By: Debbie Reynolds, DVM
The best part of being a veterinarian? First puppy visits! I absolutely adore seeing new puppies, especially as a house call veterinarian. This means we get to play with them at their house. We have time to sit down with the owners and casually and carefully address every question and concern they have about owning a new puppy. My hope for this blog is for you to be a part of this conversation. There are so many things to know about new puppies and I don't want you to miss a thing!
One of THE most important things to cover is socialization. You have a very short window of time in which to socialize your new puppy. Ironically, you also have to protect your puppy from exposure to potentially deadly illnesses at this same time! So, how do you guard your puppy from illnesses and expose them to social situations all at the same time? It can be done.
The socialization period will close at about 12 weeks old. You need to get your puppy around all kinds of situations including people and noises during this time. It must be done in a positive way, never causing fear. Pause to think about your life and what your puppy will be exposed to in the future. Sports games? Horses? City noises? Make sure your puppy sees and hears these things during this time to make him or her acclimated for a lifetime of happiness. Some things are universal such as different ages and colors of people, delivery people, vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, car engines, etc.
There are some breeds that this will be incredibly easy for such as Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Pugs, and other naturally friendly dogs. Some breeds this will require much more work - such as Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, or German Shepherds. For very nervous breeds, you may use some natural anxiety relief such as Rescue Remedy. Mixed breeds can come either way.
There are a few things to consider when owning a new puppy:
Parasites are an early concern and most puppies begin the deworming process as early as 2 weeks old. If they are born to a well-cared for mother, this is less of a concern, but that is not always the case. A fecal exam by a veterinarian can determine if there are intestinal worms which can be easily treated. Please be cautious with flea and tick control in young puppies as most of the commercial products are not safe until at least 9-12 weeks of age. Natural remedies, such as Away spray or Flea & Tick Soap Bar, are safe for young puppies.
Puppies have a series of vaccinations, usually a set of 3, beginning from 6 to 9 weeks of age depending on each individual puppy's circumstance. Your veterinarian will examine your puppy and give appropriate vaccinations depending on your pet's lifestyle. This is a great time to show up with a list of questions about your puppy.
The diets you choose will play a vital role in your puppy's growth. You should feed puppy food for the first year of life. If you have a large breed dog, you should feed "large breed puppy food". Adding an omega 3 fatty acid supplement to your puppy's food is a great idea. This will help with brain development with the DHA contained in omega 3's and with the training period. It also has components to help with skin and coat health.
Potty training is always at the top of the list! You can accomplish this by scheduling feedings instead of leaving food down. Pick 2 (or 3) times a day that work with your schedule and put the food down for 10 -15 minutes and then pick it up. It won't be long before your puppy learns to eat when the food is given. Then immediately go outside to the "potty spot", the same spot, every time. Use the same command "go potty" or whatever you choose. When your puppy is successful use praise and a training treat (such as Beef Nibs). As soon as your puppy eats or chews, the reflex to poop kicks in, so make sure not to waste time in getting to the potty spot. Other times to target are after waking from a nap, or chewing on a chew toy. Basic obedience training would be beneficial to start at this young age as well.
Speaking of "chew toys", you are going to need plenty! Your puppy will be teething for about 6 months. You will want to keep plenty of options and rotate them out to keep things fresh and new. Use the distraction method when your puppy begins to chew on something inappropriate and redirect them to an appropriate toy. Please make sure not to use rawhide chews (see blog post about dangers here).
Some breeds such as retrievers will enjoy balls and retrieving toys, some terrier breeds will enjoy tug and pull toys, herding breeds and shepherds will enjoy interactive thinking toys, and all puppies will love teethers.
I hope this will help you have a well adjusted and happy puppy for many, many years to come!