Puppies – The First Few Weeks of Ownership

Everything you need to know to ensure your pup settles in

You’ve deliberated long and hard and decided you can afford the time and the money that a puppy will demand. You’ve thoroughly researched breeds, how to avoid inherited problems and selected a gender that’s perfect for your family, home and lifestyle. You’ve prepared all you can, made the garden safe, protected all exposed electrical flex that is at risk of being chewed, and the children have been told puppies are not toys. You’ve bought a collar and many other pet accessories suitable for your puppy and now the day has arrived for you to pick them up from the breeder.

You might think that you’ve done all the hard work; however, this is where the work really begins and getting your foundations right in the first two weeks will save you many problems later on.

1) Puppy and paperwork
When you pick your puppy up make sure you pick up some important paper work too. Generally breeders will provide you with the following paperwork for your puppy:

  • A pedigree, like a family tree, which will also have details of the results of any hereditary screening tests that the parents have had
  • A change of registration document for pedigree dogs which may have restrictions regarding the future breeding of your puppy
  • Vaccination certificates if your puppy has already received some vaccinations. Generally puppies are vaccinated at 8 and 12 weeks of age
  • Details of the puppy’s worming regimen
  • Occasionally puppies come with insurance. Some breeders are able to access schemes to cover puppies for any illness during the first six weeks of a new owners care
  • Diet instructions and often a small amount of the diet to go home with.

It is worth asking the breeder for two other pieces of documentation if they are not provided:

  • Ask for a written agreement that the purchase is subject to a satisfactory examination by your veterinary surgeon within 48 hours of purchase
  • Ask for written confirmation that the breeder will take puppies back if your circumstances change. This will probably have a time limit and you may not get back what you paid for the puppy.

2) The journey home

Ideally the journey home should include a visit to your vet for a pre-booked appointment for your puppy to have a health check. It is useful to do this early on because if there is a problem and your vet advises you to return your puppy to the breeder you can do it immediately before you become too attached. If the puppy gets a clean bill of health, book any necessary appointments for vaccinations and microchipping. Also, purchase whatever worm and flea treatments are needed. As soon as you get home, change the registration documents and insurance into your name and get them in the post without delay.

Make sure the puppy has something safe to travel in such as a ‘pet carrier’ that can be secured using seat belts or straps or take a second person to hold the puppy on the journey. Make sure you have plenty of kitchen roll and a bin bag in case the puppy becomes motion sick.

3) Be consistent

You will probably have already chosen your puppy’s name and it is important that everyone sticks to it so that the puppy can quickly learn it.

Most owners put their dog’s beds in the kitchen or utility area where the floor is easiest to clean because there will be accidents. The bed should be comfortable, out of drafts and ideally contain some bedding from their nest so that the smell encourages them to feel secure. Some people decide that they want their puppies to sleep on their beds and this is fine if you want your dog to sleep on your bed when it’s an adult. However, if you ultimately want the dog to sleep in the kitchen when it’s an adult, there will be an uncomfortable transition period for both of you at some point. Many puppies struggle with being separated from their mother and siblings; they become anxious and will bark and howl. It is very natural for owners to want to comfort their puppies, but if you go to it after 10 minutes of howling, next time it will howl for five times that long. While the correct thing to do is leave it to howl, it’s not the easy thing to do so be prepared.

Training crates and toilet training

Many people provide puppies with ‘training crates’ to sleep in because pups feel secure; it’s their space. Crates are also beneficial for toilet training. Most puppies are reluctant to urinate or defecate in their crates so in the morning they can be taken from their crates and immediately placed outside at a particular spot in the garden until they ‘perform’. Puppies need to differentiate between indoors and outdoors and develop a habit of urinating and defecating outdoors.

Owners have to spend long periods outside with them until they do perform, so that they can praise them and perhaps introduce a command, such as ‘busy’, for pups to associate their performance with. Pups also tend to want to urinate and defecate after a meal or play, so these are other opportunities for owners to spend time outside until they perform. As a rule of thumb, at this stage you should give your pup the opportunity to perform outside hourly. It is immediately clear that it is easier to ‘house-train’ puppies during the warm weather in summer! Anything that encourages pups to perform indoors, such as ‘paper training’, is not helpful. It is important not to lock your puppy up in a crate for too long, as it must be allowed to play inside the home too.

Obedience training

It is never too soon to start basic obedience training but at this stage it should be simple tasks, reinforced with timely positive rewards which are consistently applied. Bad behaviour should be ignored or interrupted. The whole family needs to be ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ to avoid confusing the pup. Play is a great opportunity for training and to build your relationship with young pups but don’t over do it. Young bones and joints are vulnerable to damage from rough play, jumping, stairs and steps and excessive walks.

4) Socialisation
It is important to expose your puppy to experiences that you will want it to be comfortable with as an adult during its ‘sensitive period’, which is between 2 and 11 weeks of age. In young pups, exercise should focus on socialisation rather than wearing them out. In these early weeks you could gradually introduce your puppy to wearing a collar and a lead, but it is for security at this stage rather than exercise. As well as socialisation, it is important that your puppy gradually becomes accustomed to being separated from you. This will prevent separation anxiety problems in later life.

5) Grooming
It is really helpful to get your puppy used to being groomed and examined. Gentle grooming with the correct tools for your pup’s coat encourages them to enjoy and accept the procedure. It is not usually necessary to shampoo puppies, but if it is, use a mild dog shampoo. It is important that your pup becomes accustomed to, and is comfortable with, you examining their eyes, ears, nails, and mouth and introduce gentle tooth brushing with doggy tooth paste.

By preparing for the first few weeks with your new puppy, you are helping to establish a happy, healthy relationship for many years to come.

David Chamberlain BVetMed., MRCVS.
Veterinary Consultant to PetSafe®

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