So you’ve got your first puppy? Congratulations! This is both a terribly exciting and scary time. It’s a little like having a child – you’re initially worried that every little bump or scratch will cause lasting damage, and every little mistake in training could produce a horror-dog.
As you get to know your new family member, you’ll learn and grow along with them. But what of the first few days after bringing home your puppy? What should you be doing to give them the best start in life? What about puppy vet visits? And how can you handle the first cat-puppy encounter?
The first day is filled with excitement. Hopefully you’ve been able to meet your new puppy a couple of times and have already started forming a bond with him. When you go to collect him for the first time, there are a few things you should remember to pick up as well.
1: Key information
If your puppy has had any vaccinations, flea and worm, or any other treatments it’s important that you find out what was given and on what dates, so that you and your vet know what your puppy still needs. Your puppy should have been microchipped, too – so make sure the breeder gives you the details.
2: Travel safely!
Ideally, a blanket or scent cloth should come home with him to give him a little comfort as he adjusts. Don’t forget to take a crate or cat carrier with you so that he is safely secured in the car and if you have a long journey be prepared to break it up into smaller chunks to allow your puppy a chance to stretch his legs and use the toilet.
3: Meet and greet
Once you get home, you may have other pets and family members for him to meet. Remember that your new pet has had a tough day – he’s left everything he knows, so don’t give him too many new things to meet straight away. It’s usually sensible to keep his first afternoon and evening as quiet as possible – avoid him meeting the cats, and have only a short meeting with any resident dogs so that he isn’t overwhelmed. Family members should be kept to a minimum, too, and showing off the new puppy to all the school friends is best left for another day.
Instead, find a quiet room where the family is likely to spend a lot of time, and place puppy on the floor. Allow him to come to you, or sniff to explore. Encourage him with treats or toys, but don’t worry if he doesn’t engage straight away – this is all very strange for him! Ideally, you should feed the same food as the breeder at first – he doesn’t need another thing changing in his life! There’ll be plenty of time for changing his diet to your preferred diet at a later date.
4: Safe and sound
Remember that he’s likely to want to sleep little and often, so make sure he’s got somewhere he can retreat to and ensure that nobody disturbs him when he’s sleeping. At this point, crate training is a great idea – a crate gives somewhere for pup to retreat to and a clear signal to family members that he needs rest and some time alone. It also allows puppy to be kept safely away from electrical cables and other dangers whilst everybody else is asleep. Choose a crate that’s barely bigger than your pup’s bed – this helps with toilet training, as they will naturally avoid going in their bed and therefore their crate.
Within the first couple of days you should take your puppy to the vet. This will allow your vet to give the puppy a full check over and note anything for you to be aware of. Vaccinations can be started if necessary, and flea and worm prevention can be given. Remember – if at all possible you should take any information about vaccination, flea and wormer given by the breeder to your new vet – including dates and brand names – to ensure the right medication is given.
5: Initial vaccinations
A puppy vaccination course usually consists of three injections, each two weeks apart – but this depends on your puppy’s age, previous treatments, and risk status. I strongly recommend vaccination against distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus and leptospirosis – all diseases that are present here in the UK. Your puppy shouldn’t go outside for walks or meet unvaccinated dogs until this entire course has been completed. You can also opt to vaccinate against kennel cough and rabies if you wish (rabies is not present in this country and is only needed if you plan to take your dog out of the UK).
6: Flea and worm treatments
Flea treatment should be started as soon as possible, especially if you have other pets in the house. Fleas can quickly drain a young animal and are far easier to prevent than treat. Different flea products are appropriate for different ages and sizes so it’s a good idea to check with your vet.
At this age, worming is essential. Even young puppies that have never been outside can have worms – they get them from their mother’s milk and even in the uterus. I usually worm young dogs every two weeks until they’re 12 weeks of age, then monthly until they’re six months.
7: Pet insurance?
Your vet will probably suggest that you take out pet insurance and, if you haven’t already done so, this is an excellent idea. Insurance is there to guard against unexpected medical bills. A fractured leg – unfortunately common in puppies – can cost £3000, and eating a foreign body – such as a stone or sock – could cost just as much as that to remove.
8: Ground rules
In the first week, it’s important to set some ‘ground rules’ that you expect your puppy to obey. This could include not being allowed upstairs, or that they have to ask before being allowed on the sofa. Don’t expect them to get it right every time, but deciding on these rules early on and sticking to them is easier than trying to change them at a later date. Similarly, toilet training should begin immediately.
The ‘socialisation period’ is the name given to the window of opportunity when a puppy is more likely to accept new things. This is only up to about 12 weeks of age, so you should use this time wisely. You need to introduce your puppy to all the sights and smells you’re going to expect them to deal with as an adult – people of different ages, different noises, and new animals. Socialisation charts are available online, and the Dogs Trust has MP3s of ‘scary’ noises available on their website.
The first month is all about building on the good habits you’ve already started. You’ll have a few more vet visits and continue with flea and worm treatment. Remember to carry on with toilet training and keeping those ground rules firm. You’ll probably have a few little slip-ups… don’t worry, it’s entirely normal to take two steps forward and one back at this stage! Don’t forget to keep rewarding your puppy for getting the right idea – they’ll get there eventually!
9: Food for thought
Once your puppy has settled in you can start slowly changing him over to the diet you want to feed him. Do this over a week or so, so as not to upset his stomach. Diet is often a very contentious issue, but my advice is to find something you’re comfortable with, something that your dog looks well on, and something that you can get hold of easily. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) have a guide about selecting the best food for your pet.
10: Out and about
Now he’s fully vaccinated, you’ll want him to go out and start meeting new dogs. It’s important to take it slow – just one dog at a time at first – and allow both dogs to approach at their own pace. Remember that dogs have a complex language that we don’t fully understand – so try not to over-control your dog. Lots of treats can help make the atmosphere fun and positive. If you haven’t got friends with dogs that you know are friendly, consider going to a puppy school. You’ll get help with training, and an experienced person will be able to oversee your pup’s interactions and make sure everything is going smoothly.
If in any doubt…
Remember that your vet is there to help you with any questions as your puppy grows. There are no stupid questions at this point – everyone has a different experience and we’d prefer that you ask. I’d caution against asking advice on the internet or on Facebook if you can – there’s a lot of incorrect information out there and it can be very hard to sort fact from fiction. Many practices will do free-of-charge nurse consults that mean you can bring your puppy in to talk to the nurse about training, toothbrushing, naughty habits, diet and all manner of things – they’re an excellent first port of call for all your queries.