Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS
There are few things more exciting than bringing home a new puppy. No matter how big they eventually get, they are all cute bundles of fluff with wobbly legs and wagging tails in the beginning! The experiences and care a puppy receives in its early weeks have a massive impact on the rest of its life & behaviour, and it’s your job as their owner to ensure they grow up into happy, healthy and well adjusted individuals.
A pup’s introduction to the world around them begins from the moment they are born. The bitch and litter must live in the home, surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of family life; not in a shed or outhouse. Once they become more independent they should be handled regularly, allowed to meet different people, given a variety of toys and plenty of opportunities to play and explore. Finally, and most importantly, they should not leave the breeder until they are 8 weeks old. Although they will have been quite independent for some time by this age, they will still be learning vital social skills and doggy behaviour from their mum and littermates. A good breeder will understand all this and ensure their pups have the best start. They will also, if they are breeding pedigrees, have completed all the relevant health tests on the parents & have registered the litter with the Kennel Club at birth, meaning you will be given all the paperwork when you collect them.
Once you have your new pup home, allow them a couple of days to settle in before inviting everyone round to meet them! Ask the breeder what they were feeding and keep this the same for a week, after which you can change their diet but make sure it is good quality puppy food. This is also the time to instill good sleeping habits. It might be cute having a little pup curled up in bed with you but it won’t be so nice when they are fully grown and spent the day splashing in puddles in the park! Most pups will cry when they are left alone for the first few nights but they soon learn to settle and it is very important dogs learn to be on their own, otherwise they can develop serious problems such as separation anxiety. I am a big fan of using crates for young pups. You can shut them in at night and when you go out; the pup will feel safe and secure in the small, enclosed space and you know they are safe. Leave the door open when you are at home and then they can take themselves off to bed when they feel tired.
Once the first few days are over and your new puppy has settled, it is time to start introducing them to the world! You will not be short of volunteers to come and visit and this is exactly what you need; lots of different people for the new family member to meet! Old, young, tall, short, with glasses, hats, walking sticks or wheelchairs, humans come in a great variety of shapes & sizes when you think about it! You can also carry them out and about (while they are still small enough!) and show them busy roads with lots of traffic, shopping areas with lots of people and the park with other dogs, joggers & cyclists. The school gates are also a great place but you will get inundated with young admirers! They can’t go on the floor until a week after their last injection but there is no harm in seeing the world from your arms for a couple of weeks. After their first vaccine you can also start introducing them to older, healthy, vaccinated dogs. There is nobody better to teach a pup good doggy manners than an mature, sensible canine! Short car journeys are also vital to ensure they are happy with travelling.
Finally, don’t forget to bring them to the vet! All puppies need their vaccines; two injections given two to four weeks apart, starting from eight weeks old. These give protection against deadly diseases, so are vital. Your vet will give your new baby a thorough check over and make sure they are healthy. You will also need to worm them, every month from two months old until six months and make sure they are protected against fleas. This is also the best time to microchip them unless they are very tiny or they have already been done by the breeder. Lastly, don’t forget to insure them, the staff at your vet practice will be able to advise you on what the best kind of policy for you might be.
Phew! That seems like a lot and maybe a bit of pressure to get it all right! However, don’t panic! Really bringing up a puppy well is mainly about common sense and doing your best, much like children. If you feel you need help and advice, just ask, a good breeder will always be happy to answer your questions, as will your local vet clinic.