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Bringing Home a New Puppy

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A woman holds a puppy in her hands

Whether you're about to dive into the world of puppy-parenthood for the first time or just need a quick refresher, here's everything you need to know to make sure your little ball of fur is well cared for, healthy, and happy, so they can grow up into a very good boy or girl.

What to Know Before Getting a Puppy

Caring for a puppy is a lot of work, and it’s important to educate yourself on the care they require and prepare yourself, your loved ones, and your living space for the little ball of fluffy chaos that’s about to be unleashed. Here are a few things to ask yourself or really take time to think about before taking the leap into puppy parenthood:

Are you ready for a puppy?

Can you commit to a four-legged friend for the next 10+ years? Will you have the time to walk your dog three times a day? Can you afford their veterinary care if something happens? If the answer is no, you should stop and reconsider getting a pup. There are many other pets that make wonderful companions and require much less work.

What kind of puppy is best for you?

Picking a puppy just because it's trendy or adorable is NOT a good approach. In fact, sadly, many of these dogs end up being abandoned at shelters once they lose their cute puppy-looks and silly antics, or they turn out to be too energetic, demanding, large, etc., the reasons go on. That’s why it’s important to do your research on different breeds so you can find one that best fits your lifestyle.

Consider the size you’d like your dog to be once they’re fully grown. Small dogs often do better in smaller spaces. Food, supplies, and medications are more expensive for large and giant dogs.

Do you want a dog that stays very active as an adult, or would you rather have one that will likely calm down in a year or two? How much exercise can you provide?

Consider coat type as well. How often are you willing to have your dog groomed? Are you willing to deal with shedding? Or are you looking for a low maintenance, low-shedding breed?

Where will you find your new puppy?

Once you have gotten an idea of what type of puppy you want, it’s time to begin your search. If possible, consider adopting a dog first. Your local animal shelters and rescue groups frequently have adorable puppies (usually mixed breeds, although purebreds can be found as well) just waiting to find their forever homes. Even if you have your heart set on a specific breed, it's worth a trip to your local shelter or rescue group to meet some of the puppies. You never know what you’ll find!

Every shelter will have its own adoption process, but it’s usually pretty straightforward. You’ll probably need to fill out an application, which will likely ask for your contact information, proof of age, and history of pet ownership. Some shelters have a waiting period, usually 24 hours or so, before you can bring your new puppy home. This is to help ensure that you’re sure about and comfortable with your decision.

There may also be a fee involved, but it’s usually less than if you had bought your puppy from a breeder or pet store. Some shelters also ask that new puppy parents cover any veterinary costs that their adoptee might have needed before the adoption.

If you choose to buy a purebred dog, be responsible and do your research. Look for an experienced dog breeder, and make sure you meet them in person. Never buy from pet stores, as their dogs often come from puppy mills. Avoid backyard breeders, beware of puppy brokers, and don't buy a dog from a flea market or a classified ad; these puppies have unknown backgrounds and circumstances and may be unhealthy.

Puppy Preparation

So, you’ve found the perfect puppy and fallen in love! The best time to prepare for their arrival is before you bring your new puppy home so you can focus on settling them in and having fun together. after they move in. Here are a few things you can do to prepare yourself, your household, and your sanity for the newest ball of fluffy and fun.

Puppy Proof Your Home

To a puppy, your home is a playground full of fun new adventures, and the opportunities for trouble are endless.

Start by getting rid of anything they could chew and swallow and put it up high somewhere they can't reach. Tuck electrical cables and wires behind furniture or cover them up so they're out of sight. Block access to rooms where it’s harder for you to keep your puppy under supervision as well as rooms where they can cause possible damage.

Once you think you've completed the puppy-proofing process, take it a step further by getting down to floor level yourself. This will allow you to see things from a puppy's perspective and check for any potential hazards that you may not typically notice, such as under the sofa or in less visible areas.

Find a Local Veterinarian

Look for a veterinary office with a great reputation in a convenient location for you. The best way to find a good vet is to ask around and do your research. Talk to friends and family members with pets, too.

Your new puppy should visit your veterinarian for the first time within a few days of coming home with you. The veterinarian will give your puppy a physical exam to look for any medical issues. They will also deworm your puppy and get you started on a proper vaccination schedule, and you’ll also have the opportunity to talk about the appropriate age for having your puppy spayed or neutered.

Puppy Vaccinations

No one likes getting shots—ouchie! Vaccines may cause a slight pinch, but they can protect your puppy against serious diseases that can result in much more pain and suffering than a quick injection. Ask the shelter where you adopt your puppy for a copy of your pal's health records, including vaccinations. That way, you can have them in hand when you take your puppy for the first veterinary visit. This initial visit should take place within the first week after adoption. During that exam, the doctor will make sure your puppy is healthy and recommend a vaccine schedule.

What Shots do Puppies Need?

Puppies typically get vaccinated for Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvovirus, Parainfluenza, and Coronavirus, which can be done in a combination vaccine. Puppies will also need a rabies vaccine and possibly one for Lyme’s Disease.

Other vaccines may be recommended as your puppy gets older, depending on the situation. For instance, if your pooch will be around other dogs a lot, such as a doggie daycare or a kennel, your veterinarian may recommend vaccines for Bordetella (also called Kennel cough) and the Canine Influenza Virus (CIV). These are highly contagious diseases that can get passed easily between dogs in close quarters.

