New Puppy Advice

Responsible Ownership

A new puppy can be an exciting and rewarding addition to your family. Before bringing a puppy home, please consider whether you can afford the time, patience and expense to dedicate to your puppy, and also to the adult that he will become for the next twelve or so years.

Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, a pet owner has a legal duty to ensure the welfare of his or her animal/s. A pet’s welfare needs include:

  • A proper diet
  • Somewhere suitable to live
  • Consideration of their need to be housed with or apart from other animals
  • Allowing animals to express normal behaviour
  • Protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease

The cost of food, vet bills and insurance could cost thousands of pounds over the course of your dog’s life, with most dogs living for 10-15 years.

Make sure you conduct plenty of research into the requirements of different breeds and assess their suitability to your lifestyle. The Kennel Club website has a good guide to different dog breeds, but it is also worth thinking about a crossbreed or “mutt”: rescue and rehoming centres are always looking for responsible and loving homes for unwanted puppies and adults: for example, at any one time, the Dogs Trust has about 2000 dogs waiting for new homes. It is also worth paying a visit to your local library, where you will find books about dog breeds and dog care. Even if you have previous doggy experience, there is always something new to learn and the early weeks and months with a new puppy can be much more challenging than any time you may have spent with an adult dog.

Choosing a breeder

If you decide on a particular breed of puppy, avoid buying from a pet shop or through a newspaper advertisement, especially if a wide range of puppies is offered. This is a sign of a puppy dealer, and the puppies will often have been bought in from puppy farms where profit will be prioritised over the welfare of the puppies and the breeding dogs. It can be tempting to want to rescue a puppy from a pet shop or a dealer, but this will only encourage the seller to purchase more puppies and continue the cycle. From our experience, these puppies are very likely to have health and temperament problems. The puppy may well come with complete pedigrees, but this is no guarantee of quality. If you are not sure if the person selling the puppy is a dealer, ask to see the mother with the puppies; a dealer will make an excuse to put you off. Never buy a dog from the back of a van at a motorway service station or car park: this is how many dealers operate.

Responsible breeders will be happy for you to visit their premises and view the puppies with their mother, and will answer any questions you may wish to raise. For example, it is important to ask if the sire and the dam are tested for hereditary disorders. There are many health problems that can affect dogs, some of them specific to certain breeds, and these conditions often have a hereditary component. Responsible breeders work hard to eliminate any predisposition from their lines and will have pre-breeding tests conducted on the parents. Breeding untested dogs or dogs known to have problems increases the chance that their pups will suffer, to say nothing of the heartache caused to their human companions.

Often, a breeder will not own both the dam and the sire. Rather, they will go out of their way to find a reputable sire to breed to their dam. Therefore, when you visit a litter of puppies it is likely that the sire will not be visible because he does not live in the same household. However, the breeder should still have knowledge of him and be able to confirm that he has undergone pre-breeding tests.

Choosing a puppy

Puppies learn bite inhibition and other socialisation skills from their mother and litter mates, and puppies should not be rehomed before they are six weeks old, although waiting until eight weeks is better.

The mother should be happy and relaxed and the puppies should be bright and alert. Avoid puppies that are too skinny, or that are potbellied. Do not be persuaded to take a puppy with runny eyes, a runny nose or a cough, even if the breeder offers a reduction in the price of the puppy. Teeth should be clean and white, the gums should be pink and the breath not smelly. The puppy’s bottom should be clean and free from any sign of diarrhoea or soreness. Brown or yellow deposits in the ears may be a sign of ear mites.

Do not pick the puppy that bounds up to you knocking all the other puppies out of the way, as this is likely to be the most dominant puppy of the litter. Also, do not pick the quietest or smallest puppy – somewhere between the two is the ideal.

Home-reared pups are exposed to normal household sounds such as washing machines, vacuum cleaners etc. as well as people and other animals, which will help them adapt to and accept new and potentially stressful situations.

Many breeders will have the puppies vet-checked before offering them for rehoming. However, for your own peace of mind or if you are in any way unsure about a puppy, most breeders should be willing for you to take the puppy to your own vets for advice before committing to purchase.

Once you have selected your new puppy, ask the breeder if you can leave a worn t-shirt or other garment with the puppy so he will begin to recognise your smell. When you bring him home with the garment it will carry the smell of his littermates and mother and will help to settle him over the first few days in his new home.

Collecting your puppy

Make sure you have all the supplies in place for when you bring your little bundle home, such as feeding and water bowls, a comfortable, warm bed, and plenty of suitable toys (be wary of squeaky toys and other toys that could be chewed apart and swallowed).

If the puppy has had any vaccines, make sure the breeder provides you with a vaccination card that has been signed by a veterinary surgeon: without proof of vaccination, another vet will not be able to continue the vaccination course and your puppy may need to be re-vaccinated. Similarly, be wary of paying extra for a so-called pedigree pup if the breeder is evasive about providing the paperwork to back up this claim.

