Updated - Nov 24th, 2021
Bringing a new puppy home is exciting, but it can be very overwhelming – especially if you’re not pup-pared! Expanding your family to include a new fur baby is a big decision, and prospective pup parents should do their homework before they bring their pup home. By being proactive, you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble later on. The more knowledge you have about the puppy process (and your pup’s specific breed or breed mix), the easier the adjustment period will be. Informed pup parents make for better pup parents and happier fur babies!
Be pup-pared before you bring your puppy home
Long before your fur baby gets home, you should have researched their breed (or breed mix) and made sure it’s the right choice for your lifestyle. All puppies are a lot of work, but some breeds require a lot more time and energy. The first step towards building a great relationship with your pup is making sure they’re a good fit for you and your family. You should also choose a vet and schedule your first appointment before your pup comes home. You’ll want to see the vet within a few days of your fur baby’s homecoming – not just to keep them on schedule for shots and monitor their physical development, but also to get them used to vet visits and being handled. Making that first vet visit a positive experience for your pup through lots of treats and praise will make your life a lot easier going forward – not to mention alleviate some of your fur baby’s vet anxiety.
Puppy proof your space
Before bringing your fur baby home, you should have your puppy proofing complete. It’s important to decide which areas of your home your pup will have access to and get those spaces ready. Part of the way that puppies explore the world is with their mouths, so you can expect them to chomp on anything and everything within reach. Your puppy-friendly space (especially the floor) should be free of anything you don’t want them to gnaw on. Pay special attention to wires or choking hazards and make sure to move or block off anything dangerous. You should also invest in some puppy pads and some enzymatic cleaner for the inevitable accidents while they’re house training.
It’s also best to set up any pens, crates, and gates you’ll be using to secure your home before your pup arrives. Your pup should come home to a space they can call their own. (This is especially crucial if you plan on crate training.) You should have their food and water bowls, age-appropriate toys, and any beds or blankets in place when they come home for the first time. The more comfortable their space is, the more secure they will feel.
Choose food specifically designed for puppies
There are a lot of food options out there, but you will want to select a food that is designed with a puppy’s specific nutritional needs in mind. Puppies develop quickly, and their growing minds and bodies have very different requirements than an adult dog’s. First, though, you should consult your breeder or shelter and find out what your pup has been eating – switching food right away will cause digestive problems, so if you’ve decided on a different food for your fur baby, you’ll want to switch over very gradually. For the first few days, feed your pup a mix of ¾ of the old food and ¼ of the new food, then switch to half and half for the next few days, then go to ¾ new food and ¼ old food, and finally abandon the old food altogether. You should also be feeding your pup smaller portions three to four times a day – and you should keep a strict feeding schedule. This helps establish a routine for your pup and is also helpful when it comes to house training, since feeding your pup at the same time each day will give you a better idea of when they’ll need to poop!
Vaccinate as soon as possible
It’s super impawtant that your puppy get their vaccinations as soon as they can. When not fully immunized, puppies are especially vulnerable to disease, since their immune systems are not fully developed. The Rabies shot is required by law in most places, and you will likely need proof of several other vaccinations (DHPP, Leptospirosis, Bordetella, and Canine Influenza) if you want your dog to attend socialization classes or if you need to board them. Even if it’s not required, vaccinating your puppy is essential to their health, both as a pup and as an adult. There are a lot of dangerous bacteria floating around your puppy’s world, many of which spread easily and cause diseases that can quickly become fatal. A few trips to the vet and a jab here and there in your pup’s first year of life can prevent a lot of very dangerous (and expensive) health issues.
Expect some sleepless nights and accidents
Depending on how old your puppy is, you can expect your sleep schedule to be disrupted for a little while. Even if you start your housetraining on Day 1 (and you should!), young puppies simply don’t have the bladder and bowel control to hold it all night long. Pup parents need to be ready to wake up and tend to their fur baby’s late-night bathroom needs. You don’t want them to routinely have accidents in the wrong place (especially in their crate) because it will set back your housetraining progress significantly. These late-night trips should be all business – outside and right back in, with no snuggles or playtime. (You don’t want your pup to learn that they can get some funtime if they wake you up at 4am!) This is an especially ruff period for pup parents, but it doesn’t last forever. Most pups can make it through the night by about 4 months, and you can help them along by feeding them their last meal long before bedtime, taking water away two to three hours before bedtime, and taking them out immediately before bedtime.
