Tips for Your New Puppy

You have a new puppy. It is always so exciting to welcome a new fur child into the family. However, since raising a puppy can be hard work, below are some tips from of the knowledgeable Somerset West vet from Teva Clinic, Dr Karin Wilson. Hopefully, these tips will be of assistance in raising a well-rounded pup.

Socialisation

Puppies have a window period from 3 to 16 weeks during which time they are most adaptable to socialisation and learning. Intentionally creating positive and controlled exposure to the variety of potentially scary things out in the human world will set your puppy up for success in adulthood. Think of how frightening a motorbike, vacuum cleaner, lawnmower, and hairdryer could be to a dog who has no idea that those noisy machines will not hurt it. The same applies to people with large hats, small children, and those using walking sticks for example. Even water can be alarming to a dog who has not been correctly exposed to it as a young pup.

Vaccinations

Vaccinations are a vital part of a puppy’s health care. Your puppy should be vaccinated every three to four weeks until it is 16 weeks or older (typically at 8,12, and 16 weeks depending on when it was weaned from its mother). Every puppy will have a different time at which the maternal antibodies (derived from the colostrum drunk on its first day of life) will have dwindled and will no longer be sufficient to protect it against common life-threatening viruses. Hence, the reason behind the “puppy series” of vaccinations which limit your puppy’s risk of being left unprotected when those natural antibodies gradually wear off. Booster vaccines are given at 1 and 2 years of age, after which your pet’s vet should advise an annual health check and vaccination risk assessment.  During this annual health check, your pet will be given a full clinical examination, including weight and dental health assessments. The vet will discuss your pet’s specific risk factors to determine which vaccines your pet will require annually, biennially, and triennially.

Reprimanding your Puppy

It is important to realise that no puppy is inherently bad. Negative reinforcement such as smacking, spraying with water, or shouting will never improve your puppy’s behaviour. It will only make your puppy fearful and insecure. Dogs have evolved to be man’s best friend and thrive on domestication by repeating behaviour that results in reward rather than behaviour that doesn’t. An important concept to understand is that many puppy behaviours are normal for a dog, e.g. hunting, digging, and chewing. However, in the wrong context, these behaviour patterns become unacceptable and inappropriate in a family home, e.g. chasing the cat, digging holes in your prized flower beds, chewing your sunglasses, etc. It is our job as pet owners to (a) realise that dogs need a safe and appropriate outlet for “normal” behaviour such as digging, chasing, and chewing; and (b) to ensure that we make suitable and more desirable options available for these, e.g. designated digging patches, dog chew toys, etc.

Remember to continually praise your puppies for everything good that they do from sitting, lying down, being calm, to choosing the right dog chew toy. There should be a running commentary of praise for all and any good behaviour.

House/Toilet Training

Remember your home is not a familiar environment for your puppy and the first few days can be stressful for it. While you should start toilet training your puppy as soon as you get home, it takes time and patience, and every puppy is different. The first most important thing to remember is that accidents will happen. Never shout, become angry, or punish your puppy. Do not even make a fuss, just simply clean it up. You will hear arguments such as “but he looks guilty – he knows he was a bad dog” and they are partly right. He does “know he was a bad dog”. Your intimidating/angry body language and tone of voice frightens your puppy and indicates that you are very unhappy with it. That is all that it does, creating fear and anxiety in your puppy. Your puppy can not connect the dots between your anger and the act of its elimination. Your puppy is thinking “when mom walks in the room and there is a puddle on the floor I get into big trouble”, and not “making a wee inside is a bad thing”.

Firstly, choose an area where you would like your pup to go to the toilet. This might be a pee pad on your balcony, or in the bathroom, or on the grass outside. Then invest the time to focus your efforts on catching your puppy doing the right thing and praising it for that. Some indications that your puppy wants to go are: sniffing around, fidgeting, whining, or pacing.

In the beginning, the signs of needing to go will be subtle and may be easy to miss, so an important ingredient for success is to take your puppy to the pee spot as often as you can. Preferably every time after your pup wakes up, after playing, and after eating or drinking. This sounds like a lot of effort and it is. The idea is that every time your pup goes to the toilet in the correct place, you praise it. By allowing your puppy every opportunity to pee in the right place and being praised for it, you eliminate the opportunity of your pup doing it in the wrong place. Think about it – wouldn’t you rather pee on a nice warm rug (normal behaviour for a dog but undesirable for us) than a cold patch of grass? I know I would. It is our duty as pet parents to always ask ourselves the question, how can I make what I want my pup to do more appealing than what my puppy is currently doing?

