The focus of this article is to help you decide whether you are ready to raise a puppy, and if so, we offer tips and guidelines to make your process of raising a puppy a successful one.
Making the decision
When deciding to get a puppy, there are several things to consider. First, consider how much time and energy you have for a new pup, because puppies have special needs and will require a lot of extra attention from you. Some puppies mature faster than others, and you need to know what to expect from the breed (for example, your young dog may look full-grown but still have the energy and mental/emotional structure of a puppy). Above all, you need to be patient and have the time and attention to give your puppy the proper care and training she needs. They will need frequent feeding (3-4 times per month for the first 5-6 months), lots of playtime with you, frequent trips to the vet, and plenty of trips outside until they are fully house-trained (ideally every 2 hours, but every 3-4 at a minimum, and you will have to be prepared to clean up accidents on a regular basis!). Ask yourself if you can realistically invest this much time in your puppy. If your lifestyle is too hectic, you might do really well with a good rescue dog that will not require as much attention and energy as raising a dog from puppyhood.
The second thing to consider is the responsibility factor. A new puppy cannot be left alone for hours at a time. First of all, they need to go outside frequently so they learn where to relieve themselves. Also, they need to have interaction at least every 3-4 hours otherwise they could develop separation anxiety and other behavioral problems that can become big problems later in life. And even as an adult, your dog is your ongoing, daily responsibility – you can’t just take off for the night or weekend or constantly stay out late after a long days at work, especially when raising a puppy.
The third thing to consider is cost. Are you prepared to foot the bill for the vet (all puppies need basic shots and checkups, and there may be unforeseen emergencies that you have to handle). If you are at work all day, can you afford a dog walker to make sure your puppy gets the exercise and attention he needs every day? The puppy will require healthy, high-quality, preferably natural food, toys and treats, as well as leashes, collars, a crate or enclosure, a crate pad or bed. If you choose to take your dog to a professional groomer when she’s older, that’s another expense. Even if you groom your dog at home, there are flea and tick treatments you’ll probably need, as well as shampoos, brushes, nail trimmers and other grooming supplies.
Caring for your new puppy
Here are some pointers on puppy care, raising your puppy, and puppy safety:
Feeding: Puppies need to eat 3-4 times a day until they are 5-6 months old. At this age, start reducing their mid-day meal and split that leftover amount between morning evening meals, until you stop feeding them at mid-day. Watch your puppy for signs of weight gain and adjust their diet accordingly. Overweight dogs will experience a variety of heath problems that can be easily avoided by proper diet, and different dogs will have different dietary needs. Find out how other people feed dogs of your breed type and use that as a guideline as the puppy grows. But keep in mind that there is no definitive rule as to how much to feed your dog – I had two pups from the same litter, and they had completely different metabolisms! Most importantly, give your puppy a varied, balanced diet that is as natural as possible. See our section on [dog food] for more information on choosing a healthy diet for your dog or pup.
Chewing and Toys: Your puppy will go through a teething period and anything within her reach is fair game. My friend’s puppy consumed a cell phone charger and had no idea it was wrong or dangerous – she was just in that stage, much like a toddler who discovers the joy of drawing on the walls. Crate training can really help teach your pup to chew what she is given, so when she gets out of that phase your shoes, TV remote – and other things you probably wouldn’t even consider tempting – remain safe. When raising a puppy, make sure he has plenty of safe, healthy things to chew. I personally don’t recommend giving a puppy (or even an older dog for that matter) toys with parts that can be chewed off and ingested because you just never know. I mean, if a teething pup can splinter a cell phone charger and eat up all the bits, I’m pretty she’ll rip that cute little animal to shreds and ingest parts that she shouldn’t – and this can (and does) result in illness, expensive trips to the vet, and sometimes death. So supervising your dog if you give them these kinds of toys is a good idea, whether they are pups or full-grown dogs, but while raising a puppy who is teething!
Crates: It’s ideal to have a crate or enclosure when raising your puppy. An enclosed area will make him feel safe and secure, and will aid immensely in house-training your pet. The enclosure should be located in a common area where the puppy will feel included in the “pack”. If you use an enclosure, place it on a hard, easy-to-clean surface or get a piece of hard plastic to use as a floor. I raised a pair of Scottie pups in a crib that I lined with a piece of plastic from a frame shop. This gave them ample room to play with each other, but was small enough for them to feel secure. Some people have a crate within larger pen around it. This gives the puppy room for play and exercise, while also providing a “den” for rest and sleep. Dogs are den animals by nature and a small space for sleeping is preferable to them especially when they are younger – so don’t overwhelm your puppy with a huge crate. They are also genetically programmed to be part of a “pack” and will suffer if left alone for more than 2-3 hours at a time. If you need to be gone for longer periods, definitely get a dog sitter or walker or friend to spend time with your pup, and as he gets older start introducing him to the idea of being alone for longer periods gradually.
Collars: A puppy’s collar will need to be adjusted as she grows. You should be able fit about two finger-widths between the collar and her neck, but it should not be able to slip over her head. If does, your puppy will surely find a way to get it off, and could chew on it and do herself some damage.
Fleas and Ticks: Your puppy will probably attract fleas, and there are a number of flea remedies on the market from standard flea collars to monthly topical treatments to natural remedies. If using a flea treatment like a topical oil formula, make sure you apply the dosage appropriate to your puppy’s size and weight. There are a lot of good natural flea shampoos available now. I recommend these over standard brands because a lot of dogs get dry, itchy, irritated skin from the regular commercial stuff – so if your pup isn’t itching from fleas he’s itching from the shampoo! If Lyme disease is a concern in your area, talk to your vet about vaccinations. Lyme disease is carried by deer ticks and dogs get it really easily, especially in woody areas. My first vet didn’t like to give Lyme vaccinations even though I lived in an area where Lyme disease was prevalent. Both my pups contracted Lyme disease by 18 months, and after that I really wished I had gone to a different vet and had them vaccinated. Some people don’t like vaccines so it’s up to you, but just be aware of the risks.
Shots: Make sure you keep your puppy current on all her shots and regular vet checkups. Be sure to talk to your breeder and your vet to determine the right immunization schedule for your dog. Puppies are born without an immune system, so it’s critical that they are given certain vaccines to protect them from certain common canine diseases. The American Veterinary Medical Association recognizes the “core” vaccines for dogs to include distemper, canine adenovirus-2 (hepatitis and respiratory disease), and canine parvovirus-2. Other recommended vaccines are leptospirosis, coronavirus, canine parainfluenza and Bordetella bronchiseptica (both causes of “kennel cough”), and Borrelia burgdorferi (causes Lyme Disease).
Here is an “average” puppy vaccination schedule to give you an idea of what to expect – but this is not in any way meant to replace professional veterinary advice for your particular dog:
5 weeks – Parvovirus (some puppies may need an additional parvovirus booster after 15 weeks).
6 and 9 weeks – A “combination” or “5-way” vaccine which includes adenovirus cough and hepatitis, distemper, parainfluenza, and parvovirus. This shot can include additional vaccines, too.
12 weeks or older – Rabies
12 and 15 weeks – Combination vaccine plus other vaccines such as Lyme, coronavirus, leptosporosis where these diseases might be a concern.
Adult dogs – boosters as needed.