1. Find your go-to vet!
The very first thing you should do, besides, you know, obsessing over their little paws and sending photos to everyone and anyone on your phone, is to find a veterinarian. Do some research of vets in your area, and set an appointment for their first visit ASAP. It is important you have a vet team you know and trust - for both long term routine needs and urgent situations - let’s be real, with puppies, they are almost inevitable! The vet will be able to guide you through the first months of pet parenting, setting you up to be the best pet parent you can be and ensuring you're doing all the right things that will make your pup healthy and happy - from vaccines, prevention, behavioral tips, to nutrition. Make sure to read reviews of past experiences and give them a call to ensure you feel good about it.
2. Get your pup vaxxed!
Well, not you this time, but your pup! Read up on vaccines needed for your puppy - both general and environment-specific. If your puppy is older than a few months, it’s possible they already received a few rounds, if not, all of them. Familiarize yourself with their records so you understand what they have or have not yet had. The vaccine series process can be a bit overwhelming - they need boosters 3 or 4 times! When you go into the vet for their first check-up, bring your records and ask for their recommendation, they know best!
3. Teach them that crate time is great time.
Although putting our puppy in a crate can feel mean or disciplinary, this isn’t the case! A crate can actually be very beneficial to our puppies, even comforting. It allows them to have their own “safe” space, typically a crate, where they can feel homey, safe, and cozy. Draping a blanket over the crate can also help emulate a “den” feel and make the puppy feel at home. If pup is particularly tiny, we suggest using a crate with a divider until the puppy gets big enough. Make sure this space is always accessible to them, even when you’re home. It’s important to associate the space with comfort and security, not just when you are gone.
4. Puppy-proof your home.
Next up, ensure the environment is puppy-friendly and secure. Scan your home for potentially harmful or toxic substances. This can be certain houseplants, electrical cords, cleaning materials, and open trash bins. Be aware of foods that are dangerous to your pets, as well. These include (but are not limited to):
- Onion, garlic, chive
- Coffee, caffeine
- Macadamia nuts
- Corn on the cob
- Yeast dough
- Grapes & raisins
- Artificial sweetener (Xylitol)
- ANY human medications
- Medications prescribed for other pets
While you’re at it, also remove any object that you just don’t particularly want puppy to have access to, aka your favorite shoes and the brand new rug in the kitchen. Restrict access with either play pens or baby gates, until the puppy has grown to know to avoid these objects themselves, or simply out of the chewing phase. :)
5. Begin house training ASAP - your rugs will thank you!
Although this may seem like a daunting task, it doesn’t have to be! It just requires a bit of patience and consistency. Our primary piece of advice would be to avoid punishing them. They will have a hard time associating their accident with the punishment, and instead feel sad and frustrated. Make sure to directly supervise them at all times, unless in a crate or playpen. If they begin to go, start by startling them with a loud noise or clapping. Then, move them outside to the consistent spot and use the same command repeatedly - we suggest “go potty.” Make sure to reward them with praise and a treat immediately after they go every time. They can typically control their bladder one hour for every month of age (3 months - 3 hrs).
Pro-tip - make sure to take them out every few hours to continually offer them a time to go, and pick up their food and water bowls at least 2 hrs before bedtime to minimize the chance of them having an accident throughout the night - they can usually sleep for 7 hrs before needing relief!
6. Toys are for more than fun.
While restricting access to things your puppy can’t have, also ensure you give plenty of things the puppy can have. Read: TOYS! It is vital for puppies to have both physical and mental stimulation available to them constantly - you’ll learn quickly, if it is not given, they will go out and find it anyways! Although you’d think any toys that are labeled “dog toys” would be suitable, that’s not always the case. Avoid any toys with small, hard objects that can easily come off, as they are choking or ingesting hazards. Trust us, removing unwanted items from their bellies is not fun - nor cheap! Always supervise your puppy when they are playing with toys, and when you leave the house, we suggest either Kong or Nylabone toys, as they are much harder to destroy.
7. Choose a dog food!
Next up on the list: choose a food! Although seemingly simple, this can also be an overwhelming task. There are so many foods out there, all marketed to be the BEST food for your pup. Well we are here to say, that just is not the case. Make sure to purchase food that is specifically formulated for puppies and that is AAFCO-certified. Avoid grain-free diets to ensure your pup gets all the required ingredients they need! It may be that some foods aren’t compatible with your puppy, and your puppy may experience belly issues - think diarrhea or constipation. Don’t be alarmed, it may just require a change in food. ALWAYS get your vet’s advice on this. They may be able to help point you in the right direction. If you are thinking of a homemade diet, we typically suggest not go down this path, as it is difficult to ensure your pup will get all the vitamins and other micronutrients it needs, but be sure to bring this up with the vet, as well.
8. Plan puppy play dates
Once your puppy is fully vaccinated, it is time for… play dates! Yes, it is essential for your new pup to be socialized with the outside world, with other pups and humans alike. Although you may be ready to show them to the world the day they get home, we suggest, well, don’t quite yet. Your pup is particularly susceptible to getting sick, and their immune systems are not yet equipped to fight off all the germs they will come in contact with. Now, we know this may seem impossible to keep all the puppy cuteness overload to yourself, so ask your vet what is safe and not safe at their stage of vaccinations. It is also safe for puppies to interact with dogs that you know for certain are fully vaccinated! Until that first appointment, however, we suggest keeping puppy playdates to a minimum.
Once ready to go, make sure you introduce the puppy to new places, people, and other pups slowly and with caution. It’s vital to make these experiences as positive as possible by ensuring the puppy feels safe and secure. If your puppy is showing signs of fear or timidness, such as a tail between their legs or pulled back ears, this is normal. Ensure your puppy has space to explore, but do not force interaction upon them. Let me go at their own pace! It is also possible that your puppy falls on the opposite end of the spectrum - they are ready to roll, sniffing, exploring, and playing with everything and everyone around them. It is now your job to ensure they just don’t get into trouble :) Be aware of your surroundings, watch for signs of aggression from other dogs, or other potentially dangerous situations.
9. Schedule their neuter appointment
And finally, last but certainly not least, once your puppy is about 5 months old, it is time to think about neutering your babe! We typically suggest all pups get neutered, for a few reasons. To start, it helps prevent cancers in the future, including ovarian, mammarian, testicular, and prostate (yes your dog is susceptible to these cancers, too!) Secondly, it can help prevent unwanted babies in the future, as well as prevent unwanted behaviors, such as aggression + excessive marking. It’s never too early to ask your vet about their opinion!
These are just our top steps in our checklist - make sure to ALWAYS get your vet’s essentials, too!