Puppy Vaccination Schedule

Your veterinarian will let you know what shots your puppy needs and when to get them. Here is an example of a typical puppy shot schedule:

  • Six weeks old: First combination vaccine for Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvovirus, Parainfluenza, and Coronavirus
  • Nine weeks old: Second combination vaccine
  • 12 weeks old: Third combination and possibly Lyme vaccine
  • 12 to 16 weeks old: Rabies vaccine
  • 16 weeks old: Fourth and last combination vaccine

This is only an example. Your veterinarian may have different guidelines that could change based on your puppy’s age, breed, and overall health.

Stock Up on New Puppy Essentials

You're going to need plenty of dog supplies before you bring home your new puppy. Start with the basics before you end up with a bunch of stuff you don't need such as toys your puppy doesn't enjoy or beds your puppy won't sleep in.

Having these items on hand is a good place to start:

  • Basic four- to six-foot leash
  • Adjustable collar with ID tag
  • Metal or ceramic pet bowls for food and water (stay away from plastic, which is easier for a teething puppy to destroy)
  • Puppy food
  • Dog bed (with room to grow)
  • Dog crate (with room to grow)
  • An exercise pen/playpen
  • A few dog toys and teething toys (start with a squeaky toy, a plush toy, and a chew toy, and see what they enjoy most)
  • A food-stuffable toy
  • A brush, comb, or grooming mitt
  • Enyzmatic Cleaner (because let’s face it: puppies can be messy!)

As your puppy grows up, they’ll need other (bigger) items, and as you learn their personality, likes, and dislikes, you can tailor this list to be as individual and unique as they are!

Training Your New Puppy

A properly trained dog can help ease your stress levels and save you a bunch of time and money down the road. That’s why it’s important to begin your puppy’s training early. Early on, it makes sense to focus on these three areas of training: crate training, housetraining, and clicker training.

Potty Training a Puppy

Potty training a puppy involves consistent supervision, frequent outdoor trips, and positive reinforcement for eliminating outside. Establish a regular feeding schedule to predict bathroom breaks and clean up accidents promptly using an enzymatic cleaner. Consistency is key in reinforcing desired behavior, such as praising your puppy immediately after they go potty outside. Set a routine for bathroom breaks, especially after meals, playtime, and waking up. Accidents are a normal part of the process, so avoid punishment and focus on reinforcing good behavior. Adjust the training approach based on the puppy's age, breed, and individual needs.

Crate Training a Puppy

Crate training your puppy can really come in handy, especially when it comes to house training and when you need a safe place to leave them alone for short periods of time. Just like house training, crate training requires a bit of time and patience, but it’s well worth the effort. Crates provide a cozy spot for your puppy to nap, play with toys, and feel secure during thunderstorms. Puppies have a built-in desire to keep their properly-sized crate clean because they don't want to make a mess in the same spot where they sleep. Instead, they are likely to pace or vocalize when they do need a potty break, which allows you to quickly get them outside to do their business. Besides giving your puppy their own little sanctuary, crate training also gives you the peace of mind that they’ll be safe and unable to get into mischief when you can’t supervise them.

Clicker Training a Puppy

Puppies learn very quickly when you teach with positive reinforcement, and clicker training can enhance the process. Clicker training is pretty straightforward. When your pup is in the process of learning something new, the clicker sound helps you pinpoint the exact moment they do something you want them to do. Once you've marked that moment with a click, you reward them with a treat right away. If your timing is on point, the click becomes a crystal-clear signal for your pup to understand which behavior earns them a tasty reward. With a bit of patience and perseverance, your pup will become a well-mannered pet, making your training efforts worthwhile.

How Long Does It Take to Train a Puppy?

Some puppies pick things up quickly, while others take longer to get the hang of it. It can also depend on what you’re trying to accomplish. For instance, simpler tricks like sit and stay will likely be easier to teach than those with multiple steps, such as roll-over or fetch.

Keep in mind that using the same commands is vital to help the process go smoothly and perhaps more quickly. If you use “down” and “off” alternately to get your puppy off the couch, your pup may get confused.

Puppy Training Classes

You don’t have to go it alone. In addition to getting advice from your veterinarian, there are lots of options for training your puppy. For example, you can sign up for one-on-one sessions with a professional trainer, send your furball to group lessons at a puppy school, or enroll in individual puppy classes.

You can even join puppy socialization groups, which can help puppies get used to being around one another. These can be very helpful if your puppy was weaned early and didn’t have enough time rolling around with siblings. Puppies learn a lot from their littermates and their dog mama, which is why it’s important not to separate them too soon.

Some final tips: exercise, plenty of toys, and playing are important to keep your puppy’s mind stimulated and body occupied. Gradually introduce exercise (but don’t overdo it) and keep a close eye on your puppy when they’re playing with toys. Remove any strings or small parts that can come off the toy, as they can cause choking if swallowed. Watch your puppy with plush squeaky toys; sharp little puppy teeth can easily cut through and get the stuffing and squeakers out, and these can be hazardous when swallowed.

And most importantly, enjoy your puppy! Get all the puppy snuggles and pictures you can. They don’t stay small for long, and before you know you, they’ll be teenagers.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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