Puppy Basics | New Dog Owner Starter Guide

So you’ve got a new puppy and now you’re wondering what to do with it.  Taking pictures and cuddling with your puppy are not the only responsibilities you will have for the first half year.  There are plenty of check-ups and lots of new information that will be coming at you.  Here’s a summary of the ABC’s of puppyhood.

Going outside

Stick to the pavement until at least a week after the second round of puppy vaccines.  This is usually at 13 weeks old.  After this point your puppy can go on the grass, dirt, and snow.  These are typically the less hygienic outdoor areas.

Socializing with other dogs

We recommend not going to the dog park, kennels, or groomers until a week after the final vaccine booster.  If you want to rush things, a week after the second vaccine booster is likely safe but still not recommended.

Socializing with dogs you know are healthy is strongly encouraged, even before your puppy is fully vaccinated.  This means dogs that are up to date on vaccines and doing great.  Play dates with family or friends dogs (or cats) are a great, safe, way to socialize your puppy in the critical socialization period that starts at 8 weeks old and lasts until 16 weeks old.

cute dalmatian puppies playing together

Puppies learn a lot about how to play from 8 to 16 weeks old

Vaccines

8 weeks – First vaccine booster and check up

Parvovirus, distemper, adenovirus, and parainfluenza are usually vaccinated for at this time, all in one easy injection.  We call these the “core” vaccines.  Parvovirus is the most serious disease of puppies and is the most important reason to get your dog vaccinated.  Parvo causes terrible vomiting and diarrhea and can be fatal.

puppy vaccines

An example of the “core” dog vaccines

12 weeks – Second vaccine booster

The same vaccines that were given at 8 weeks are administered as boosters.  Optional vaccines can be given at this time.  These include bordetella (kennel cough), leptospirosis, and lyme disease.  Talk to your vet about the pros and cons of these vaccines.

A week after this round of vaccines, your puppy can relatively safely go to puppy classes and on the dirt and grass outside.  There is a small risk of the vaccines being blocked by antibodies from your puppies mom until 12 weeks.  For this reason if you want to be 100% cautious, you should wait until a week after the last vaccine booster to start roaming the great outdoors and visiting random dogs.

16 weeks – Third and final vaccine booster

Same core vaccines as at 8 and 12 weeks are given.  Most optional vaccines should have a booster at this time.  A rabies vaccine will be given at this time as well.  Rabies vaccination is required by law in Ontario.

One week after the final vaccine boosters your puppy will have a strong immunity to all the diseases he or she has been vaccinated for.  After this round of vaccines  the next boosters for your puppy will be in 1 year.

WebMD information on puppy vaccines

Feeding

Puppies under 4 months old should be fed 3 times a day to prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).  Very small dogs, like yorkies, should be fed 4 times a day until 4 months old and at least 3 times a day until 6 months.  These little toy breeds are much more prone to low blood sugar than larger dogs.

After 4 months most medium to large breed dogs can be fed twice a day.  After 6 months all sized dogs can be fed twice a day.

Using the instructions on the bag for feeding quantity is a good guideline.  If you notice your puppy is too skinny or too fat (or your vet notices) then feed a bit more or less.  Adjust your feeding quantity at least once a month for puppies.  Feeding ad lib (free feeding) can also be appropriate for most puppies.

If you find your puppy is puking directly after eating, this may be because they are eating too fast.  Try splitting up meals by feeding half of a meal then feeding the other half in 5 minutes.

Diet

Puppies can do great on only one type of food, whether it is a dry or wet food.  Dog food is specifically formulated to be able to provide dogs with all their nutritional needs in one compact, easy-to-use, package.  A puppy food that says on the bag that it is made for puppies, or all life stages, is recommended for dogs up to 12 months old.  At 12 months you can switch to adult dog food.

Large breed dogs should be eating large breed dog food until 12 months old.  Large breed dog food is less calorie dense to help moderate growth rate and it also has balanced levels of calcium and phosphorus for proper bone growth.

Ask your veterinarian about specific brands of food.  Issues with a particular brand of dog food will start to pop up over time and your vet will be on the front line of knowing which foods have a good reputation and which ones have a not so good reputation.

Treats

When choosing treats for your dog there’s a couple important rules to go by. The first is to only add one treat at a time. This way you can check to see how your dog is reacting to that particular treat. If they puke or have diarrhea, that’s probably not the treat for your dog.

Another rule is not to give too many treats. Most treats when given in large quantities will upset a dogs stomach. Splitting up a large treat into lots of tiny pieces can help with this problem.

If you’re having trouble choosing a treat that sits well with your puppy’s sensitive stomach, try to choose treats that contain the same protein as your puppy’s regular diet (ie. chicken, beef, fish). Typically the protein in a diet or treat is what causes upset stomach or food allergies. Sticking to one protein that you know your puppy tolerates well is a good idea.

