night you can just softly say a few words to let him know you’re there.
Raising your puppy
Caring for a puppy, helping him grow, develop and learn from infancy to maturity, is an immense gift. In my next article I’ll be sharing tips on how to strengthen the bonding process, have fun through play, start basic training, and how to set up your pup to succeed.
If you'd like to learn how to be a best friend to your new pup, you can take our short course The Puppy's BFF Award!
First published in Edition Dog Magazine