Even the most diligent houstrainers with the smartest pups will have to deal with accidents from time to time – that’s just a part of puppy life! But you can minimize the chance of accidents happening by taking your pup out immediately after naps, playtime, and meals, since these are the times they’re most likely to go. Even doing all that, you’re still gonna have to clean up a mess here and there, and that’s okay! Just make sure you use an enzymatic cleaner since they’re non-toxic and eliminate odors. This is important not only because you don’t want a stinky house – if odor remains from a previous oopsie, your pup may be more inclined to go there again.
Start obedience training early
Puppies are little balls of energy, and it’s hard to control them when the zoomies hit. The good news? Their developing brains are like sponges, so starting obedience training is both highly effective and also provides a great outlet for some of that crazy puppy energy! Whether you opt for a professional trainer or a DIY approach, start off slow with fairly easy commands like sit, stay, and come – these are the most impawtant commands for your pup to learn, since they’ll help you to control their movement. Leash training is also something you should work on early, especially if you plan on taking your dog for walks in public places, like sidewalks and parks, with lots of distractions. Positive reinforcement techniques, including lots of treats and praise, is the way to go when training a puppy (or any age dog) because you always want to keep training a fun, safe, and happy experience for your fur baby. Remember that training can be both mental and physical exercise for your pup, but their growing brains can only take in so much at a time. Keep your training sessions short and positive – a few shorter sessions are better than one long session in terms of your pup’s enjoyment and their ability to retain information.
Expand your puppy’s world
Most puppies go to their forever home during an incredibly crucial stage in their development. And while they’ll be spending a lot of time at home adjusting to their new space, it’s important to get them out into the world, too! When your pup is between 12 and 16 weeks old, you should make sure to expose them to as many new people, places, and things as possible. By gradually introducing your pup to the world outside your home, you’ll teach them that just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s scary! Pups who are exposed to many different types and ages of people, different environments (including car trips) with lots of external stimuli and strange noises, and other animals during this development period are much more likely to grow up to be friendly, well-adjusted dogs who happily embrace the world around them. Expanding your pup’s world is also helpful when it comes to fighting boredom – staying in the same place all the time can frustrate anyone, and your fur baby is no different!
Pup parents should note that, depending on where your fur baby is at with their vaccinations, you should avoid walking your dog in germ-y public places – but that doesn’t mean you can’t introduce your pup to them! Carrying your pup around a new location and letting them take in the sights, smells, and sounds is just as effective and much safer for your pup until they’re vaccinated. Make sure to have treats on hand to give to your pup in case you need to keep their experience positive, and if there’s anything that truly spooks your fur baby, remove them from the situation immediately – trying to force them to acclimate to something can be very harmful.
Socialize your pup with other dogs as soon as possible
When it comes to interacting with other dogs, you may be tempted to dive right into the dog park, but it’s best to avoid it (and any dogs you don’t know) until your pup is fully vaxxed. Still, it’s impawtant that your fur baby learns how to play properly with other dogs. The best way to safely introduce your puppy to play with other dogs is to find a puppy socialization class in your area. These classes usually require the other puppies to have as many vaccinations as possible for their age, are run by trained professionals who know how to keep all the play positive and safe, and are often split up into specific age groups. Younger puppies have a different play style than older puppies – they’re still learning how to interact, what they’re comfortable with, and what the other pups are comfortable with. Learning to play positively when your fur baby is still young will keep them (and other dogs) safe when they’re old enough to run free at the dog park!
If you’re unable to take your pup to a class, try to limit their exposure to just dogs who you know are friendly and vaccinated. Other puppies are the best option since they’ll be at the same learning stage (or close enough to it) as your fur baby, but an older, well-socialized dog that knows how to play nice is okay, too. Make sure that all the pup parents in your playgroup are paying close attention to their dogs during these play sessions – this isn’t a time to catch up with friends and chat over a cup of coffee. It’s crucial that, without a professional present to observe the play, each pup parent keeps an eye on their own dog so that they can step in if things get too rough.