Potty Training

This is one of the first big goals to achieve when you get a new puppy. The key, though often easier said than done, is to prevent your pup from having accidents in the first place. Knowing when your puppy has to go to the bathroom is a good start for preventing accidents.

Important bathroom times are;

  • First thing in the morning
  • Right before bed
  • 15-20 minutes after eating (often this will be a bowel movement)
  • The rule of thumb – number of months old your puppy is = how long they can hold it in (ie. 2 months old has to go outside every 2 hours)

Watching for your puppies bathroom signals is a good clue to an impending accident. These clues usually consist of sniffing at the ground or pawing at the door, but every puppy is a little different.

Cute puppy sniffing

This little pup might be searching for a place to do its business

Some puppies won’t be able to hold it through the night, others will. If you have a puppy who is having accidents in the middle of the night, often they will bark or make noise to wake you up.  I recommend to set an alarm to wake up a half hour before the accident typically takes place and take them outside or to the puppy pad. This way you don’t reward barking with freedom from the crate.  You might lose sleep for a few nights but it’s better than having a dog who barks in their crate for their whole lives.  Usually night accidents will stop by the latest 4 months.

Puppy pads can be a useful interim tool for potty training. The idea is that the smell will be on the pad and then they will think it is the washroom. For this reason if your puppy has made any accidents around the house it is very important to clean them up really well with an enzymatic cleaner that you can purchase from the pet store.  Enzymatic cleaners will eliminate the smell and hopefully prevent repeat accidents in the same spot.

For punishing accidents you must catch your puppy in the act. You can move them to the pee pad and scold them, only if you catch them within the first 5-10 seconds of making the mess. If you do it anytime after this then your puppy will start to think that you’re a mean jerk who likes to get angry for no reason.

Potty Training Advice
More Potty Training Advice

Crate Training

Here are some crate training tips;

  • Choose a crate that is big enough for your dog to turn around in, but not much larger than that
  • No food or water in the crate to prevent accidents
  • Blankets are okay if they aren’t being chewed. Anything that’s getting chewed and might be swallowed, needs to come out of the crate
  • Don’t let your puppy out if they cry. Tell them to be quiet then let them out when they’re silent for at least a couple minutes
  • Build up your puppies tolerance. Start slow when you’re home, have them in there for 15 minutes at first then build up to longer stays
  • Put a treat in the crate to get them to go in
  • Put your pup to sleep when they are already tired. A hyper dog is unlikely to enjoy bedtime.

Great crating advice from the ASPCA

Cute puppy in a crate

Catching some zzz’s

Nipping and Teething

Puppies have their adult teeth come in from 3 months until 6 months of age. During this time they often like to nip a lot. If your puppy is nipping resist the urge to yank your hand away rapidly. This will quickly become a game of bite the hand. Instead say “no” or another stern warning and redirect the nipping to a favorite chew toy.

Spay and Neuter – Sterilization

Both of these procedures can be done at 6 months old. It is important to get female dogs spayed before there first heat. Not only does this keep your floors clean it also dramatically decreases the risk of breast (mammary) cancer.

For neutering male dogs, there are different schools of thought about when to have the procedure done (none of which are proven theories). For small to medium sized dogs there isn’t much of a reason to wait past 6 months of age. In larger dogs, especially giant breeds, neutering at a later age (12 to 18 months) may allow for more complete bone growth due to the additional testosterone production. There are claims as well that keeping dogs intact longer can create a broader, more full looking face.

What I typically recommend for large breed dogs is to wait until 12 months of age for neutering. However if you are noticing signs of aggression, neutering can and should be performed at an earlier date.

Heartworm, Fleas, and Ticks

In the Toronto area we treat with preventatives for heartworm and fleas from April or May, depending on when the warm weather arrives, until November. Heartworm and fleas can only reproduce when the weather is above 10°C. The preventative we use is an oily liquid on the back of the neck, once a month.

If you’re traveling with your dog to anywhere in the southern United States or even more south than that, your traveling companion should be on heartworm preventatives. Heartworm is very common in these regions. You should also perform a heartworm test 6 months after you return home.

Infographic of the heartworm life cycle

Life cycle of heartworm disease in dogs

Blood tests for heartworm should be done once a year (can be less often if you’re diligent with preventatives). The catch with the heartworm test is that it won’t detect heartworm for at least 6 months after your dog has contracted the parasite. For this reason we typically perform heartworm tests in April or May after the long winter.

Check out our articles on fleas for additional information. Ticks are not a huge concern in the southern Ontario region. Certain areas have a higher concentration of lyme disease, a tick-borne disease. These areas include the Niagara region, and the Kingston Area. If you’re pet frequents wooded areas ask your veterinarian about tick preventatives and vaccinations for lyme disease.