A puppy learns associations in training. A puppy will eventually associate an area with elimination for the following reasons:

  • The smell of urine, faeces, or ammonia. This is why it’s important to use an enzymatic stain and odour remover to clean up accidents in the house so that all traces of the smell are removed.
  • Location: Try taking your puppy to the same spot each time.
  • The feeling/texture of surfaces beneath its paws. This is why some dogs that have learnt to eliminate on paving, for example, struggle to automatically transition to grass later.
  • Commands: Your puppy will associate certain words with going to the toilet, so when your dog is in the act of elimination start to add a “cue word”. Caution: Do not use it as a command word until you are very sure that your puppy has learned the association.

Positive reinforcement, whether it is in the form of praise, a treat or a tummy rub, is essential to successful toilet training.

Diet

Whether you have a tiny crossbreed or a Great Dane, your puppy is going to do an alarming amount of growing in its first 10 to 18 months of life. Providing your puppy with the best nutrition you can afford for this growing phase is important. Speak to your pet’s vet about what diet would be the most appropriate for your puppy. 

If your puppy is not already on a high-quality diet, ask the breeder, shelter, or foster home to give you a week’s supply of your puppy’s weaning diet so that you can gradually transition your pup to the new diet without upsetting its stomach.

Never feed your puppies bones and avoid fatty or rich titbits as these can easily upset their immature gut system and cause diarrhoea or vomiting.

Worms, Ticks, and Fleas

Deworming is an important part of puppy care as worms not only cause debilitating disease to your pup, but they can also pass it to humans and cause disease in us. Deworming is recommended every two weeks between the ages of 2 to 8 weeks and again at 12 weeks, thereafter every three to four months. If your puppy has a heavy burden of worms, your pet’s vet may advise you to repeat the dewormer in two weeks.

Fleas can cause intense itching, skin rashes, self-trauma from excessive biting and allergic reactions. They also carry and transmit tapeworms. Once a flea population has set up in your home, it can be challenging to get on top of it. One adult flea will lay up to 50 eggs in just 24 hours.  Prevention is much easier than cure.

Ticks are small parasites that can attach to your puppy’s skin and feed on its blood. They attach directly from grasses, shrubs, and bushes and transmit diseases like biliary/tick bite fever which can be fatal.  It is important that your pup is protected against ticks by the time it is old enough to venture outdoors.

For all your parasite control needs, it is recommended that you use a safe and effective veterinary product. Your pet’s vet will be able to advise you on the most appropriate product based on your puppy’s weight, age, and breed.

Pet Insurance

Pet insurance is highly recommended for your puppy because at some point in its life it is likely that your pup will need more than routine vet attention, which can be expensive. Pet insurance takes the sting out of unexpected veterinary bills so that you can focus on getting your pets the medical care they need.

For more information on how to choose the pet insurance that will work for you please refer to Teva’s Pet Care Resource here.

Sterilisation

If you have a female dog, it is recommended that you have her spayed at 6 to 8 months, depending on her expected adult weight. Apart from the potential of unwanted pregnancies, female dogs that are not spayed may develop false pregnancies resulting in uncharacteristic as well as life-threatening uterus infections. Sterilising females before their first heat cycle will prevent them from developing mammary cancer later in life.

Male dogs are governed by their hormones and often develop anti-social behaviour when they reach maturity. This may be in the form of dominance aggression or other undesirable behaviours. Neutering your male dog will reduce the testosterone levels that trigger these undesirable behaviours. Given the slightest chance, uncastrated males may attempt to escape from home in search of a mate. Dogs seeking females in heat can become aggressive and may injure themselves and people by engaging in fights. Neutering your male will reduce his risk of prostate disease, testicular cancer, and infections.

Male dogs can be neutered at any time from the age of 6 to 12 months. Large and giant breeds are neutered later than smaller breeds to allow time for their bone structure to develop properly.

Raising a puppy can be both wonderful and challenging. The good news is that your hard work and patience will not go unrewarded. The effort that you put in now will help build the foundation for a long and happy partnership with your new best friend.

Authored by Dr Karin Wilson (not a SAFREA member)

Proofread and Copyedited by Delilah Sao Joao (SAFREA member)

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