Get your pup used to being handled
There are a lot of necessary evils that your puppy is going to have to deal with, whether they like it or not (and they won’t). Vet visits, trips to the groomers, nail clipping, teeth brushing, hair brushing, and ear cleanings are all hands-on activities that are not always pleasant for your pup. By getting them used to being handled early on, you can limit their discomfort and anxiety surrounding these activities later in life. To make handling them a positive experience, have some treats or kibble on hand. Start slowly, touching just your pup’s paws, ears, and mouth – all areas that they don’t necessarily want poked and prodded – and giving them treats and praise for allowing you to handle them. Even though your fur baby will still have their puppy teeth, you should get them used to brushing early to avoid the very serious issues that accompany dental disease in dogs (which is super common). Keep it short and sweet at first – a very brief session using either your finger or a doggy finger toothbrush and just a little bit of dog toothpaste will start to acclimate them to brushings once their adult teeth come in. Similarly, short hair brushing sessions with lots of positive reinforcement will help you out in the long run (especially for breeds that are high-maintenance in the grooming department). When it comes to nail trimming – the bane of every dog owner’s existence – it’s wise to allow the professionals (either your vet or groomer) to handle it until you know your pup is okay with their paws being handled and won’t squirm.
Invest in lots of toys
If there’s one thing that all puppies have in common, it’s that they’re going to chew anything and everything they can. Some pups are more interested in toys than others, but regardless, you should have a wide variety of toys available for your fur baby if you want to keep their mouth occupied and away from your stuff! Toys designed specifically for teething pups are a must, since they’ll help to relieve some of your fur baby’s discomfort during this period. Interactive toys that help your dog play tug and fetch are a great way for pup parents to scratch their pup’s chewing itch while also having some fun bonding time. And squeaky toys are usually a hit with most pups – even if us humans may not be too fond of the sound! Food-based toys are generally a puppy’s favorite, though, but you should be aware of how much food your pup is consuming (including meals and training treats) when giving them food-based toys – overfeeding your pup can negatively affect their physical development and lead to serious health problems. Pup parents should choose toys for their pups based on their age, mouth size, and chewing style, and puppies should be supervised when playing with toys that could pose a choking hazard.
Provide your pup with mental and physical exercise
Physical exercise is important for puppies, but don’t let that crazy puppy energy fool you – too much exercise can actually be harmful to their physical development. When trying to determine the right amount of exercise for your puppy, you should consider their breed and age. Different breeds develop at different speeds, with large breeds maturing at much slower rates. Even though they may act like they’re raring to go, their bodies are not physically ready for long hikes or high-impact activity just yet. It’s best to keep walks shorter and more frequent than to go on a long one (and take breaks or stop completely if your pup shows signs of being tired).
Similarly, some breeds require more mental exercise than others – working breeds will require a lot more mental stimulation than a toy breed (although all dogs benefit from mental activity). Puzzle toys are a great way to exercise your dog’s brain without putting strain on their body. You can also count your training sessions as mental exercise. If you’re unsure of what kind of exercise (and how much) is right for your pup, discuss their needs with your vet.
Enroll your pup in a Pumpkin Pet Insurance plan
It’s always a good idea to get pet insurance for your pup. That way, you’ll have coverage for accidents and illnesses that may occur in the future. Once your coverage begins, your plan can help reimburse you for eligible vet bills – and if you enroll your pup in a Pumpkin Pet Insurance plan, they’ll be covered for some dental issues and behavioral problems that some other pet insurances won’t cover. (Plus, you’ll get 90% cash back on covered bills!)
The most overlooked tip for any puppy parent is to have a lot of patience! It may seem like everyone’s life with their new puppy is absolutely furbulous according to their Facebook or Instagram feeds, but that’s just the curated bit of the process – the reality of life with a puppy is that there are highs and lows. Whether you’re a first time dog parent or you haven’t had a puppy in a long time, it can be a shock to discover just how much work it takes to raise a puppy. Puppies require a lot of time and energy, and you’ll end up exhausted and frustrated sometimes, but it’s impawtant to remember that that is totally normal! Everyone goes through it. If you hang in there and have patience with your fur baby, you’ll make it through the tough stages and come out the other side with a happy, well-adjusted, well-trained dog who will be your best friend furever.