Deworming and Fecal Samples

It is recommended to collect a fecal sample and bring it in for your first puppy appointment. Collecting a few different bowel movements and also collecting a fresh fecal sample can increase the chances of finding intestinal parasites.

Dogs are much more likely to have intestinal parasites than we are. This is because they have more indiscriminate (ie. disgusting) eating habits and have no problem getting their nose into places you would not. Puppies can also acquire parasites from their mother’s in the womb and from their mother’s milk.

Deworming can be done prophylactically but we recommend to deworm based on a positive fecal sample or on clinical suspicion.  This decreases the risk of developing resistance to anti parasitic medications. Fecal samples can be performed yearly after an initial check up or whenever we see clinical signs potentially related to parasites (diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss).

Some of the parasites that dogs carry can pass to humans, with children and the elderly having an increased risk. In households with children, checking regular fecal samples is strongly recommended. Roundworms and hookworms are two of the more common parasites that humans can get from dogs. Giardia used to be thought of as infectious to humans but recent evidence points to >90% of giardia not being infectious to humans.

Puppy Classes

Unless you are a dog trainer, a born dog whisperer, or just flat out great with dogs, puppy classes are always a good idea. They help you to learn how to effectively communicate with your dog and they also teach your puppy some new tricks in a distracting environment. Socializing your puppy as soon as possible is a good idea but this must be balanced with your puppies safety. For this reason I recommend starting puppy classes 1 week after the second round of vaccines. This is usually at 13 weeks old.

Dog Trainer in Toronto
Another Dog Trainer in Toronto

How to tell if your dog is sick

Puppies should act like puppies! This means they should be insanely energetic for short bursts and then crash for an hour or two. When puppies are not energetic and are sleeping all the time, this is concerning. Combine this with a lack of appetite or vomiting or diarrhea or coughing or sneezing and you should probably be picking up the phone to call your vet.

Every puppy is a little different in terms of appetite and energy. When puppies are first brought home they are often a little under the weather from the stress of being re homed. It is a good idea to bring your new puppy to the vet right away to see if they’re healthy. Every dogs energy level is a little different and you will quickly learn how your puppy behaves and what is normal for your dog.

Sick Golden retriever puppy

Get well soon

If your puppy is sick for more than 24 hours or getting progressively worse for even 1/2 a day, you should contact your veterinarian. Young puppies can become extremely sick, very quickly. These guidelines should be even more strict if you have a toy breed dog since they are prone to low blood sugar if they miss meals. Low blood sugar can cause seizures, so be cautious!

Pet Insurance

Pets can be a handful. They eat things they shouldn’t and go places they should not go. Thinking you can get away with buying food, the occasional toy, and yearly vet visits is often wishful thinking. Some breeds are more likely to need veterinary care than others for genetic reasons. Ask your vet if your dog is one of these breeds.

Here’s a link to guidelines for what to expect as yearly costs for your new puppy.

There are lots of different pet insurance companies and more popping up all the time. We offer free trail periods for new puppies from certain pet insurance companies.

Another option is to have a dog trust fund and set aside a certain amount every month. If you’re good with your finances, this might be the way to go for you. Crossing your fingers is not an effective insurance plan.

Pet Insurance Comparisons
Pet Secure
Trupanion

Grooming – Ears, Nails, and Baths

There are a ton of different hair styles and cuts for dogs. Ask your groomer what they recommend, or just try them all and see what you like. How often your dog should be groomed is really up to you. If you’re noticing mats or a terrible stench, then it’s probably time for a groom. Baths can be done every month or two or whenever you notice your dog is dirty. Use a shampoo that you can purchase from the pet store that is meant specifically for dogs. Certain dogs with skin issues may require special bathing regimens and special shampoo’s.

Lots of Golden Retriever Puppies

These puppies are excited for bath time

Nails should be trimmed at least every couple months. If you start cutting your dogs’ nails as a puppy, you’re more likely to have success when they’re adults. Do it a couple times a week then praise and reward them afterwards. You don’t even have to do a good job, just take a small amount off to get your puppy used to nail trims. Be careful not to cut too much when they’re young and learning to like the nail trims. Black nails are especially challenging and you may want to ask you vet or groomer how to trim these little devils.

Ears should be cleaned once every month or two. Check out our ear cleaning video on YouTube ear cleaning advice. Certain dogs will require more frequent ear cleanings. Basset Hounds and Spaniels are a couple breeds that are notorious for ear issues. If your dog is having frequent ear infections, talk to your vet about what you can do to manage this issue long term. Signs of an ear infection are usually shaking of the head, pawing at the ears, and rubbing their head on the ground.

How to Give the Perfect Bath

That’s a lot of information to digest but hopefully you’ve learned a few new things about your new furry friend.  There’s certainly a lot more to know about and if you have any questions about your puppy, your vet should be there to guide you through the puppy process.  Good luck and most of all have fun!

Happy puppy raising!

Dr. Tim Julian

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