Before bringing your puppy home, you’ll need to ‘puppy-proof’ your house by eliminating potential hazards. This includes moving any breakable objects out of the way, making sure household chemicals are stored safely, hiding or covering electrical cables, and checking your home for poisonous plants. (The Dogs Trust website contains a comprehensive list of plants to be wary of, but it is worth keeping ALL plants out of the way and discouraging him from showing interest in them, even if they aren’t poisonous.)

The journey home may well be your puppy’s first experience of a car ride, and certainly his first time away from his litter mates.

A cardboard box lined with towels or newspaper can make a very good container for the puppy, and don’t be surprised if he is sick or toilets during the journey.

The ideal time to bring your new puppy home is when it is quiet. Try to limit visitors to your home for the first few days to allow him to get used to his surroundings. When he gets home, allow your puppy time to explore his new surroundings one room at a time, and show him his new bed. He will need plenty of sleep, so his bed should be warm and comfortable and away from distractions and disturbances. If you are using a crate, it is worth putting a blanket over the top to create a den for him.

Settling In

The breeder should provide you with information on the puppy’s diet, and you should continue this when you take the puppy home. A note of caution though – we have heard of some bizarre recommendations from breeders, such as only feeding raw chicken or starving for one day each week. Our advice is to always feed your puppy a good brand of puppy food appropriate to his age and breed. The best plan is to continue the breeder-recommended food for the first few days (many breeders may provide you with a supply to take with you) and gradually switch to your chosen brand of puppy food over the course of 1-2 weeks. Switching diets suddenly can be a lot for your puppy to cope with and is a common cause of diarrhoea.

Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t eat much over the first day or so – the excitement of his new surroundings may prove to be more of a distraction than food! Try to get in the habit of fixed mealtimes from early on, though, and always make sure he has access to his water bowl.

After feeding comes toileting! Puppies have poor bladder control and he will need to urinate every hour or two. He may urinate spontaneously when excited, so it’s a good idea to take him out frequently if he has been playing or exploring. He will probably urinate within fifteen minutes of eating and defaecate within half an hour. Choose cue words that you can repeat while the puppy is toileting, such as “wee wees” etc., using different words for urination and defaecation, and this will be used to prompt the puppy later on. Accompanying your puppy into the garden means you can reward his behaviour and attach the cue words to successful actions. As puppies quickly form habits, introducing the garden as a toilet area may help avoid many of the common pitfalls associated with toilet training.

If you have other pets in the house, introduce them to the new arrival gradually and always under supervision. Acceptance takes time, and you will need to provide plenty of reassurance to your established pets. Cats in particular may view a bouncy new puppy as an invader of his territory, and will either want to run away or fight. Introducing your puppy to your cat whilst the puppy is on a leash or in his crate may help to prevent confrontation, and will allow the pets time to sniff each other without tangling together. Try to avoid hitting or swatting them, as this will further their negative feelings. Most cats have a safe place they will run away to get away from a situation – this will often be on top of a cupboard, or in a wardrobe, or under a bed. Don’t allow your puppy to follow the cat to this place as he needs to get used to the idea that it is the cat’s territory. The cat needs to get used to the idea that the puppy is here to stay, and this acceptance will gradually build over a few weeks. It may be a couple of months before cat and puppy become friends, but by introducing them slowly, and with consideration for the feelings and safety of each, you will help this to happen.

Your puppy will require vaccinating from 8 weeks of age. Vaccination is one of the most important ways to keep your puppy healthy – it reduces the risk and the clinical signs of potentially fatal diseases, which may otherwise be difficult or impossible to treat. As a practice, we promote vaccination as a responsible aspect of pet ownership. We advise letting him settle in with you for a few days before bringing him to the surgery. This will give you chance to get to know him and what is normal for him, and for him to learn to trust you. It is important that puppies are in full health before they are vaccinated, so a few days settling in will provide you with the reassurance that he is happy and healthy.

Your puppy will get plenty of exercise from his natural playfulness, and can be taken for regular walks once he is vaccinated. Full immunity to the diseases we vaccinate against is achieved approximately two weeks after the completion of the vaccination course, by which time you can safely exercise him in public. It might take some time to get him used to his collar and lead, and we recommend puppy training classes to get him – and you – used to basic commands. Exercise requirements vary in different breeds, and some larger breeds should only undertake limited exercise whilst they are still growing, for example a few short walks of 15-20 minutes a day. This avoids placing excessive force on the joints, which could cause problems such as hip dysplasia later on. We recommend that you ask the puppy’s breeder for advice on your particular breed, or ask our vet at the time of vaccination.

We also advise regular flea and worming treatments.

Other things to consider are pet insurance, puppy training classes and, from six months of age, neutering.

We realise that this may leave you with a lot to think about. Once your puppy is fully vaccinated, why not make an appointment for our free Nurse Clinics? Our Veterinary Nurses can help you with a wide range of issues relating to your puppy, such as feeding, insurance, training and behaviour, and can answer many of the questions that you may have.